The statement credited to the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, SAN at a press briefing on Wednesday, 6th October, 2021 to the effect that all options will be explored to restore law and order, including a declaration of State of Emergency in Anambra State approaches what will be a keenly contested important election, has expectedly generated a furor in the polity
The reason(s) given by the Attorney General of the Federation for this suggested extreme measure, is the seeming failure of the Anambra State Government to secure the safety of lives and properties of Anambrarians in the wave of a renewed campaign of violence by the so called unknown gunmen, but often attributed to elements in the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). In his own words, “in order to forestall breakdown of law and order in the State, the Federal Government of Nigeria, may be left with no alternative to declare a state of emergency in the State so as to ensure the conduct of the November, 6th gubernatorial election”.
No doubt, in the last one month or probably more, the South East region; particularly Anambra State has seen an upsurge in violence by non-state actors.
While fingers have been pointed at members of the proscribed IPOB as being responsible for the degenerating security situation, the group has always been quick to distance themselves from each particular incident citing their so called non-violent and civil approach to their ethnic nationalism agenda. Yet, the violence continues unabated.
From the enforcement of an illegal sit at home on select days of the week in the State, to the attack on various symbols of civil authority such as police stations, INEC offices, Road Safety formations including security operatives and some private citizens, the emerging consensus is that something has to give in Anambra to forestall a total breakdown of law and order, in the once peaceful state.
The forthcoming gubernatorial election in the State, has also, in a way, contributed to make the increasingly complex situation rather more convoluted. On more than one occasion, the government of Governor Willie Obiano has attributed the cascading violence in the State, as the handiwork of opposition politicians who seek to make the State ungovernable so as to achieve their nefarious electoral agenda.
However, the governor’s assertions in this regard, appear to struggle for credibility against the backdrop of IPOB’s anti-election campaign in the State which has resulted in violent outcomes.
Even though a Spokesman of the secessionist group has come out to categorically declare that the group are yet to take a position on the forthcoming Anambra polls, the word on the Street is that they are averse to the holding of any election on “Biafran” soil. I, myself have seen pictures of the group’s apologists making a case in this regard via social media and of course, in and around the State. And what is more, this posturing is consistent with the group’s historical attitude to the conduct of elections in Anambra, and indeed the South East region.
Only last week, the convoy of a Federal Lawmaker was attacked by those suspected to be IPOB operatives leaving at least two people dead, in Ajali, a Town in Orumba North Local Government Area of the State. At a recent stakeholder engagement on the forthcoming election, the Chairman of the Electoral Commission, Mahmood Yakubu alluded to this anti-election agenda of the group while making a case for a more concerted security intervention in the State, to guarantee peaceful conduct of the high-stake polls. According to Mahmood, “…from the reports INEC had received, the goal of many of the attackers was that the governorship election must not hold”.
All of these, have aggregated to different contours of security concerns in the State, in a way that may justify the declaration of a state of emergency as provided under Section 305 of the 1999 Constitution. But a declaration of State of Emergency, on grounds of insecurity, has become an unduly politicized affair in our chequered political history. This, unarguably, is largely responsible for the push back that has greeted the Attorney General’s insinuation.
Leading that line of dissent is the governor of Anambra State, who shuttled to the Presidential Villa for an audience with President Muhammadu Buhari on what he described as the “assertions” of the Attorney General of the Federation.
Coming out of the meeting, the Governor was quick to tell State House Correspondents that the President was not on the same page with his Attorney General, on how to address the security concerns in his State, which he would rather underestimate.
The veracity of that representation on behalf of the President, who was not heard on the matter, however remains to be seen.
Other interest groups with political leanings have also voiced their dissent to the Attorney General’s suggestion. While the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) describes it as a plot to rig the forthcoming elections in favour of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its candidate, Senator Andy Uba; a group known as the Southern and Middle-Belt Alliance (SaMBA), queried why similar moves have not be taken by the Federal Government in States such as Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto and Benue which has seen what they describe as a “festival of killings”.
Yesterday, the Anambra Council of Traditional Rulers joined the fray in a Communiqué signed by Igwe Alfred Achebe—The Obi of Onitsha, after a meeting of the Council. “The Federal Government cannot by any stretch of imagination contemplate emergency rule on the strength of the 12 violent deaths in the last two or three weeks”, they said.
The fears often expressed by sitting state governors over threats of declaration of “Emergency Rule” over their State, has its roots in the erroneous, but widely held belief, that a declaration in that regard, neutralizes the democratic structures in the State such as the office of the governor, or the House of Assembly.
This impression may not be unconnected to the sacking, by President Olusegun Obasanjo of the Governors of Plateau and Ekiti States respectively and appointment of Military Administrators, during the period of emergency imposed in those States while he was in Office.
However, the elaborate provisions governing declaration of Emergency in the Constitution do not, by any means, suggest that it warrants the removal of a democratically elected governor.
While President Olusegun Obasanjo might have gotten away with such undemocratic acts in Plateau and Ekiti States, one is likely to attribute it to the nascence of our democracy at the time. The Constitution remains unequivocal that the permissible circumstances where a sitting governor may be removed from Office is upon resignation, health/medical incapacity of any kind, and/or impeachment by two/third majority of the House of Assembly of a State.
But one disturbing outcome of all these, is the tendency to politicize otherwise security issues which demand a patriotic and nationalistic response by the critical stakeholders, and its implications for genuine efforts at containing a crisis.
For instance, despite all the documented and undocumented killings going on in Anambra, Governor Willie Obiano was quick to downplay the situation in his conference with the President. If I might paraphrase him: “we do not have any problem in Anambra.
Those causing the problem are from outside the State, and we’re going to deal with them. We have identified them, and we’re going to get them”.
It must however be said that this unduly defensive posture, and whitewashing of an otherwise critical situation which doesn’t translate to the fact on ground in Anambra, serves only the parochial political interest of the Governor, who does not want any qualification or abridgment of his political authority in the State.
It serves little or no gain, to the average man on the Streets of Anambra, who is at the receiving end of the growing campaign of violence.
What are the issues? They are as follows: there’s is growing secessionist campaign in the South East region; and Anambra particularly, with threats to the sovereignty of Nigeria, and the livelihoods of residents of the State; there is a forthcoming highly consequential election in the State, to decide its political future; and finally, there is a dissent by secessionist groups in the State against the holding of the election.
All of these variables, present serious concerns for security in the State and the South Eastern region at large, and therefore call for extraordinary security response, particularly when the state government appears bereft of ideas to nip the snowballing crisis in the bud.
It is along this context, that one should situate the statement credited to the Attorney General of the Federation.
The petty comparative security analysis embarked upon by Governor Willie Obiano and some officials of the state government in determining what State should receive an emergency declaration, misses the point. If anything, it shows that the governor is more interested in the preservation of his political authority, than the security and welfare of Ndi Anambra, which he swore to guarantee.
As Anambra inches towards the November 6th poll, the collective concern should be: how to create a safe environment for electorates to have a say, in the future of the State. Whatever method that is used to achieve that, including a declaration of emergency in the State, in my considered opinion, must take a secondary place.
In any event, our recent elections have witnessed high presence of security operatives to ensure and guarantee popular participation in the polls. Anambra’s peculiar security situation, if anything, should accentuate the need at this time.
One issue remains unresolved: the allegation by APGA and PDP that the suggested declaration of emergency in the State, is to facilitate the rigging of the November 6th polls. While these are bare assertions, they nonetheless merit attention, having regard to events of our recent electoral history.
Any reinforcement of security presence in the South East, including Anambra therefore, should be in the interest of restoring peace and security in the region. Security operatives have been indicted in the past for meddling in local elections, and conferring advantage on the candidate whose party calls the shot at Abuja.
This, I believe, informs the fears and insinuations of APGA and PDP. Anambra however, cannot afford to be used as another platform for such electoral brigandage and it behooves on the State Governor, who is in charge, to ensure this outcome; howbeit, not in his own political interest.
Barring the execution of what we may, for now, describe as Malami’s threat, the bottom line is that there is a seething anger amongst the youth in the South East which has found potent expression via Mazi Nnamdi Kanu’s ethno-nationalistic agenda. Irrespective of how the cream of Igbo leadership may want to live in denial of the situation in the region, the extent to which these feelings are assuaged would have a positive or negative impact on the security outlook of Anambra and the South East, in general.
Raymond Nkannebe, a Legal Practitioner and Public Interest Commentator, writes from Lagos.