Democracy prides itself as the system of government that guarantees peaceful transition of power from one person to another. Leaders emerge through the will of the people freely expressed through periodic, free, fair and credible elections. Democratic institutions established through the process of elections are guarded jealously to ensure that they are not removed through any other means except by the will of the people. This is how the sovereignty of the people in a democracy is sustained. Every law of the land made in a democracy, including the law of state of emergency, is channelled towards strengthening and sustaining these institutions rather than tearing them down. This is why the rule of law is another very important pillar of democracy. In order to freely choose their leaders and hold them accountable to the people, the people require some inalienable rights and freedoms that will elevate the office of the citizen above all offices in the country. This is why the protection of the fundamental human rights of the citizens is one of the most important bedrocks of democracy.
A state of emergency is an extraordinary supplemental measure introduced in the Constitution to take care of extraordinary circumstances that may constitute themselves a stumbling block to the survival of democracy, the Federation or any part thereof. Some of those extraordinary circumstances that may require the proclamation of a state of emergency include that the Federation is at war; the Federation is in imminent danger of invasion or involvement in a state of war; there is actual breakdown of public order and public safety in the Federation or any part thereof to such extent as to require extraordinary measures to restore peace and security; there is a clear and present danger of an actual breakdown of public order and public safety in the Federation or any part thereof requiring extraordinary measures to avert such danger; there is an occurrence or imminent danger, or the occurrence of any disaster or natural calamity, affecting the community or a section of the community in the Federation; there is any other public danger which clearly constitutes a threat to the existence of the Federation. (Section 305(3)(e-f))
The power to proclaim a state of emergency is vested in the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria subject to the approval of the National Assembly. Section 305 (1)(2) of the 1999 Constitution states that “the President may … issue a Proclamation of a state of emergency in the Federation or any part thereof. The President shall immediately after the publication, transmit copies of the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation containing the proclamation including the details of the emergency to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives … to consider the situation and decide whether or not to pass a resolution approving the Proclamation.”
This implies that the President is not the sole authority on the issue of the proclamation of the state of emergency. Indeed, if a power thirsty President, unilaterally declares a state of emergency, the ill-fated state of emergency so declared becomes null and void after 48 hours of proclamation, unless legitimated by the approval from the National Assembly. Section 305(6)(b) asserts that “A Proclamation issued by the President under this section shall cease to have effect if it affects the Federation or any part thereof and within two days when the National Assembly is in session, or within ten days when the National Assembly is not in session, after its publication, there is no resolution supported by two-thirds majority of all the members of each House of the National Assembly approving the Proclamation.
One revealing issue about the proclamation of a state of emergency in any state, in which the cause of the emergency did not extend to another state, is that the Governor of the State is the authority empowered by the Constitution to make the request to the President for the proclamation of the state of emergency not any officer of the President. Section 305(4) states that “The Governor of a State may, with the sanction of a resolution supported by two-thirds majority of the House of Assembly, request the President to issue a Proclamation of a state of emergency in the State when there is in existence within the State any of the situations specified in subsection (3) (c), (d) and (e) of this section and such situation does not extend beyond the boundaries of the State. Indeed, the President is forbidden to make such proclamation, unless the Governor fails to do so within a reasonable time. Section 305(5) provides that “The President shall not issue a Proclamation of a state of emergency in any case to which the provisions of subsection (4) of this section apply unless the Governor of the State fails within a reasonable time to make a request to the President to issue such Proclamation.”
Within the context of constitutional provisions on the issue of the proclamation of a state of emergency, the warning from the Attorney General of the Federation on the possibility of proclaiming a state of emergency in Anambra State, because of the challenging security situation in the State, rightly ruffled some feathers. Everybody admits that there are security challenges all over the country. The primary question to ask is whether the security challenge in Anambra is worse than the ones in other parts of Nigeria during and after elections in those states. Presently, the criminals in Anambra are still operating as unknown gunmen with unknown intentions. In Edo State, before the gubernatorial election, the threat to law and order was so apparent and palpable that party officials were violently attacked in front of the Palace of the Oba of Benin. The Governor and the Deputy openly raised alarm that the former National Chairman of APC had imported armed thugs to cause mayhem in the State because of elections. This situation did not call for a state of emergency and no officer threatened same. It was maturely settled by a peace meeting summoned by the Oba of Benin and other notable personalities of the state. Every Nigerian was privy to the invitation of Oshiomhole by the Presidency in which he was privately and respectfully advised to maintain peace and he heeded the counsel, even advising publicly that whoever is caught causing crisis should be dealt with in accordance with the law. Same situation happened in Zamfara and same solutions were applied. This has been the consistent approach to the issue of insecurity throughout the Buhari Presidency and should be commended. President Buhari is the first President, since the return of democracy in 1999, who has completed six years in office without declaring or threatening a state of emergency in office. This has portrayed the image of calmness in the midst of security challenges. One wonders why all his officers should not borrow a leaf.
The next important observation is whether the security challenges in Anambra State are such that will require extraordinary measures to bring under control. If the answer is no, as I believe it is, going by the handling of worse situations elsewhere, then the issue of state of emergency in Anambra shouldn’t even have been mentioned at all. In any case, whose duty it is to fight the insecurity in Anambra State. Whereas, fighting crime is the duty of all tiers of government and citizens, only the Federal Government has the authority and resources to fight them. Citizens are not allowed to bear arms and there’s only one police force and armed forces commanded by the Federal Government. This is why we are soliciting for state police to assist the Governors in the war against criminality. Until this is done, any officer of the President complaining about security challenges in any part of the country is directly indicting the Federal Government, unless there’s evidence that the Governor of a State is directly undermining FG’s effort at enforcing law and order in the State.
A look at the provisions of Section 305 of the Constitution reveals that there is no where that the President or the Federal Government is given power to remove any democratic institution pursuant to the declaration of a state of emergency. The Supreme Court has also supported this line of reasoning. President Obasanjo wrongfully deployed state of emergencies to temporarily dethrone Governors and displace Houses of Assemblies and these actions have been held to be unconstitutional and cannot be deployed in the same manner today.
Why declare a state of emergency to tackle a situation you would have tackled without a declaration of it. President Goodluck Jonathan declared state of emergency in the three States of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa for months and did not make any progress in the fight against insurgency because today’s terrorists are far more sophisticated to be intimidated by mere declaration of a state of emergency. They only succumb to superior fire power. Power answers only to power. After realising this fact, the state of emergency was revoked and fire power unleashed that achieved more success to the Jonathan administration in the twilight of its administration than the whole of the state of emergency combined. All the Attorney General of the Federation needs do in Anambra to maintain law and order is to encourage the FG to unleash the full wrath of the law and superior fire power to annihilate the criminals. Apart from overheating the system, there’s no achievement we recorded in the threat of a declaration of emergency in Anambra by the AGF. Again President Buhari was handy to dounce the tension. Kudos.
We must however point out that the statement made by a commissioner in Anambra State government that the death of 15 people was not enough for a declaration of a state of emergency because more people have died in other States is very unfortunate. It shows the level we have degenerated in the value we attach to human life. Let us be clear, what may be one death in a million with respect to a whole State may be 100 percent loss to the innocent widow whose only child may have been the one person killed. It may be 100 percent loss to the many young children of one surviving parent who may be the one victim of senseless killing by murderers. Little wonder why Prophet Mohammed (Peace be unto him) proclaimed that killing one person is same like killing the entire humanity. Human life is sacrosanct and the death of one person is one death too many. It is abominable to refer to any death as “just one death”