John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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State of Emergency in Northern Nigeria

by John Campbell
May 15, 2013

A woman sits amongst the ruins of the burnt Bama Market, which was destroyed by gunmen in last Thursday's attack, in Maiduguri, northeast Nigeria April 29, 2013. (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters)


Having cut short a trip to South Africa and annulled a planned state visit to Namibia, President Goodluck Jonathan has declared a “state of emergency” in the three northern states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa. In announcing this step, Jonathan acknowledged that there is an “insurrection” in northeast Nigeria, and that the government has lost control of certain geographic areas to “Boko Haram,” a defuse Islamist movement.

It remains to be seen if the declaration will have any practical effect. Jonathan has promised to increase the number of troops operating in the three states, but it is unclear where he will find them. The military is overstretched already. It is not clear whether Nigeria has even met its commitment to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for a Mali force that is being placed under the UN authority. In his declaration, Jonathan indicated that he will be seeking international support; already at the Baga massacre Nigerien and Chadian forces were involved, as well as Nigerian.

During previous states of emergency, the state governor was removed. This time, Jonathan has stated explicitly that the governors and other officials of the three states are to continue to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities. Borno and Yobe have governors from the opposition ANPP. Adamawa’s governor is from Jonathan’s PDP.

According to the Nigerian media, traditional opinion leaders in the North opposed a state of emergency. However, in the immediate aftermath of Jonathan’s declaration they have been cautious. Within the National Assembly, which must approve a declaration of a state of emergency, there appears to be support for Jonathan’s move.

The declaration of a state of emergency may be linked to proposals of an amnesty for Boko Haram–the amnesty would play the carrot to the state of emergency’s stick. Jonathan earlier established a committee to explore the modalities for a possible amnesty. Thus far, however, Islamist spokesmen have shown no interest. Over the weekend an alleged Boko Haram spokesman said that there would be no talks unless or until the government released the Boko Haram women and children it is holding. Islamists are themselves now kidnapping women and children, apparently holding them as hostages for the release of their own.

Jonathan’s acknowledgement that there is an insurrection in the North is a step toward realism. Up to now, the government has treated Boko Haram as terrorist episodes. However, the declaration of a state of emergency appears to be a further step toward responding to the crisis in the North through military rather than political means. In the aftermath of the massacre at Baga and the New York Times reports of masses of corpses in Maiduguri; the increased militancy is a step backward. Up to now, the brutality of the Nigerian security services appears to generate support for the Islamists. That could continue.

Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by Jim Sanders

    A shift in Nigeria’s plate tectonics is occurring. Boko Haram’s insurgency is a manifestation, as is the state of emergency it has prompted–an old-style response to a frighteningly new phenomenon. But other structural movements are in progress, too. Reportedly, India has surpassed the U.S. as the largest importer of Nigerian crude. The country is having to find new customers for its oil, as the global petroleum market adjusts to new discoveries in North America. What exactly this means for Nigeria is not yet entirely clear, apart from the fact that long-term relationships are crumbling. Yet the old ways of thinking about the country and its difficulties persist. A new cognitive map is need.

  • Posted by Chike

    The Northern Nigerian branch of the Christian Association of Nigeria (which represents a significant number of the victims of Boko Haram), does not oppose the state of emergency.

    I think I need to point this out, because most Western analysts write as if they don’t realise that Boko Haram operates in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious part of Nigeria.

  • Posted by Mal. Aminu

    The question still remains, will “state of emergency” solve the problem of insurgency in Nigeria or will it add up to the long list of Government’s problematic solutions?

  • Posted by Zainab

    In theory, there’s sufficient justification for the State of Emergency (SoE) declaration. As at last week, the Borno state governor confirmed that Boko Haram had taken control of 10 to 20 out of the 27 local government areas in Borno state: they had sacked the local government officials and were effectively running the place, complete with their own flags. Understandably, the Nigerian government had to take military action to prevent this loss of territory.

    In practice, its a whole different kettle of fish though. Whether this SoE declaration will be truly effective remains to be seen, given that a similar SoE was declared in late 2011 in several local government areas in 4 states i.e. Borno, Yobe, Plateau and Niger, to contain the activities of Boko Haram. Clearly, that didn’t produce the expected results since we’re still grappling with the same, albeit more vengeful and sophisticated, insurgency.

    My issue with the proposed Amnesty is that its a very top-down elitist attempt at negotiating a political settlement. Some of the committee members are people the sect wouldn’t hesitate to send-off to the afterlife. If the aim is to explore channels of negotiation and dialogue with Boko Haram, I wonder why the government needs a bloated committee. Several (more fruitful) attempts at negotiations were made in the past without this fanfare. I never for once thought government had abandoned attempts at reaching out to the sect. There is no need for a committee in my opinion, and “amnesty” is too controversial and sensitive a term to use in this context– both to victims of this bloodshed and to Boko Haram too.

    Nevertheless, I hope that as with many things Nigerian, the Committee defies all odds and is able to achieve something tangible, afterall, we all want an end to the violence and bloodshed. I am not holding my breath yet though.

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