The National Assembly is dragging its feet over approving another six months state of emergency for President Goodluck Jonathan to prosecute the war against Boko Haram insurgents who are wreak havoc in the North-East part of Nigeria
| By Olu Ojewale | Dec. 15, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT |
EVERY Nigerian will agree that Boko Haram insurgency does not portend any good for the nation. But not everyone is in support of measures adopted by President Goodluck Jonathan administration to deal with the insurgency which has turned the North-Eastern part of the country into a theatre of war. On November 17, President Jonathan formally sought the approval of the Senate and the House Representatives as required by the constitution, for the extension of the state of emergency in the three North-eastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, which have remained the hotbed of Boko Haram insurgents since the first state of emergency in May 2013.
On Thursday, November 20, the House of Representatives formally rejected the president’s request. The Senate is yet to commit, while has it intensified investigations on how it would reply to the president’s request. In order to avoid another serious confrontation between the legislative and executive arms of government, the House of Representatives on Tuesday shifted its resumption date from Thursday, December 4 to December 16.
It is, however, hoped that the seemingly intractable situation on ground in the three states and beyond would play a crucial role in helping the Senate to make up its mind. For instance, on Tuesday, December 2, a female suicide bomber, who was arrested by civilian Joint Task Force, JTF, a vigilante group, disclosed that no fewer than 50 female bombers had been let loose in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State, to kill 100,000 persons before the end of this month of December. The female suicide bomber was said to have been arrested at the entrance gate of the University of Maiduguri, while another one was apprehended at the busy Post Office area of the metropolis.
Upon their arrest, one of the suicide bombers confessed before being handed over to security operatives that 50 female members of the sect had been initiated and were ready to wreak havoc in Maiduguri and environs before the end of the year. The arrest came barely a day after two female suicide bombers blew themselves up in Maiduguri Market on Monday, December 1, killing more than 20 civilians and injuring 48 others. Following the disclosure, sources said, tension became very high in the Borno capital as students of the University of Maiduguri had to undergo serious checks by security operatives before being allowed into the campus. As part of precautionary measures, it was gathered that students had been banned from entering the campus with their vehicles as only lecturers enjoyed this privilege after rigorous checks and identification.
Earlier the same Monday, December 1, the dreaded Islamic terror group launched multiple and ambitious war attacks on Damaturu, capital of Yobe State where it tried to seize the state’s government house. By the time the military was able to take control, many mangled bodies had littered the streets, several other people in their own pools of blood as well as badly damaged properties. The insurgents had woken up residents of Damaturu at about 5:00 am shooting sporadically and triggering off explosives as they moved to take control of security facilities in the state capital. The militants also engaged Nigeria police and the military and it took several hours before the Nigerian forces could regain control of the city. Ibrahim Gaidam, state governor, thus imposed a 24-hour curfew on the state capital to restore order. The curfew was later reviewed to dust to dawn from 6:00 pm to 7:00 am. But that has not stopped frequent fighting in the state and the two others.
What has become more worrisome for Nigerians, however, is that the attacks are becoming more frequent than before, prompting some observers to link it to President Jonathan’s ambition for a second term. Indeed, since his declaration, the fundamentalists have attacked many towns and communities in their recent renewed fierce hits in the three states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, where the recently expired state of emergency had been declared. The sect also bombed Kano central mosque, close to emir’s palace in Kano on Friday, November 28, which lead to the death of more than 100 persons.
Despite the somewhat helplessness of the situation, Nigerian leaders are not losing hope that the insurgents would be eliminated in no distant future. Speaking at the opening ceremony of the 2014 Chief of Army Staff Conference in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, on Tuesday, December 2, President Goodluck, who was represented by Aliyu Gusau, minister of Defence, noted that one of the cardinal pillars of his transformation agenda is the safety, security and well-being of all Nigerians and other residents irrespective of their tribes or religious affiliations. “It is a duty that I have devoted my entire being to and resolve towards its attainment. It is in line with my government’s resolve that we are ever committed to provide a safe and enabling environment for all Nigerians to carry out their businesses and contribute to the building of a strong, united, prosperous and stable nation. Under my leadership, the federal government will continue to provide ready assistance to the armed forces to meet operational needs.”
The President said resources have been made available to ensure recruitment and training of capable army personnel. General Yakubu Gowon, former head of state, who was represented by Buba Marwa, retired brigadier-general and former military administrator of Lagos State, enjoined the military not to relent its efforts in defending the territorial integrity of the country by rooting out Boko Haram insurgents. “From the pictures of Boko Haram seen, apart from being mounted on Toyota vehicles, they look rag-tag – certainly no threat to well-trained and better soldiers of the Nigerian Army. The COAS and commanders need to urgently correct this negative perception about our soldiers who have in the past, a record of professionalism and competence.” He recalled how the Nigerian forces prosecuted the civil war and how he still believed in their ability to win against the insurgents. “I have not lost confidence in our armed forces. I want you to retrieve your honour by reversing some of these lapses into successes, losses into victories; negative opinions into positive opinions. I charge you to go all out to flush those insurgents out of our territories, all the way back to where they came from. That is the task the armed forces must accomplish without delay”.
Similarly, Lieutenant-General Kenneth Minimah, chief of army staff, assured the country of the army’s duty to defend the country from external aggression, maintain its territorial integrity, suppress insurrection and provide aid to civil authorities. “The Nigerian Army is aware of the enormity of this national challenge having fought a 30-month civil war to unite Nigeria and taken part in operations to protect the territorial integrity of other countries which faced similar threats. “We would be undertaking a review of ongoing operations in the North-East with a view to bringing a speedy end to the reign of terror unleashed on innocent Nigerians by these elements,” the army chief said.
But the war against Boko Haram is also being used as political tool by Nigerian politicians. On Saturday, November 29, General Muhammadu Buhari, a former head of state and a leading presidential hopeful of All Progressive Congress, APC, promised to end insurgency and other forms of insecurity in the country, if elected president in the 2015 general elections. He also criticised the President Jonathan administration for borrowing $1 billion to prosecute Boko Haram insurgents in the north east. Buhari said: ‘For 30 months as we fought civil war from here to the East, and Nigeria never borrowed a dime, and don’t forget that Nigeria won the war that continues to keep us as a single entity.” The retired general who made the statement in Kano shortly after he commiserating with victims of the Friday multiple bomb blast at Kano central mosque, on Saturday, November 29, said there was “no basis or cogent reason as to why Nigeria must borrow money to fight the Insurgency.”
Apparently displeased, the PDP on Wednesday, December 3, described Buhari’s comments on the insurgency in the country as unpatriotic and unbefitting of a former head of state who wants to lead the country again as president. In a statement signed by Olisa Metuh, national publicity secretary of the PDP, the party said: “Rather than showing patriotism by collaborating with the federal government, the All Progressives Congress, APC, presidential aspirant prefers to ensure that the nation has no solution until he steps in as president with his ‘magic wand’ to end the insurgency.
“This not only exposes a height of insensitivity but also shows a clear absence of genuine love and concern for the people. Assuming, without conceding that he has the solution to the problem, should Buhari as a prominent citizen not have put the country first before any selfish political agenda and personal aggrandisement?
“Whereas the federal government has shown indisputable commitment to ending the insurgency by deploying troops and equipping the military, opposition leaders, including Buhari, have continued in their desperate attempt to sabotage the efforts by making statements that encourage insurgency and are capable of demoralising and dividing our security agencies.”
That notwithstanding, as the rumble and tumble in the political scene continue over the ongoing party primaries, Nigerians are eagerly awaiting the National Assembly decision after its resumption December 16. From all indications, the Senate decision is expected to be largely based on its independent findings as well as its formal interaction with the military service chiefs. As a prelude to making up its mind on the state of emergency, the Senate had held a closed-door meeting on Tuesday, November 25, with the service chiefs where they were grilled for more than eight hours on the Boko Haram insurgency. In attendance were Air Vice-Marshall Adesola Amosu, chief of air staff; Minimah and Ekpeyong Ita, director of the Department of State Service, DSS.
Enyinnaya Abaribe, chairman, Senate committee on information, who briefed newsmen after the closed-door session, said the military listed the problems of troop, equipments and other auxiliary problems as the major challenges confronting them in the war against the terrorists. Abaribe said: “The (Senate) interaction was very frank and it was very detailed… I can tell you, the Senate was very impressed with the response from the military and like I said, the military has shown itself to be capable of dealing with the insurgency. The fact that they are capable of dealing with the insurgency means that the senate will do all in its power to support the Nigeria military so that we can bring this insurgency to a quick resolution.”
Abaribe said although the issue of state of emergency was not discussed with the military, the military chiefs demanded for its continuation to help them do their job. “Of course the military continues to insist that it needs the state of emergency to be able to conduct operations in a manner that will bring it to a quick resolution,” he said.
According to military sources, state of emergency usually helps members of the forces to conduct their operations without hindrances. It also gives them freedom to go to any place and conduct searches at will.
Should the Nigerian lawmakers allow the state of emergency to continue in the three states? Many legislators from the crisis ridden states as well as their governors, except one, who happen to belong to the opposition party, have kicked against the emergency rule extension saying it had not done any good for them.
Ahmed Lawan, an APC senator, from Borno State, said there was no reason to extend the emergency rule. “I believe that after 18 months operation of the same emergency, we should look at another avenue because if you have tried something for 18 months and you are not getting results, each time you try a dosage of your medication, it gets worse, it will be stupid of you to continue to take the same dosage of medication,” he said.
Similarly, Ali Ndume, a senator representing Borno North, said instead of the situation to improve, it appeared the emergency rule had made it worse. “All Nigerians know what is happening. The state of emergency that was granted three times have taken us from bad to worse. As the representative of my people, my entire constituents are clearly against the extension of the emergency rule because it restricts civilian movements and allows the insurgents to move freely and have a field day. When people are sleeping in the night, insurgents are freely moving around. By 6:00pm, the whole towns are closed, civilians cannot move but the insurgents do. What is on ground that will change the situation that did not happen before?” Ndume asked. Governors Ibrahim Gaidam of Yobe State and Kashim Shettima of Borno State, have expressed opposition to the continued state of emergency in their states saying it was a wrong measure and should be discarded.
However, to get out of the quagmire, some Nigerians have proffered what they consider as a viable solution. Onyekachi Ubani, a lawyer and former chairman, Nigeria Bar Association, Ikeja branch, Lagos, said the Senate should examine why the previous emergency rule extension did not work with the aim of enthroning a workable one. Ubani said the three north eastern states are very crucial to the country to be allowed to be run over by Boko Haram insurgents. “The military should be more patriotic to know why previous emergency rule was not working and see how they can make it work. In that wise, they will be helping the country and they will also be helping themselves.” In the overall interest of the country, Ubani enjoined President Jonathan to declare a total war against the Boko Haram insurgents in the three states by removing the civilian structures in the states. “My own take is that part of the federation is at war and I think the only way they can curtail it is to really suspend the part of the constitution that deals with issues of civilian democracy there and let the military take over the whole aspects of governance there for now. … The only way they can force the insurgents out of those places is a total military takeover, enthrone military administrators; carry almost every military to the war zone. Let the chief of army staff and other generals relocate to the war. What makes them generals if they cannot fight war?” he argued.
In response to an argument whether the president would not violate the provisions of the constitution, the lawyer said there had been many violations already and violating the constitution to bring about peace to the country would not do the nation any harm. “Is it not madness when you continue to use the same drug for a sickness that does not go. The seller says if you use the drug for some time and it does not work consult your doctor. The measures they have been using have not been working. Tell them (people in government) that every day they violate the constitution. So, the issue now is to respect the constitution when it concerns the issue of insurgency? Tell them I don’t agree with that. If they violate this one and get results I support it.”
Supporting Ubani’s view, Ebongabasi Ekpe-Juda, a security expert, said President Jonathan should use his powers as commander-in-chief to declare a total war in the troubled states. “It means, election should not hold in those three states. Military should take over governance and make sure they flush out Boko Haram. The president should go ahead and declare war on Boko Haram and terrorism. That’s what is required. In one way, the National Assembly foot-dragging on emergency rule is good; it should be an impetus to go on all out war against terrorism. The situation on ground is not emergency again. Government should be serious about this war otherwise it will consume the whole country,” Ekpe-Juda said. Besides, it is feared by analysts that if the situation persist American prediction about the disintegration of Nigeria could come to pass. “The constitution makes provision for the president to declare war on Boko Haram. Government knows those who are sympathetic with the sect in the National Assembly and they should be arrested,” he said.
Since the start of Boko Haram strikes, no fewer than 500,000 Nigerians are believed to have been displaced from their places of abode. A great number of villagers have been made to trek across the border to Cameroon, where they sometimes stayed for months before returning back to Nigeria but did not dare to return to their homes.
Incidentally, thousands of the displaced Nigerians are left largely to fend for themselves by looking for shelter, food and water, according to the European Union, EU report. The displaced persons are said to flocking to relief centres across the North-East every day. “They are exhausted and vulnerable. We must find ways to help and protect them,” Christos Stylianides, EU commissioner for humanitarian aid, said putting the number of displaced Nigerians at 1.6 million. The EU has pledged $6.2 million in assistance to Nigeria to help with the internally displaced situation.
However, the animosity between the Nigerian government and the United States seems to be getting worse with the Nigerian government cancelling a plan to have the US military train a battalion of the Nigerian army to confront the extremist Boko Haram sect. The federal government announced the cancellation without giving any reason, on Monday, December 1.
But in its reaction, the US government said it regretted the decision. “At the request of the Nigerian government, the United States will discontinue its training of a Nigerian Army battalion,” the U.S. government, through its embassy in Abuja, said in a statement. Relations between the two countries have been at a record low with Nigeria accusing the US of not providing sufficient support for its fight against Boko Haram.
In an informal intervention, Wole Soyinka, a Nobel Laureate, on Wednesday, December 3, asked the US to stop giving excuses on why it would not supply arms to Nigeria. Speaking at a press conference in Lagos, Soyinka, who stated that the country was in a war situation, said what Nigeria needed was not emergency relief materials, but support to win the war. He said: “Please, United States of America, could you please, overlook the arithmetical deficiency of governance and stop giving an excuse to this government for failing to protect us. We are trying to create, I hope a situation, where we do have conflict affected households. We do not need emergency relief supplies. We want to stop the displacement of humanity, etc. So, please, just say that will not supply arms to Nigeria and leave it at that. But don’t say that instead you will send other things. That is not the issue at this critical moment for Nigeria. We are fighting a legitimate, a just war.”
But for how long will the war last before sanity returns to the country to allow normalcy in the country? This seems very difficult to say, more so, as Ekpe-Juda said: “My fear is that if Jonathan goes today, we have already sown the seed of crisis. In crisis management you only know the start, you don’t know the end, which is unfortunate for this country. There is already a form of terrorism, nobody can predict the end. You might think it is only Boko Haram alone, but there may be other terrorist groups involved. That is why there should be an all-out war against the insurgents.”