Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan recently declared a state of emergency in response to violence by Islamic radicals. This is a move with dangerous implications for democracy which has already had grave human rights implications for thousands of Nigerians. In addition to hundreds killed and thousands displaced in the Baga Massacre in April, the United Nations reported this week that thousands of Nigerians have begun streaming into Niger and Cameroon, creating a new wave of displaced persons (will they soon be designated refugees?)
But if the state of emergency was declared so that the government can get a handle on the violence, why didn’t it declare one in the states where the violence is most serious? This is the question raised by an important analysis released today by the Fund for Peace. It turns out that between January and April of 2013, the worst violence occurred in three areas: (1) around Maiduguri, where the Islamic militants are based, (2) near the city of Kano, and (3) the area just south of Jos in Plateau State (see map to the right from the FFP report). In fact, the overall levels of violence appear to have actually declined in Adamawa and Yobe, two states now subject to large scale military operations.
While the governorship of Adamawa has been held by the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) since the 1999 transition, the other two states subject to the current emergency, Borno and Yobe, are opposition strongholds. The All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP) and its predecessor have held the governorships since 1999. After the relative success of the 2011 elections, the Jonathan administration now risks creating an impression of partisan bias without a further rationalization for its decision about where to declare a state of emergency.
The International Law Association’s standards for such declarations, along with other conventions such as the European Unions’, say that the magnitude of the threat must be objectively demonstrable, with an impact on the nation on the whole. And while the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights allows for suspension of certain rights “in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation,” it also provides no exception for Article 6(1), which states “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”
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Such concerns inspired last week’s declaration, at a meeting in Abuja organized by a group of scholars on Nigeria’s security crisis. The statement notes with concern that the Nigerian government has not made a legal determination about the nature of the current violence, and the counter-insurgency “seems to be conducted outside the ambits of both Human Rights Law and Humanitarian Law.”
With equal alarm, the signatories note “there seems to have developed a culture of silence with respect to the impact of the security conflicts on civilian populations in the theatres of conflict.” A full humanitarian response is needed not only by the government but from civil society. You can read the full statement here.