by Femi Adesina
President Goodluck Jonathan declared State of Emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states on Tuesday. It was a direct response to the orgy of killings that had suffused the northern part of the country for some time, particularly the North-east.
The president needed to do something firm and decisive, but opinions are divided over whether he did well by leaving democratic structures in place in those states, and not replacing the governors with sole administrators, who could have been retired military officers drawing from experiences in Plateau and Ekiti states, which went through emergency rule under the Olusegun Obasanjo administration. It was interesting reading the online spat between two prominent Nigerians on the matter.
Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, former Minister of Aviation, and Ovation magazine publisher, Chief Dele Momodu, were virtually at each other’s throats. Hear Momodu: “I wish to disagree with Chief Femi Fani-Kayode on his position against the decision of President Ebele Jonathan not to sack the state governments after declaring a State of Emergency.
“The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria does not empower the President and Commander-in-Chief to arbitrarily sack a duly and constitutionally elected government in the states. The fact that President Olusegun Obasanjo did it with impunity and got away with it because we had gutless governors does not make it right.
“This culture of rambunctious rascality and rabid vindictiveness cannot be allowed to continue. On this one, I support President Jonathan for not terminating the lives of elected governments in a Federalism.”
But trust the stormy petrel called Fani-Kayode not to be outdone in such matters.
He replied Momodu tackle for tackle: “Which court said the constitution does not empower the president to suspend state governors? Which court declared Obasanjo’s actions illegal? Obasanjo got the necessary approval for his actions from the National Assembly.
“Will someone ask those that say Obasanjo’s actions were not constitutional whether Obasanjo was there when all serving political office holders were removed in the Western Region when a State of Emergency was declared there in 1964?
“At the end of the day, only one thing matters, and it is not my interpretation of the constitution or anyone else’s. What matters is whether this hitherto untested system of having a serving governor who has not been able to maintain law and order in his state should still be running it when emergency laws are in place. It will lead to chaos, abuse of power… confusion and more atrocities.
“It will not succeed in stopping Boko Haram but will strengthen it and cause it to spread.”
Where do I pitch my tent? With Momodu, of course! We leave the interpretation of the constitution to lawyers and the courts, but I think dismantling democratic structures in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa would have created a hell of trouble for President Jonathan, and heat up the polity to explosion point. He would have had more troubles to contend with, alongside the Boko Haram insurgency.
Borno and Yobe are ANPP states (heading towards APC now), and there would have been shouts of blue murder, that Jonathan wants to get the states for PDP through the backdoor. Adamawa is PDP, where the national chairman of the party hails from, and sacking the governor there would also have caused so much rumblings and rupture in the ruling party.
Beyond all these considerations, I think it would have been unfair to sack the governors, when they are chief security officers only in name, and the mechanics of control actually reside at the federal level. If anybody is to blame for anarchy in those states, it is the Federal Government that controls the police, the army, state security service, and other agencies, not the state governors, who are mere spare tyres in matters of security. Talking of the broadcast itself, did President Jonathan need to make it? I don’t think so.
Here’s why: what did he really say at the end of the broadcast other than that more troops would be moved into the three states? Not much. So, did we need a national broacast to move soldiers? No. As the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria said in a press statement, “There is nothing new in the President’s action. It is more of the same: deployment of more troops to the affected states and use of tougher scorched-earth tactics against the insurgents. In the first instance, this stepped-up militarization of the states amounts to asymmetric use of force in an environment where the insurgents operate within a civilian population, hence it will ultimately be counter-productive, as the death toll will continue to mount.”
True. If I lived in Borno, Yobe or Adamawa, then it would be time to show a clean pair of heels.
Those heels would touch the back of my head as I run for dear life. Why would I run? Hear President Jonathan: “The troops and other security agencies involved in these options have orders to take ALL (emphasis mine) necessary action, within the ambit of their rules of engagement, to put an end to the impunity of terrorists. This will include 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.”
What does this mean in ordinary language? License to kill.
The president has given our security agencies the order to kill and go. If I lived in Borno, Yobe or Adamawa, I tell you, my heels would touch the back of my head as I run. Our military is in a killer mood, now they have virtually been unleashed.
The ACN said since emergency rule has been declared, government should disband the committee recently inaugurated to initiate dialogue leading to amnesty. I disagree. We will still need to talk with Boko Haram before this insurgency would ever end. Terror activities have been stepped up in the last couple of weeks, even as the amnesty committee began to work. Boko Haram leadership should give the initiative a chance.
The truth is they will never be able to Islamize Nigeria. Neither will they be able to kill almost 200 million Nigerians. If they do so, who will they then rule over? Dialogue is still the ultimate end of this unfortunate situation we find ourselves in, and let both parties continue with the initiative. The Federal Government will not win through outright use of force, Boko Haram will not win either.
Why not then embrace other options with sincerity? I am glad that the president has said the dialogue option would continue, despite declaration of emergency rule. Back to the national broadcast of Tuesday, which was also carried by global satellite television.
A number of times, President Jonathan had gone abroad to say Nigeria was safe for investors, and that only a tiny part of the country was given to insurgency. On Tuesday, he unwittingly reversed that position.
Hear him: “It has become necessary for me to address you on the recent spate of terrorist activities and protracted security challenges in some parts of the country, particularly in Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Gombe, Bauchi, Kano, Plateau, and most recently Bayelsa, Taraba, Benue and Nasarawa states.”
Eleven whole states out of 36! Holy Moses! And you say there is still a cohesive country? If 11 states are, to quote the president, engaged in “spate of terrorist activities and protracted security challenges,” then what are we saying? What are we really telling the world? Nigeria is breaking apart, the centre can no longer hold.
And I’m not the one that said it, the President did. Hear the President again: “These terrorists and insurgents seem determined to establish control and authority over parts of our beloved nation and to progressively overwhelm the rest of the country. In many places, they have destroyed the Nigerian flag and other symbols of state authority and in their place, hoisted strange flags suggesting the exercise of alternative sovereignty.”
Did I say that? No, the president did. But did he need to say it, if only what he wanted to do was deploy more troops in just three states? No.
What he said is now reverberating in international circles, and those ones would be telling themselves that Nigeria is not safe, that even the president has said foreign flags have been hoisted in the country. “They have attacked government buildings, and facilities. They have murdered innocent citizens and state officials. They have set houses ablaze, and taken women and children as hostages.” My words? No. They are the president’s words. And the whole world heard him. Was it necessary to de-market the country if the intention was just to deploy more troops? Not necessary. Those who wrote that speech for the president sure did him and the country a world of disservice.
Talking of emergency rule in three states, who says that is the only portion of Nigeria under such situation? Recently in Lagos, a local government chairman was kidnapped. Last week in Benin, the family of a serving Supreme Court justice was abducted. In the South-east, kidnap for ransom is a daily occurrence. In Nasarawa last week, cultists killed almost 100 fully armed policemen, and men of the secret service.
Recently in Amansea, Anambra State, scores of mysterious corpses floated on a river. Dozens die daily in Benue and Plateau states, Fulani herdsmen and farmers confront one another hourly in different parts of the country, leaving many dead. In southern Kaduna, the rivers have become rivers of blood, while armed robbers hold sway in many cities. When such scenarios pervade the land, people want to find safety in police stations and military formations. But what do you see in such places, which should be bastions of security?
Barricades upon barricades, bags of sand and stone piled on one another, with sentries at alert to ward off possible attacks. Security men themselves are no longer secure. And you think the entire country is not under emergency rule? It is, and no mistake.
The prayer is that may we never have cause to run helter-skelter, to the extent that our heels begin to touch the back of our heads. If somebody doesn’t say amen, me I’m saying it loud and repeatedly.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Femi Adesina