President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday made real his threat to crush Boko Haram – he declared a state of emergency in 15 selected local government areas of Borno, Yobe, Plateau and Niger states, even as he ordered for the closure of Chad and Niger Republic borders.
This declaration, coming on the eve of the New Year celebration, analysts say, is the most extensive since the Nigerian civil war.
The emergency rule will, however, not affect the functional roles of the governors of the four states, their state assemblies, the local government chairmen and other elected officers.
Reacting to the Jonathan measure, prominent lawyers, Prof Itse Sagay (SAN),Mallam Yusuf Ali (SAN), Dr Koyinsola Ajayi (SAN), and Mr. Yahaya Mahmood (SAN) said that the president acted in good faith by declaring emergency rule in the affected local government areas of the four states.
In Borno State, the five LGAs include Maidugiri Metropolitan, Gamboru Ngala, Banki Bama, Biu and Jere. The five affected LGAs in Yobe State are Damaturu, Gaidam, Potiskum, Buniyadi-Gujba and Gasua-Bade.
In Plateau State, four local governments were affected. They include Jos North, Jos South, Barkin-Ladi and Riyom, while in Niger State, Suleja is the only local government affected.
In a live broadcast yesterday, about two hours after he returned from Suleja where he visited St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla that was bombed on December 25, the president said the state of emergency was in the exercise of the powers conferred on him by the provisions of section 305 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
He ordered the chief of defence staff and the inspector-general of police to put appropriate measures in place to ensure the protection of lives and property of residents in the affected parts of the country.
“The chief of defence staff, in collaboration with other service chiefs, has also been directed to set up a special force unit within the Armed Forces, with dedicated counter-terrorism responsibilities,” he added.
Jonathan said as part of the overall strategy to overcome the current security challenges, he had directed the closure of the land borders contiguous to the affected local government areas so as to control incidents of cross-border terrorist activities, “as terrorists have taken advantage of the present situation to strike at targets in Nigeria and retreat beyond the reach of our law enforcement personnel”, which by implication means the borders of Chad and Niger Republics.
He promised that details of his proclamation would be transmitted to the National Assembly as soon its members reconvene from their current recess to enable them take necessary action.
According to the president, while the search for lasting solutions was ongoing, it has become imperative to take some decisive measures, including declaring a state of emergency in certain parts of the North.
This, he said, was necessary to restore normalcy in the country, especially within the affected communities.
He directed the political leadership in the affected states and local government areas to give maximum cooperation to the law enforcement agencies deployed to their respective communities to ensure that the situation is brought under control within the shortest possible time.
The president said: “Fellow Nigerians, it has become necessary to address you on recent events in some parts of the country that have threatened our collective security and shaken the foundations of our corporate existence as a nation.
“You are all aware of the security challenges which the activities of the Boko Haram sect have foisted on the country. What began as sectarian crises in the North-Eastern parts of the country has gradually evolved into terrorist activities in different parts of the country with attendant negative consequences on our national security.
“Government, in an effort to find a lasting solution to the security threats occasioned by the activities of the Boko Haram sect, constituted a presidential committee under the chairmanship of Ambassador Usman Gaji Galtimari, to ascertain the immediate and remote causes of the crises.
“While efforts are being made to implement the recommendations of the committee, the crises have assumed a terrorist dimension with vital institutions of government including the United Nations Building and places of worship becoming targets of terrorist attacks.”
“The temporary closure of our borders in the affected areas is only an interim measure designed to address the current security challenges and will be reviewed as soon as normalcy is restored”.
“Terrorism is a war against all of us. I call on all Nigerians to join hands with government to fight these terrorists. I wish all Nigerians a very happy New Year.”
But briefing State House Correspondents immediately after the broadcast alongside presidential spokesman Dr. Reuben Abati, the national security adviser (NSA), General Andrew Azazi (rtd), noted that the declaration of state of emergency by the president does not mean democratic institutions will be non-existent in the affected states and local government areas.
He said what the proclamation means is that security forces will have more powers in the local government areas than the democratic government.
Earlier in the day, President Jonathan had promised that there would be no sacred cows in government’s bid to crush those behind Boko Haram, be it an individual, a group of people or institutions.
Jonathan said this when he visited St. Theresa Catholic Church, Madalla, scene of the suicide bombings that killed over 40 people in Suleja, Niger State.
He said: “As the president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Nigeria, I will take actions so that this will come to an end very soon. In any part of this country where an individual or a group of people, either traditional or religious institutions, associated with terrorists will be dealt with decisively. There will be no sacred cows”.
“Suleja is a particular local government that is becoming very notorious in terms of terrorism. When the terrorists struck in Niger State, it was in Suleja. Luckily, the local government chairman is here. We are going to turn this place upside down. If there are institutions here that are harbouring criminality, we are going to deal with them decisively, because Niger State is a very big state and every terrorist attack is in Suleja,” he added.
Niger State Governor Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu had disclosed that families of the victims of the bomb attack will start receiving their compensation from next Tuesday, as the committee set up to this effect has already concluded its work.
Jonathan also said, “We will crush them. We’ve seen what happened in other countries. Terrorist attack is not what you will use magic wand to wave off, but collectively we will bring it under control and finally we will crush it.”
The lawyers, who spoke in separate interviews with one of our correspondents yesterday, added that the development was timely just as they argued that the declaration did not affect the functions of the governors and the state Houses of Assembly.
Sagay said: “The president has done the right thing. This action will give him the necessary power, through the National Assembly’s legislation, to declare curfew, restriction of movement and curtailment of normal human rights in those areas.
“There is the need for declaration of emergency. But I wish to inform the president that there is the need for him to direct the security agencies to engage more in intelligence gathering and proactive measures. Jonathan also needs to upgrade the technical manpower of the security agencies to tackle terrorism. The combination of these measures will definitely curb the activities of the Boko Haram sect. This declaration does not affect the functions of the governors and the state Assemblies. The illegality applied by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in Plateau State where ex-Governor Joshua Dariye was removed is not applicable here.”
For Ali: “The president is in order. The normal laws applicable in those areas stand suspended while emergency put in place will lead to imposition of curfew, searches and other extra-ordinary measures to bring peace to the areas. It is also instructive that errant individuals who commit offence will be dealt with according to the state laws. These measures will surely reduce the menace of the sect.”
Ajayi said: “Jonathan is on course. It is very necessary to declare emergency in those areas as it is long overdue. It is a right step in the right direction. This is to show that he is in control. But there is the need for urgent attention to tackle the root cause of the sect’s activities, which is corruption.”
Mahmood noted: “With bombings in many parts of the country, especially in the recent ones in a church in Madalla and a mosque in Maiduguri, and the tension created by some religious and community leaders, it was appropriate for the federal government to act the way it did.
“The president has powers under section 305 of the 1999 Constitution. But the federal government needs to find out who Boko Haram members are, their complaints and their sponsors.”
Governor Babangida Aliyu, in his reaction said that the declaration of a state of emergency in parts of Borno, Yobe, Plateau and Niger states by the president was a welcome development, adding the state would support any move aimed at restoring lasting peace in the affected areas.
The governor, who spoke through his chief press secretary, Malam Danladi Ndayebo, said it was about time the activities of terrorists were brought under control.
Governor Aliyu pledged to work with the special task force that will be set up by the chief of defence staff and the inspector general of police to oversee the affairs of Suleja local government area of Niger State.
He urged Nigerians not to allow any group of persons to hide under any ideology or religion to perpetrate evil.
Contacted on the matter, the Special Adviser to Yobe State Governor on Media, Abdullahi Bego, told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY on phone that they would not react to the presidential declaration of emergency rule until they get details.
In Maiduguri and Jere, the declaration of emergency rule was also received with excitement and hope.
The residents said that it was long overdue.
At Jere, people were seen in groups discussing what the declaration would mean to the administration of the council and the rights of people in those local governments areas.
Some of those who spoke to LEADERSHIP SUNDAY said it was a welcome development as the state had been under siege for so long without any solution in the air.
They said the security situation in Maiduguri and Jere local governments had declined so much in the last one year that any serious security measure would always be welcomed.
Speaking to journalists on the feeling of the state government, the Borno State commissioner for information, Mr. Inuwa Bwala, said the state is in tandem with the federal government’s action, and would not even mind to have military administrators at the helm of the affected local governments.
He said the government would agree with anything that could bring peace to the state.