Friday, 17 May 2013

Opinion: Declaration Of State Of Emergency, A Setback For Nigeria’s Democracy

Nigeria's President Jonathan Announcing The State Of Emergency


By Nelson Ekujumi

Following the recent upsurge in terrorists activities in the Northern part of Nigeria which claimed alarming figures of innocent civilian lives and security agents as well as the wanton destruction of properties, President Goodluck Jonathan as is expected of a responsible and responsive leader had to hurriedly abort his visit to some Southern African states and return home to confront the national crisis.

However this writer like millions of Nigerians was taken aback when Mr. President in a nationally televised broadcast on Tuesday 14th May 2013 declared a state of emergency rule in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states as a step to arresting the drift in national security. However good the intentions of Mr. President at halting this national calamity may seem, his action in this case is a short sighted, crude, undemocratic and a not well thought out one for addressing a problem which has the tendency to conflagrate and derail our democracy if care is not taken.

First and foremost, I have painfully observed that opinions of Nigerians on this matter are divided along sectional, religious and in some cases political lines which portends grave danger for Nigeria’s unity and democracy which is not in the interest of the teeming mass of our people at this critical period in our national life. In as much as we condemn violence in whatever form and wish that the perpetrators be brought to book no matter their identity, we must be very careful to ensure that whatever we do in a democratic system is in tandem with democratic norms and not the other way. The declaration of a state of emergency by Mr. President amounts to nothing other than cowardice which stands condemned because it is absurd, undemocratic and uncivilized. 

By declaring a state of emergency rule in some states at this period of our nascent democracy, President Goodluck Jonathan has proved once again that he is a leader who like some Nigerians, is yet to get out of the military mentality, in which crude use of force is justified and does not understand the real meaning of democracy. Democracy as we all know, connotes dialogue, discussion, debates, compromises and other civilized means of constructive engagement between the state and the citizenry. President Jonathan instead of using his good office to take the lead in championing the deepening of the tenets of democracy which the country is critically lacking at this point in our national life, has further fired a bullet into democracy’s heart by conveying the message to the whole world that Nigerians as a people are uncivilized, barbaric, crude and ill mannered, who cannot live peacefully with one another without the use of force and for me this is an unacceptable collective insult to the psyche of us all.

The dangers inherent in Mr. President’s action are too weighty to be over looked no matter the reasons given now because whatever one does today becomes a reference point tomorrow and it will amount to a great disservice to the good and toiling masses of this country if we don’t come out now to sound the note of warning lest we all be consumed when the real fire starts. Mr. President by this action is following a negative precedence which is unhealthy for our democracy and must be condemned. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo declared state of emergency in two states namely Plateau and Ekiti during his eight years reign, while President Jonathan has already declared states of emergency twice now, first in some local governments spread across four states namely Plateau, Yobe, Niger and Borno in December 2011 and now the latest one in Yobe, Borno and Adamawa states within a space of two (2) years. Our people have a saying that when a child stumbles, he looks forward but for the elderly, when he falls he looks back to examine the cause of the fall. We should not forget that the genesis of the Nigerian civil war in 1967 was laid by the declaration of a state of emergency in the South West region of Nigeria in 1962 and now we are toeing the same path. There is danger for whoever has wisdom because we might be unknowingly laying bobby traps for our country and democracy by attempting to cut off the head as a result of a headache which is suicidal.

As a democrat, the declaration of a state of emergency is a setback for all lovers and advocates of peaceful coexistence, progress, freedom and democracy because once again our rulers who always admonish us to find home grown solutions to our problems are the same ones embarrassing us in the comity of civilized people by undemocratic actions. For now, the fundamental human rights to life, movement, association, etc of innocent and peace loving persons in the affected states will be trampled upon with impunity by the invading forces.

If we thoroughly analyze the situation at hand objectively, one would see that the greatest threat to the unity, peace, progress and security of lives and properties of Nigerians and who are unconcerned that Nigeria claims its rightful place in the world stage is the federal government of Nigeria who have refused to do justice to the people by mobilizing the country to operate a federal system of government because of its vantage position. Nigeria is the only country in the world right now still operating a unitary system of government that is fraudulently called a federal system.

By the declaration of a state of emergency in some Northern states, President Jonathan has unwittingly indicted his administration as the chief perpetrator of the insecurity bedeviling the country. Why do I say so? Mr. President is the commander in chief of the armed forces, he controls all the agencies of state that are constitutionally charged with security matters and so if there is security breaches anywhere, we must hold no other person responsible but Mr. President. Another question that I would also like to ask Mr. President is, what use is the State Security Services (SSS), the Police, the JTF, the directorate of military intelligence (DMI), etc if we can witness such upscale insecurity challenges in these states now under emergency rule? By this action, Mr. President has confirmed that the federal security apparatus have failed and thus there is urgent need for a surgical operation to save the country from this drift.

Some people might want to ask, that what other options was there available to Mr. President to curb the menace other than the declaration of a state of emergency? The response is that at no point in time did the federal government allow the states and its people to constructively find a solution to this national problem without it breathing down their neck and imposing terms and condition which were undemocratic. The truth of the matter is that from inception, the government and people of the any of the states in Nigeria are not in charge of their security which is a federal function and when this problem was developing astronomically in the north because the issue of insecurity has engulfed every part of the country, the federal government further compounded it by sending in soldiers under the code name JTF who were incompetent and engaged in flagrant violations of human rights and were answerable only to Abuja, now this latest one. If the states had been allowed to constitutionally own and run their security mechanism with checks and balance put in place to check abuse, we might not have been in this mess today. We would have expected the people and governments affected who feels the pains most, to be responsible by finding a solution to the problem, then Mr. President’s action today would have been justified if and if only the people and government concerned by the crisis calls for help or we feel they are not doing enough because they have been overwhelmed. 

One indisputable truth that we cannot run away from no matter how hard we try is that security in these modern times is built on intelligence and domestication of its apparatus since it’s everybody’s business. A situation where we still rely on brute force and fire brigade approach to security matters just like in other aspects of our national life leaves much to be desired. Also we have to realize that there is nowhere in the world where peace has been maintained by the use of force but is rather built through dialogue, trust, understanding and empathy lest we have peace of the grave yard. Thus there is urgent need for Mr. President to rethink this state of emergency rule before the forces of occupation commence what they know how to do best, which is causing grief and sorrow.

I am also highly disappointed in the conduct of some governors of these states who are too lily livered to challenge the headmaster posture of the federal government In holding them responsible and portraying them as weak and incompetent in confronting security challenges among other issues in their states when in the real sense their position as the chief security officer of their states only exist on paper because they cannot even order a Police constable to carry out security duties. This is the right time for them to send executive bills to their respective states houses of assembly to pass a resolution for the creation of a state police, after all we are constitutionally operating a federal system of government.

The issue of peace, progress and justice will continue to be a mirage if we don’t all come together to look for a permanent solution rather than this usual adhoc solution to the myriad of problems confronting the Nigerian state by urgently demanding the convocation of a genuine and free from government interference Sovereign National Conference (SNC) where all the ethnic nationalities inhabiting the geographical expression called Nigeria will peacefully and uninhibited come together to discuss the birth of a new, free, happy and prosperous country.

A word is enough for the wise!

(Ekujumi is Executive Director,
Centre for Rights and Grassroots Initiative (CRGI)
1a Fadeyi Street, Ikeja, Lagos. Tel: 08023172694, 07033853232)

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