Inevitable as it is, emergency rule should not lead to violation of human rights
In a bid to tackle the security challenge posed by Boko Haram insurgency which has led to the death of hundreds of Nigerians in recent weeks, President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday declared a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states. It was the second time in 16 months he would invoke such powers even though the last one (on December 31, 2011) affected only 15 specified local government areas in three states.
According to the rules of engagement defined by the president in his broadcast, the military troops that are already deployed in the affected states have “the authority to arrest and detain suspects, the taking of possession and control of any building or structure used for terrorist purposes, the lock-down of any area of terrorist operation, the conduct of searches, and the apprehension of persons in illegal possession of weapons. ”
Although public reactions to the presidential decree have been mixed, the options available to the president were limited, given the prevailing security situation in the affected states. In our editorial last Sunday, we had warned against the current slide into anarchy by reiterating that a situation where personnel of our armed forces could be so cynically murdered by some criminal gangs poses a serious threat not only to the security of citizens but also to our corporate existence as a nation.
And in demanding urgent actions to arrest the drift, we highlighted the culture of impunity which has enveloped our nation and the growing indication that life no longer holds any sacred meaning for the lawless characters in our midst who now act as though above the law. In such a dire situation, it is understandable that the president would intervene to restore law and order in the areas where Boko Haram insurgents seem to have overwhelmed the capacity of government authorities.
However, while the strategic necessity of the emergency declaration by the president needs to be acknowledged, the critical minefield and challenge is how to navigate the treacherous borderline between armed impunity and political expediency. That is why we need to caution on a number of things that State of Emergency must not mean in these three states.
One, the influx of soldiers and sundry armed personnel must not lead to more horrendous human rights violations than we have already seen in recent times. Two, emergency rule must not bring with it a curtailment of media freedom to report on the military operations in the affected states. Three, drafting in more military troops to the three states should not mean an abrogation of the responsibility of civil society observer groups from monitoring human rights observance in the areas. Four, emergency rule co-existing with democratic structures must not abridge the rights and obligations of elected representatives of the people. Five, deploying the military to instill law and order must not lead to a takeover by the federal government (or the ruling party at the centre) of the political space in the affected states and the eventual removal of their governors by subterfuge.
The foregoing points are important not only as critical success-factors for the on-going military operations but also to ensure that the declaration of emergency does not bring with it bigger problems. It must also be clearly stated that emergency rule should not amount to a dereliction of duty in the affected states, especially on the part of the governors; neither should it be an avenue to fritter away state resources in the name of security. There must be accountability by all the stakeholders both in human and financial terms.
Finally and most importantly, emergency rule should not dovetail into the 2015 elections for whatever reason. As a military/security operation, whatever the president needs to do in the affected states must end quickly so that the people can return to their normal social, political and economic life.