The limits of emergency powers By Nasiru Suwald

One of the fundamental human traits is the ability to assess a situation, after an extended period of time and act purposively either through textual reflections, institutional, cultural, community, or religious reviews. This is no less true even for acts of necessity, like invoking a state of emergency, which generally deprives the citizens of their basic rights as a lawful enterprise to prevent a total breakdown of law and order. It is against this background that Section 305 of the 1999 constitution, as amended, decreed a periodic review of the declared emergency in every six months.

The presumption is that it is a necessity for the legislature to affirm the declaration every six months ending, after a tedious and holistic review, pending which the National Assembly elongates or terminates the emergency.

 It is pertinent to note that I was one of the many who questioned the rationale for, and procedural sincerity of the invocation of the emergency powers when the federal government put into effect that much dreaded provision at the beginning of the year. I argued then in an article titled “Making a Mockery of the State of Emergency Provision” whether a mere invocation of emergency powers in few local governments areas, could be an effective panacea to the debilitating ailment of terrorism. Now that the emergency has reached five months and with the next coming weeks being the period for the mandatory review of the presidential declaration, could we honestly claim that it has had any positive effect?

I propose that we critically conduct an appraisal on the state of security in the areas governed by emergency powers, the main aim being to determine whether the fifteen local governments which are subjects of military powers, have became more secure, peaceful, and adhering to the dictates of the rule of law.

Unfortunately for the people domiciled in the areas of conflict and embarrassingly for the invokers of the trite constitutional instrument, the reports coming out of the much troubled areas speak now of a low intensity warfare or what others might call a state of crude insurrection, that obeys no standard rule of engagement, but where the only victims are third parties to the dispute who bear much of the brunt of the fire power. For the ordinary citizens of the emergency areas, they are the perpetual objects of attack by the insurgents, who see them as collaborators in their deadly fight with the security forces, while the Joint Task Force members perceive the local populace as uncooperative lot and ungrateful hosts to them as a group of intervention force that have came from faraway places to aid in the securing their community.

One of the standard operative procedure for the members of the security forces on a mission to enforce the requirements of a state of emergency, is the stop and search checkpoints on the main highways. Either through the distractive and inconvenient searches on car, haulage trucks, or even of commuters on motorcycle and bicycle riders, the result is the same. Unfortunately, existing policing doctrines and operational tactics only create a deep seated resentment from innocent members of the community.

While its operative procedures aggregates to form a web of resentment depriving the same security forces of critical access to intelligence, it worthwhile to recall that no gives helpful information to people one considers as oppressors, who have conspired to trample on ones basic freedom. Indeed if the widespread allegation of extra judicial killings is added to the mix, it it becomes clear why the state of emergency is failing. Is it not basic knowledge that rather than emanating from the prescints of gun wielding officers, intelligence is mostly gathered in a much calmer atmosphere of infiltration, espionage and counter-insurgency, since no typical terrorist ever believes in the conventional wisdom of adherence to the principles of the rules of engagement.  For him, the operative doctrine is an insertion into the community, while making occasional forays to hit at an unsuspecting targets and running back to camouflage into the society. One is tempted to ask how members of the security forces ever hope to win against such unconventional foe, adhereing to asymmetrical standards to those of our gun totting officers stationed at a check-point.

Thus in the next coming weeks, as we move towards the day when the continued relevance of the state of emergency is examined, it is pertinent to ask our legislators who are genuinely interested in the applicability of the fundamental human rights of Nigerian citizens, whether such scenario currently exists in the fifteen local government now under the provisions of emergency powers.  And should the circumstance be otherwise, no matter the level of political impotence of a budding Nigerian parliamentarian, would it not be more honorable to refuse to prolong such a constitutional power?  


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