About a fortnight ago, President Goodluck Jonathan once more approached the National Assembly seeking its endorsement of his proposal for another six-month extension of emergency rule in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states. This, now granted, would be the second extension. The first extension, which expired on the 19th of this month, was granted last November, six months ago, after the expiration of the institution of the first six months of the emergency rule regime in those three states, one year ago on May 14, 2013.
The president’s request for extension didn’t come as a surprise at all. Long before it, hints of the president’s intentions were being dropped everywhere by the presidency and the president’s men, with some of the latter calling for the sacking and replacement of the governors of the three states with military men –as former President Obasanjo did in Plateau State inMay, 2004.Outside the small circle of the president and his men, a chorus of some mighty voices has also been actively drumming up support for the extension, largely in the mistaken belief that the extension is necessary to enable the armed forces move in with full force to “wipe out Boko Haram.”
What, rather, we find surprising, and disappointing, is the ease and speed with which the president’s request found support and passage in the House of Representatives, and yesterday in the Senate. We are particularly surprised that Speaker Aminu Tambuwal steered the proceedings in the House –the chamber that is peopled by the younger elements in the National Assembly who usually take and push more progressive positions than their older colleagues in the Senate –in such a way that the extension request was passed with alacrity, and in such an uncritical and unthinking manner that leaves one wondering what kind of behind-the- scenes moves might have taken place that so easily softened the hard hearts of the House on this matter.
We are surprised and disappointed because the National Assembly is the legislative arm of our government that is peopled entirely by elected representatives of the Nigerian people, each with a duty to represent the interest of, and speak for, his constituents.In the National Assembly today, there are close to 50 elected men and women- Senators and House members – representing the various peoples and constituencies in the three states under emergency rule. Much more than the members of the executive arm ensconced in Abuja, these men and women legislators are the ones on the ground and inconstant touch with their constituents. They know the terrain, they know the people, they know the pains and sufferings their peoples go through and share some of them; at least, they know better than those in Abuja the impact and implications of the insurgency on the populations, economy and environments of the places they represent.
These federal legislators, almost without exception, are opposed to the extension of emergency rule, and have collectively and individually voiced their opposition to it. The elders from these states have also, and in no mistaken terms, raised their weighty voices at a world press conference in opposition to the extension. Other major stakeholders, including women and youth groups, have also raised serious objections to the extension proposal.What then is it that the President and his men and the armed and security people know that these legislators, elders, women and the youth and other stakeholders from these three do not know, and that explains the former’s insistence on having the emergency rule regime extended by another six months?
Basically, the argument for the extension by the presidency and the armed forces is that the emergency rule regime is working, the main evidence of this being that the insurgents have effectively been pushed out of some urban centres like Maiduguri and Damaturu, leading to a significant reduction in violent attacks and loss of lives in these centres. This we admit. But we ask: by what logic does driving out a group from one place become the same as eliminating them? Have not the insurgents driven out from the urban centres now regrouped in the forests and mountains of the remote areas of especially Borno state and, once there, become better armed and equipped, more sophisticated in the planning and conduct of their terror campaigns and much more daring in their almost daily outings? The evidence of this is everywhere: Bama, Buni Yadi, Gamboru Ngala, Chibok, to mention a few of the most recent tragic attacks by the insurgents.
Obviously, the whole idea of extending the emergency rule is informed by the insistence of the authority on a finish- them- all military solution, which doesn’t take into account the fact what we are facing and fighting is an asymmetric war in which the enemy isn’t all stationed in one place and easily identifiable, but scattered and often embedded in the populations.
And what is deeply disturbing is that in spite of the very clear evidence pointing to the fact that such a war is not such that any side can hope to win, the authority insists on meeting violence with violence as the only solution. It is clear that it is our armed and security forces that are pushing the military option. And it is easy to understand why they do so. Armed forces all over the world prefer action to idleness. Action comes with money and power. Action puts the commanders in positions that enable them to enrich themselves and call the shots in the polity. In a county where corruption is rife, as in ours, the military top guns simply corner most of the allocations to the armed forces, leaving the army itself ill-equipped, and the fighting men in the field underfed, not well armed and denied their legitimate allowances and welfare packages.
The generals may keep denying it, but from all accounts, including testimonies by some of our fighting soldiers, the insurgents arebetter armed and equipped than our soldiers in the war front, which explains why they are not motivated and simply vanish when the insurgents attack.
The earlier the president understood this point the better for all of us. If the president wants this war won, he most fashion a more creative and multi-dimensional approach. The insurgents cannot be wiped out without the conditions that gave rise to the insurgency being wiped out. Emergency rule extensions and the insistence on the macho option are no solutions at all.What is needed and what the president must now sit down with leaders from the three states to fashion is a comprehensive programme and policy of massive federal intervention that will lead to huge increase in the quantity and quality of education; creation of employment opportunities; job creation; poverty reduction; reduction of inequalities in income and wealth distribution as well as development of agriculture in the region.
With such a programme in place and being faithfully implemented, the huge pool of the unemployed from which the insurgency recruits will be significantly reduced in size, the insurgency’s guiding ideology will loose much of its appeal and there will be more willingness on the part of the populations in that region to cooperate with the authorities in fighting the insurgency.