Lift the state of emergency in North East, but...
he state of emergency imposed on Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states for the past 6 months is due to expire on May 12. Taken together with the earlier one imposed by President Goodluck Jonathan on May 20, 2013, which expired in November 2013, the three states have been under emergency rule for one year. Expectedly, opinion on its status is sharply divided, with calls both for its continuation and termination becoming more and strident. The government in these states and others close to them, and the rest of the North, have called for its termination, while a handful of others, most prominently religious groups and ethnic leaders mainly in the south, point to recent violent activities blamed on insurgents as reason for its continuation.
In the period of the renewed emergency measures, the initial lull in insurgent activities soon gave way to a brutal intensification of the campaign that saw towns and villages sacked and razed to the ground. The insurgents, members of the Boko Haram, carried out an orgy of mindless destruction of humans and materials across a huge swathe of the North East. All this was undertaken under the noses of those charged with maintaining security. Ironically both groups – the pro-emergency rule and those opposed to it, have cited the worsening security situation to support their positions. The one arguing that emergency rule has not only failed to curtail the insurgency, but that the attacks, which had been at a low ebb have now intensified, becoming widespread beyond the capability of security outfits to contain. The other group, on the other hand, points to the escalation of the insurgency as the very reason why the emergency rule must remain.
A reasonable argument can be made that both sides mean well for the region and seek its speedy return to normalcy to enable it to properly re-integrate, socially and economically, into the country. The fact however is that critical consideration of the impact of the emergency rule since its imposition has shown that it has gone on for far too long; prolonging it would become inimical to the values of personal freedom and democracy now being deepened and strengthened in the country. By now, even the most inveterate advocate of scorched-earth tactics must have realised that while the insurgency must be defeated, this would be achieved gradually through deploying more than the conventional means of fighting wars. Of necessity, this would include force of arms as is being done presently, but more importantly, the complementary use of other softer approach aimed at dissuading young people from becoming willing recruits to the ignoble campaign of the insurgency, and credible enough to even cause those sworn to violence to foreswear it.
This multi-prong approach to combating the insurgency would require winning the hearts and minds of the people of the entire North East. This is by no means an easy task under the current traumatising regime of emergency rule whose often draconian enforcement has created hostility against the military among the people, and raised questions of what rules of engagement they had been given. Thus, it would not be advisable for the emergency measures to remain in place when it expires.
Discontinuing the measures however does not mean the military forces on the ground would be withdrawn immediately; it should not result into the escalation of insurgent attacks beyond what has been witnessed, particularly if containment is done wholeheartedly and properly without any political motive. When security vigilance among the civil populace is fully heightened, other measures can then be taken to complement the use of force, and this should include well thought-out community initiatives to explore means of dialogue and suasion as ways to bring peace. Thankfully, age-old channels and processes exist to facilitate this through established traditional offices of the Shehu of Borno and other royal fathers whose goodwill and clout in their communities should be put to use.
Across the length and breadth of Nigeria, there is no place that has not evolved a uniquely potent traditional means of bringing sponsored machinations to a summary end. It is long past the time that communities in the North East explored that possibility as additional effort to bring an end to the insurgency. The highly politicised atmosphere does not lend itself to any rational consideration for the extension of emergency measures in the three states.