Nigeria’s President, Goodluck Jonathan, on the 14th May 2013 declared a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States. He was responding to the incessant terrorist attacks and other security challenges that have recently plagued Nigeria, The declaration is in accordance with the provisions of section 305(3 (c) (d) (f) Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended.
The President in his speech argued amongst other issues that the terrorists have established control over several parts of the nation, destroyed state property and hoisted strange flags suggesting the exercise of alternative sovereignty in some parts of the country. The insurgents have been killing innocent Nigerians as well as security agents and government officials thereby. They are well armed and appear to have received good training.
In this context, the State has a responsibility to take steps to re-establish public safety. At the same time, the State in its actions cannot join the insurgents in expanding the violations of the rights of Nigerians. The human rights of citizens should not be secondary to the provision of security. Public safety and human rights should be promoted in tandem.
This was the theme of a retreat organised by N-Katalysts this weekend. The organisation is a Pan-Nigerian non partisan network of individuals across different sectors that have deep commitment to the promotion of Nigerian unity and are committed to progressive change as well as the promotion of justice in the social, political and economic spheres.
In its Declaration, N-Katalysts argued that state of emergency should not be limited to sending in more troops into the affected states and equipping them with sweeping powers of arrest, detention, search etc. The utility of this approach remains doubtful especially within the context of the recent Baga debacle where over 200 citizens were allegedly murdered by security agents and thousands of houses were burnt and destroyed.
We cannot have a lasting solution to the problem of rising insecurity if the security forces continue in their approach of massive violations of human rights and non-adherence to the principles of the rule of law. The on-going struggle to defeat the insurgency should be used as an opportunity that the state and its security agencies has to start the process of winning the hearts and minds of Nigerians by ensuring that the wider population do not fall victim to the operations conducted by the security forces.
For N-Katalyst, it is important that all Nigerians realise that what is going on is a national, and not just a northern problem. The social, economic and political factors that fuelled the rise of militancy and fundamentalism in the Northern states are present in other parts of Nigeria and may engender similar security challenges if not addressed in a timely and holistic manner. The escalating insurgency in the Northern States of Nigeria by the Boko Haram sect and other fundamentalist elements, which has culminated in the current crisis, has revealed the lack of preparedness of our security agencies to rise to the challenge.
The Declaration by N-Katalyst observed that the prevailing security situation in the North East of Nigeria is characterized by militant insurgency and the government’s counter-insurgency operation amounts to a situation of Non-International Armed Conflict (NAIC), although the Nigerian government is unwilling to admit to such categorization.
Indeed, the Nigerian government appears unwilling to fit the security situation in the North East into any of the clear categories of armed conflict defined by law, with the disturbing effect that the counter-insurgency seems to be conducted outside the ambits of both Human Rights Law and Humanitarian Law. The group noted that the lack of clear legal categorization of the conflict has led to the absence of a legal framework within which the conflict may be defined and regulated, and has made it difficult to determine the appropriate standards of accountability and responsibility by which to assess the conduct of Nigerian security forces in the theatres of conflict.
This situation could lead to a dangerous prolongation of the crisis especially because of the developing political economy around the security challenges in Nigeria that is creating opportunities for mega accumulation of financial benefits by certain players in the security arena who are profiteering from the conflict, either directly from the counter-insurgency budget or from harassing the population and would like it to continue as long as possible.
N-Katalyst also argued however that Nigeria’s Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have been equally ill-prepared to react to the situation and confront the challenges that have been thrown up. The lack of preparedness on the part of civil society is manifested in the inadequacy of humanitarian response to the trauma faced by victims, the paucity of information on the true state of affairs inside the theatres of conflict, especially on the experiences of civilian populations trapped in these theatres, and the absence of the necessary mechanism for the provision of legal remedies to aggrieved persons. It is sad to note the silence and general ineffectuality of the legal profession in addressing the legal challenges associated with the conflicts especially the pursuit of legal redress for infringements on human rights and the abuse of the rule of law especially in the North East where lawyers have been cowed into silence, or scared away.
N-Katalyst also expressed the concern that there seems to have developed a culture of silence with respect to the impacts of these conflicts on civilian populations in theatres of conflict, with the effect that the severe trauma to which the victims of the conflicts are subjected are not being addressed or even acknowledged. Some of the reported features of the conflicts in some of the Northern States include – law enforcement extremism and impunity, violence against women and sexual violence against both male and female genders, rivalry between and amongst the security and law enforcement agencies and the lack of an adequate victim identification process, leading to a failure to identify the victims of the conflict both among the civilian populations and the security operatives.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the prevailing security situation may portend grave consequences for the general elections in 2015. In this regard, it is imperative that governments and the electoral agency begin to establish the necessary structures to forestall and apprehend electoral violence in 2015. The Federal Government must also define the legal framework within which the counter-insurgency operations in several parts of Nigeria are being prosecuted, as well as the rules of engagement for the conflicts. N-Katalyst also called on the government to demarcate and streamline the areas of engagement and authority of the various law enforcement and security agencies to eliminate or at least reduce incidences of inter-agency rivalry and conflict. This must be accompanied by ensuring the enthronement of a higher degree of professionalism in the security agencies, including their indoctrination on the cardinal tenets of humanitarian law and human rights law.
Thos of us in civil society must rise up to the challenge of meeting our responsibilities to the civilian populations in theatres of conflict and to the victims of the conflicts amongst both the civilian population and the security and law enforcement agencies. The Nigerian Bar Association must awaken to its obligations to the people and to the law and boldly confront the legal issues thrown up by the prevailing security situation in Nigeria.
Nigeria must win the war against terrorism. This would require addressing the root causes of the menace, primarily poverty, unemployment and bringing to book perpetrators/violators of human rights, particularly security agents accused of extra judicial killings.It is this approach that will instills confidence in the nation’s security architecture.
Secondly, special attention should be placed on training and retraining of our security agencies on human rights and counter terrorism. Our security agencies need to improve their information sharing and government should invest in providing equipment and logistical support. Thirdly, our security agencies should collaborate more with the local communities rather than antagonizing them.
It is acknowledged that the scale of violence today is unprecedented since the Biafran civil war. The containment strategy we adopt should therefore seek a path that will lead to an early resolution. It is on this basis that we call on the National Assembly to reflect seriously on providing the legal framework that will guide the rules of engagement of our anti-terrorism strategy and action.