Last week, newspapers reported the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) as saying that the federal government is considering imposing a state of emergency in Anambra State to fulfil its constitutional responsibility of securing lives and property, and of maintaining Nigeria’s democratic order.
“No possibility is out ruled by the government in terms of ensuring the sanctity of our democratic order, in terms of ensuring that our election in Anambra holds and you cannot out rule possibilities inclusive of the possibility of a declaration of a state of emergency where it is established, in essence, that there is a failure on the part of the state government to ensure the sanctity of security of lives, properties and democratic order,” Malami reportedly said following last Wednesday’s Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting.
We strongly advise against a state of emergency in Anambra State right now. Indeed, we urge the government to ditch the idea immediately and completely. It is true that a constitutional crisis will ensue in the state if elections do not hold by the time current governor, Mr Willie Obiano’s final term expires in March 2022. We also accept that federal government has a duty to ensure such a crisis is avoided in the state.
We are convinced, however, that a state of emergency in the state—or in any part of the South-east region—under current circumstances can only make things worse. Security of life and property has been deteriorating in the South-east since the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) assumed a violent turn a few years ago, and especially since the re-arrest, detention and ongoing trial of its leader, Nnamdi Kanu.
The frequency and ferocity with which IPOB carry out attacks on citizens, security officials and government institutions have risen significantly. In Anambra State alone, newspaper reports suggest that about 111 people have been killed since January this year.
As a result, ordinary Nigerians who live or do business in the region are hemmed in between the rock of IPOB and the hard place of government. State governments and federal security agencies assure that citizens should go about their normal businesses. Yet, IPOB regularly issues out illegal sit-at-home orders that people in these states cannot simply ignore, out of fear for their own lives. Many who have dared IPOB have been killed, wounded, and their property destroyed.
Worse, the whole IPOB situation is increasingly being soaked into local, regional and even national politics. Politicians, political parties and elections are now frequently mentioned in direct rising of IPOB attacks. Even the federal government has fingered some politicians in the region as sponsors of IPOB’s violent activities. Anambra State has become even more violently supercharged as election date scheduled for early next month draws near.
All these throw up a truly frightening prospect for the region and for the rest of the country. As our recent past has shown, again and again in various crises in the Niger Delta and the whole of northern Nigeria, once any form of social unrest gets enmeshed with party politics, things get out of hand very quickly.
This is why we have received the news reports of a possible state of emergency on Anambra State with serious misgivings. Politics and political actions are often less about reality or fact than perception. There is little indication that the majority of Igbos in Nigeria support Kanu or his IPOB. Many, in fact, have openly opposed IPOB’s violent turn.
But the narratives of hurt, of injustice, of abandonment, and of a lack of belonging to the Nigeria project all remain deeply entrenched among many Igbos throughout Nigeria, including those who do not support IPOB. Anyone in doubt about this should read Chinua Achebe’s last book, There Was a Country once again. It is from the depths of these narratives that IPOB’s influence springs. So the federal government should be more wary of these narratives than it should be of IPOB because narratives of injustice—true or false—are more powerful than people.
We, therefore, believe that a state of emergency in Anambra State at this time could easily become a symbol of President Buhari’s perceived aggression towards Igbos, particularly and of their perceived marginalization within the Nigerian setting more generally. These perceptions are already sky-high in the South-east and with the slightest spark, could easily snowball into a conflagration.
Already, the suspicion is rife that the federal government is soft towards bandits—who kill, maim, and abduct people in the northwestern states with a recklessness and regularity only matched or superseded by Boko Haram in Nigeria—but harsher on IPOB. So too is the allegation to rig the election in favour of the ruling party under a state of emergency.
While we reject these as unfounded, we warn that a state of emergency in Anambra State will only make them self-evident in the perception of many that this particular government has a thing against the South-east. Any charlatan can marshal such collective feelings towards undesirable ends, and it won’t matter in the least how unfounded.
Besides, the government has not really exhausted other options to contain the situation. President Buhari’s last visit to Imo State provides a foundation on which to build to engage a wider spectrum of people and communities in the region towards concrete solutions and peace. Open, transparent and timely prosecution of Nnamdi Kanu’s case in court can also help. Whatever the government does, we are convinced a state of emergency is a slippery slope to the sort of disaster we all wish we could forget.