by Mark Amaza
As had been widely expected and rumoured, President Goodluck Jonathan held a nationwide television broadcast on Tuesday night in which he declared a state of emergency in the three Northern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, while mentioning eight others (Gombe, Bauchi, Plateau, Kano, Plateau, Nassarawa, Bayelsa, Taraba and Benue) as having “protracted security challenges”.
The state of emergency, however, does not involve the state governors vacating office as was done during the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo when Governors Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State and Joshua Dariye of Plateau State were temporarily removed for six months, while sole administrators were brought in to restore peace in the state.
In this case, the Chief of Defence Staff has been authorized to deploy more troops to the states to restore internal security, while the Presidency works with neighbouring countries to secure the borders. The political leadership is expected to cooperate with the military in dealing with the insecurity; all these after the National Assembly ratify the decision as it is expected constitutionally within 10 days.
However, the more important question here is not whether the state of emergency is necessary but if it would bring about the desired change.
The three states have been theatres of insurgency, especially Borno State which has served as the operational base of the Boko Haram Islamist sect. In the past one month, there have been deadly clashes in Baga and Bama towns in the state, with at least 240 people killed.
It also would not be the first time that a state of emergency is being declared, albeit the first one last year, was in five local government areas of the state (in addition to two in Yobe State, and one each in Niger and Plateau States). Like this one, it did not involve the removal of political heads, but just a surge in the number of troops and military tactics in the areas. To date, it has not been lifted.
A strategy of fighting terrorism by increasing the number of troops is unlikely to yield any positive outcome, especially when one considers that about 6,000 soldiers are estimated to be stationed in Borno State at the moment, and yet, the fighting remains intense. This is largely because this is not a conventional warfare where the insurgents would have been easily identifiable and clear battlefields demarcated.
In this case, the terrorists blend with the civilian population whom they look and dress like, and make distinguishing them almost impossible without the use of intelligence. In cases where the military attempts using force among the civilians, the result is a lot of civilian casualties or “collateral damage”, as the military prefer to call it, such as the one that took place at Baga and parts of Maiduguri.
A surge of force is likely to create more Baga-like incidences. While it may be effective at getting rid of the Islamist sect or whittling down their numbers like the Algerian government did with the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria or the Sri Lankan government with the Tamil Tigers separatist group. However, it will also require the government growing deaf ears to cries of both local and international communities, because such an action is likely to raise tensions as it would cause reactions among Nigerians along mostly regional, religious and ethnic lines, as it is ‘normal’ of us to react in almost every situation.
To be honest, I understand the quandary President Jonathan is, as he is somewhat between a rock and a hard place. He needs to act and secure the lives and properties of citizens, and also protect the territorial integrity of Nigeria. At the same time, he has to make sure his actions do not escalate the crisis further.
At least, the Presidency has finally started making efforts to involve other options such as dialogue and the possibility of an amnesty programme in ending the insurgency, a sign that they have come to the realization that force alone would not end this.
As someone who has become worn down by this insurgency, especially as my home state of Borno has become a shadow of its old self, I am desperately hoping that this state of emergency brings the desired result.
However, an analysis of the situation gives me grounds for a lot of scepticism.
All I am left with is sceptical optimism – if there is a term as such.
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