National Assembly’s approval of the emergency rule declared by President Goodluck Jonathan and the progress being reported by the military seem to be proving that the special anti-insurgency measures can work, but what kind of lessons does this offer for long-term security? Vincent Obia reports
The declaration of emergency rule in Yobe, Borno, and Adamawa states on May 14 by President Goodluck Jonathan had ignited a debate about how best to deal with the insurgency that was eating deep into Nigeria through the North-east. But the debate ended on an undisputed position that something urgent needed to be done to reclaim the security and sovereignty of Nigeria.
The Senate unanimously approved the emergency proclamation to rein in the Boko Haram insurgency, with an advice that it should not impede democratic structures. After a closed door meeting on Tuesday attended by 100 of the 109 members of the upper chamber, Senate President David Mark reported the proceedings of the session thus, “We want to emphasise, in fact, and very emphatically, that all democratic structures must be left in place and must be allowed to operate fully and actively; and they must also be involved in all the efforts that the federal government is putting up to bring this ugly situation to an end.
“We also would like to emphasise that the armed forces are issued a proper code of conduct where they will be humane; they will be benevolent and to make sure that all citizens are treated with utmost respect so that they do not lose their respect as human beings.”
The Senate called for adequate funding of the emergency operations, the sending of relief materials to the affected states, and a continuation of the efforts to ensure a peaceful resolution of the Boko Haram crisis.
Senators approved the state of emergency proclamation via a voice vote, with no dissension.
The House of Representatives, too, that same Tuesday, approved the state of emergency. But it added that compensation for victims of terrorism in the country should go pari passu with the enforcement of the emergency rule. The House also said that governors of the affected states should administer the emergency rule – not the president – and any further order issued by the president in relation to the operations during the period of the emergency must be approved by the National Assembly within seven days, or it stood nullified.
Like the Senate, the House emerged from a closed door session, where it considered the emergency rule proclamation gazette sent by the president, to approve it by voice vote in a plenary session attended by an overwhelming 253 of the 360 members of the lower chamber.
The emergency action to reclaim the country is an issue on which Nigerians have made a common cause.
Senate spokesman Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe told journalists that the matter before the lawmakers was beyond partisanship and the discussions needed to be restricted to the legislators to protect their individual identities.
“We spoke frankly to each other, and we were of the opinion that Nigeria comes first. We should have a corporate entity called Nigeria, after which we can have individual opinion,” he said. “Our rules state that we can regulate our procedure. At the closed session we saw that we needed to protect some members from any harm by people who are misinformed. The decision was unanimous, there was no dissension.”
Blow to the Opposition
But not everyone had thought the measures will help to repossess the parts of Nigeria that were being conquered by Boko Haram terrorists.
The main opposition party, Action Congress of Nigeria, condemned the emergency rule as a mere troop surge that had never worked in the past and held no hope of success. ACN also tried to impute political ulterior motives to the proclamation of the president.
“In view of the reasons stated above, we hereby reject the declaration of emergency rule in the three states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, and we call on the National Assembly to also reject it and not allow itself to be used to rubber stamp a declaration that is largely cosmetic.
“We reiterate our earlier statements that the Boko Haram crisis has its roots in years of bad governance that have produced an army of unemployed, unemployable, disenchanted and demoralised youths who are now ready hands and willing tools for those seeking to perpetrate violence. The unprecedented corruption across the land, as well as injustice and extra-judicial killings are also fuelling this crisis,” ACN stated.
For the second biggest opposition party, Congress for Progressive Change, it was a sort of confusion. While the party’s national publicity secretary Rotimi Fashakin first commended the emergency proclamation, its national secretary Buba Galadima later condemned the measure.
Galadima was quoted as saying, “The insecurity was not caused by the so-called Boko Haram, but by the government who were killing people to make them pick arms against the government. This is my standard as somebody from Borno and Yobe. My people have been short-changed and killed arbitrarily.”
It was Galadima who had also vowed before the 2011 presidential election and the bloody violence that followed in parts of northern Nigeria that there will be violence if the CPC candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, did not win with an overwhelming majority. That was a clearly wide conjecture at the time for a presidential candidate whose popularity never extended beyond a few far northern states.
But All Nigeria Peoples Party lauded the emergency rule declaration, particularly, the president’s decision to retain the elected institutions in the three states.
ACN, CPC, ANPP, and a faction of All Progressives Grand Alliance are working towards a merger under which they will relinquish their individual identities and come under one party, All Progressives Congress.
But the hostile positions on the emergency rule declaration have tended to deal a blow to the opposition’s public rating and expose its limits at a time many Nigerians were beginning to see the burgeoning opposition merger as the country’s bulwark against the ruling Peoples Democratic Party’s seeming non-performance and arrogance of power. Many saw opposition to the emergency actions as insensitivity to the dilemma of innocent citizens whose lives and livelihoods had been destroyed and wrecked in Boko Haram attacks.
The opposition parties, however, seemed to make amends with their legislators’ support for the emergency rule, perhaps, after they had seen that they were in the wrong.
Rules of Conduct
But everyone seems to be concerned about the conduct of the security services personnel in the three states where a state of emergency was declared.
ACN had in the statement by its national publicity secretary Lai Mohammed criticised what it called “an asymmetric use of force in an environment where the insurgents operate within a civilian population,” saying, “it will ultimately be counterproductive as the death toll will continue to mount while the civilian population – who will be caught in the cross fire – will be alienated.”
While many frown on ACN’s disparagement of the emergency option without proposing any feasible alternative, the concern for civilian lives is one that a lot of people share.
Chairman of the Northern States Governors Forum Babangida Aliyu, who is also the governor of Niger State, advised the military to protect civilians in the states where emergency rule was declared, in a statement by his chief press secretary Danladi Ndayebo.
United States Secretary of State John Kerry said penultimate Friday he was “deeply concerned about the fighting in north-eastern Nigeria.” He urged the security forces to “apply disciplined use of force in all operations.”
The fears are a hash testament to the security services’ conducts in past internal security operations. On November 20, 1999, Odi, a community in Bayelsa State, was attacked by the military in apparent revenge for the murder of 12 policemen by a gang. Human rights groups said over 2, 000 people were killed and virtually all standing structures destroyed in the military assault alleged to have been ordered by then President Olusegun Obasanjo. Also on October 30, 2001, following the abduction and killing of 19 soldiers, soldiers descended on the village of Zaki Biam, in Benue State, with heavy weapons and killed more than 200 unarmed civilians.
Before the Fourth Republic, in November 1990, it was death, destruction, and loss at Umuechem in Etche Local Government Area of Rivers State when troops of the Police Mobile Force invaded the community, killing scores of locals, including the traditional ruler and some of his children. The police had come at the behest of Shell Petroleum Development Company following a protest by the villagers against the company’s environmental practices. But the police also said one of their officers had been killed by youth of the community.
But the military says it is maintaining professionalism and observing the rules of conduct in the current operations in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states. It is an assertion that has yet to be fully tested.
The military says it is reviewing the country’s troop commitments in foreign lands with a view to bringing back some soldiers to strengthen the internal anti-insurgency operations. It says the operations in the North-east are going according to plan.
Director of Defence Information, Brigadier General Chris Olukolade, said in a statement that many insurgents had been killed or captured, while a large quantity of arms and ammunitions had been recovered by the security services.
“The area is being combed to fish out any of the surviving insurgents. Also some of the fleeing insurgents from the various camps have been noted to be in search of fuel from neighbouring communities.
“Citizens are advised to report to JTF (Joint Task Force) any group of persons roaming around the local communities with large quantities of containers in search of fuel.
“The advance troops are continuing in all fronts as scheduled,” Olukolade stated.
Keeping Dialogue Alive
Despite the military operation, the federal government is also trying to keep the peace process with the Boko Haram insurgents alive. The government has explained on various forums that the declaration of a state of emergency does not nullify the existing regime of dialogue aimed at a peaceful resolution of the insurgency.
The president on Tuesday directed the Defence Headquarters to release some detained members of Boko Haram. Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs Doyin Okupe said in a statement on Wednesday, “The order for the release of the detainees will be in phases.
“Concerning the first batch, the emphasis is on women and children who have been in detention on suspicion of involvement and/or connection with insurgency in some parts of the country. This will be followed by other phased releases where cases will be treated on their individual merits by the defence authorities and security agencies.
“The presidential directive was as a result of the interim report by the Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peace in Northern Nigeria which recommended the measure as part of the government’s multi-faceted strategy to solving the security challenges posed by the activities of the sect.”
Now that the security services are reporting progress in the fight against terrorism, and the peace process with repentant insurgents is on, Nigerians can only hope that the country’s northern parts would return to the peace and tranquillity of yesteryear.
The fight against insurgency has involved costly sacrifices in deaths, infrastructural destruction, and lost investment. The police and the armed forces have paid a huge price.
But the most painful part, probably, is the disclosure that the security services personnel are often their own enemies. Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Azubuike Ihejirika, on Wednesday said some soldiers had been arrested for sabotaging the emergency operations in the North-east by leaking vital information to the insurgents.
He stated, “There are some soldiers that have been found to be posting negative comments on the Internet and some conversing with insurgents.
“I want to state that any officer or soldier caught linked one way or the other will be disciplined severely, there are no two ways about it.
“The Directorate of Military Intelligence is encouraged to continue to monitor the activities along with military police and other commanders in the field because military service is service of patriotism.”
Ihejirika referred to the recent bloody attack on Mali-bound troops, saying a soldier had divulged to the gunmen information on the movement of the soldiers. Only recently, over 50 policemen and State Security Service operatives were ambushed and killed in Nasarawa State and the killers were also said to have been told about the movement of the security men by renegade officers. What this means, certainly, is that an increasing number of Nigerians, quite dangerously within the security services, do not believe in Nigeria and its ideals.
So, as the country tries to surmount rebellion and re-establish security of lives and property, a critical lesson to learn seems to be that building a country with institutions that the people believe in is the best formula for lasting peace and stability.