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State of emergency a failure

Asumpta LattusNovember 21, 2014

Northeastern Nigeria’s emergency rule imposed 18 months ago has fallen under heavy criticism as Boko Haram continues to terrorize and kill civilians. Lawmakers have rejected the extension of the emergency measures.

Symbolbild Nigeria Armee
Image: picture alliance/AP Photo/Gambrell

The news that members of the lower house of parliament rejected the extension of the state of emergency was received with great relief by the residents of the three affected states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. Many of them think that the emergency rule imposed 18 months ago, in northeastern Nigeria has only worsened the situation rather than improving it.

"The state of emergency imposed in the northeastern states is of no advantage and of no significance," said Baba Abubakar, a resident of one of the northeastern states. "Some would say that the government is trying but those of us that are seeing the real picture of these things, have not seen anything the government is doing to curb the problem," said another resident Ahmad Aliyu.

Voting on a government request to extend the state of emergency on Thursday (20.11.2014), lawmakers rejected the move and described it as a total failure. Like many Nigerians, they believe that the state of emergency has damaged the security of the region rather than restored it. Speaking to DW, Hussaini Abdu, Director of Action Aid in Nigeria said that Boko Haram have killed more people, gained more ground and occupied more territories during the emergency rule than before.

Nigeria Boko Haram
Nigerian state of emergency could not prevent the abduction of more than 200 school girlsImage: picture alliance/AP Photo

"Before the emergency, Boko Haram was operating mainly around Damaturu and Maiduguri…but since the emergency we have seen Boko Haram moving and occupying from 14 to 16 local governments in all the states," Abdu said. "Even the Chibok girls were abducted during the emergency rule," Abdu added.

A need for new strategies?

What many Nigerians fail to understand is why Boko Haram has managed to play hide and seek with the government's handsomely financed military force. Nigerian anti-terrorism act allows the government to deploy troops in any part of the country with the approval of the assembly. It also allows it to search and even detain people or groups perpetuating such actions. The government has however not been able to use the law in order to stop Boko Haram from terrorizing Nigerians.

Many experts believe that the extension of the emergency rule cannot curb the Boko Haram insurgency. Instead, the government has to make sure that the military has a clear understanding of the region, work more with local communities and equip the army properly. "They also need to invest in the military, boost the morale of the military officers. They need to increase those doctrinal issues around the military. Issues that will make the officer or soldier go to the battle willing to die for his country," Abdu added.

Goodluck Jonathan spricht mit entkommenen Geiseln
President Jonathan has been critized of not being able to attend security issues in his countryImage: Wole Emmanuel/AFP/Getty Images

Lack of equipment has always been a challenge for the Nigerian military despite its heavy financial backing. Soldiers have often been ambushed by insurgents, giving the Islamists free reign to occupy more villages and establish what they are calling a caliphate. They have even deserted their posts and fled into neighboring countries.

Re-election is the priority

Although attacks by Boko Haram are reported in a daily basis, many Nigerians have the feeling that what currently occupies the minds of their leaders is the election rather than the insecurity. The country's President Goodluck Jonathan has left Nigeria on several occasions and is said to be mobilizing resources for next year's elections.

"People are killed or starve, the uncertainty is large - but the priority is still on the elections," Mairo Mahmud, a woman from Adamawa state which was under the emergency rule complained. "It is clear that for the politicians is all about power, not about people," she added.

On Wednesday suspected Boko Haram members were reported to have killed about 45 people in an attack on a village. The militants were seen entering the village in trucks. They destroyed houses and took food and some livestock with them. Last week, Boko Haram claimed to have captured Chibok town, home to more than 200 school girls who were abducted by the same group in April this year. The army recaptured the town a few days later.

Attacks by the militants have killed more than 5,000 people in a period of five years. More than 1.5 million people have fled their homes since Nigeria declared the emergency rule in the three states.