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.