Zamfara killings: State of emergency not the solution

The number of calls from different quarters on the need to declare State of Emergency in Zamfara in order to halt the unending bloodshed in the state is beginning to sicken. Barr Audu Bulama Bukarti made an earnest call earlier and people overstretched it as though they do not appreciate the federal existence of the Nigerian nation.

In countries like Nigeria where only the central government has extended tentacles of control over the affairs of the police, the armed forces and all other security agencies of the federation, SoE proclamation has very little role to play in ending breakdown of public safety and order in states.


Ravaging destructions of lives and properties like the ones going on in Zamfara and other North-eastern states, unlike the 2003-2004 communal crises of Plateau state which were widely believed to have been fuelled by the then state government, cannot be arrested simply by declaration of SoE.


What SoE only does is allow president to strip governors of the proclaimed states off their chief-executive-status so that the federal government could descend into the direct management and determination of the affairs of the affected states. That way the president could have powers to derogate fundamental rights of the citizens such as right to freedom of movement, association, expression and at times even liberty.

By section 305 of the constitution, this is allowed to happen when there is eminent security danger or breakdown of public order and public safety (among other things) and the state government is unable or unwilling to curtail the situation.

But one important feature of Nigeria’s federal system is that it does not envisage state police, the command of which SoE declaration ordinarily allows the federal government to overtake. Nigerian state governors are from onset already constitutionally prohibited from securing or even enhancing any security agency military hardware in the form of arms, ammunitions or explosives. State governments cannot also for the security of their states make laws relating to aerial defence or any sort of defence at all. They are exclusive legislative list regulated by the central government and any development or shortfall in the way these pivotal security strictures affect any state in Nigeria is the singular responsibility of the Federal government.

Declaration of SoE cannot automatically rebrand Nigeria’s defence apparatus nor renew the country’s outdated military hardware. It will not increase presence of security personnel in Zamfara any more than the federal is willing to at the moment to do. The constitutional function and duty of all persons and authority is clear in Nigeria. While the armed forces are charged with the protection of Nigeria’s boundaries, the Nigeria police are charged with the overall maintenance of internal security. All other security agencies of the country have their duty well spelt out and none is controlled or equipped by any state government. There is also nothing in our laws that impede the president from delving directly or indirectly into enhancing the security demand of any state such that declaration of SoE will be necessitated.

Although section 215(4) of the CFRN empowers only governors to give commissioners of police of their state lawful direction with respect to securing of public safety and pubic order, the same constitution gives commissioners of police the discretion to refuse to carry out such directives and to request the governors to refer the matter to the president or to a minister of the federal republic for further directive. This directly connects the president with state police commissioners.

Additionally, since section 215(3) of the constitution made powers of commissioners of police absolutely subject to the powers of the IGP to whom section 215 says the president is empowered to give absolute direction with respect to security and public safety and that even the courts are barred from inquiring into lawfulness or otherwise of such order, it may conveniently be concluded that the president can without having to declare SoE in any state in Nigeria take full charge of the police of such state. So the absence of direct constitutional bearing between the president and states commissioners of police does not impede the president through the IGP from controlling what commissioners of police do in state. In other jurisdictions with provisions as to state police, this is what SoE achieves. But In Nigeria we don’t need SoE declaration beyond policy status, sensitization and control of security vote. The central government is in charge at all levels and we have even seen cases where commissioners of police of states who are supposed to be answerable to the directives of their governors rally against lawful direction of the governors for political reasons and the heavens did not fall.

So Governor Abdulaziz Yari may be accused of ineptitude in the way and manner he governs Zamfara state but he cannot justifiably be blamed for failing on security. Apart from imposition of curfew, governors have virtually nothing to do with the practical control of the security of their state.

Again, with the limited security resource at this disposal Governor Yari has done so much to maintain peace in Zamfara. Earlier in November, he promised to reward any bandit that return illegality procured AK47 with a whopping sum of N1million and a pardon just a few months after his shoot-on-sight order which many constitutional lawyers censured as an overstretch of the powers of a governor failed to yield the needed result. That was a clear show of will to curtail the ravaging problem of Zamfara people. The governor had on occasion imposed curfews in parts of the state and has severally decried the constitutional limitation to chief-security-officer status of the governors and the need to pay greater attention to the state in order to stop the ending bloodshed.

So the issue with Zamfara is more like a want of empathy and political will. The president has everything he needs to turn things around in Zamfara. He must as a matter of priority and national interest do his job as assigned to him by section 218 of the constitution. The president is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. He determines the operational use of the armed forces and reserves the power to at any time deploy them to any part of Nigeria in order to compliment the police in preserving internal security. The president should remember security as a cardinal policy of his manifesto and take responsibility.

This the president can do with or without proclamation of state of emergency. People should under this and stop blaming quarters for failure in a responsibility well defined and apportioned. What Zamfara needs at the moment is responsive leadership. A leadership that is responsible enough to give equal protection to the lives of the poor just as it gives those of the rich. That is all we need.

May God see us through.


Hikima wrote this piece from Abuja.

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