The declaration of a state of emergency, as the name connotes, is made at an urgent and unexpected period. The appropriate authorities infrequently make this declaration, but whenever it is made, it denotes a critical and dangerous situation.
During a state of emergency, the declarant state (country) or region is strained to mobilise resources to tackle the situation immediately. In the short term, normal activities are suspended in the affected area during such a period. Depending on the situation, a state of emergency may last for days, weeks, or even months.
So. what is a state of emergency? What triggers its declaration? How is a state of emergency declared in Nigeria?
Meaning of state of emergency
A state of emergency is a situation whereby a government suspends normal constitutional procedures in response to a national danger or disaster to enable it to regain control effectively. It is a temporary system of governance decreed to deal with an extremely dangerous or difficult situation.
During a state of emergency, the government, particularly the executive arm, grants itself special powers by suspending certain normal functions of government and civil functions. This provides a leeway for introducing special measures for certain government agencies, such as increased powers for the police or army, to implement and execute.
The suspension invoked may include but is not limited to the restriction of normal economic, civil or political activities, human rights, and civil liberties of the people and organisations. This includes the suspension of parliament and transfer of power to the executive, the deployment of the armed forces for domestic purposes, the restriction of press freedom, the prohibition of public meetings, the evacuation of people from their homes and places of work, the regulation of the operations of private ventures, the searches of homes without a warrant and arrests without charges.
These restrictions are imposed due to concerns for and the interest of public safety. They are also done to enable the government to make on-the-toe decisions that it may not be empowered to take during normal times. Governments use the political instrumentality of the state of emergency to rescue, evacuate, shelter, mobilise resources, provide essential commodities for their citizens, and quell upheavals in the affected areas.
Some persons also liken a state of emergency to martial law because it keeps in abeyance all forms of civil activities and civil laws and allows the military and the police to have a comprehensive foothold of the country’s governance structure.
A state of emergency in most countries is declared by the head of government, i.e., the President or Prime Minister. In some other jurisdictions, the governor of a state and/or a regional head is also empowered to make such a declaration. For an SoE to be successfully declared in any country, the head of government must make recourse to the legal framework embedded in the country’s constitution.
Despite it being constitutional, its resemblance to martial law has made some individuals across the aisle in several countries, at times, question the effectiveness and validity of a state of emergency declaration. Some scholars have described an SoE as a “constitutional dictatorship” because of the self-serving purposes that certain world leaders have used this political instrument to achieve.
Causes for a state of emergency
A state of emergency is declared in various countries of the universe because of the following:
Breakdown of law and order/political instability
Whenever there is a breakdown of law and order and the law enforcement agency in charge of internal security (i.e., the police) is unable to effectively contain the crisis, then the government invokes its constitutional power to declare a state of emergency. This enables the government to temporarily arrogate to itself more powers to quell the disturbance.
In the same vein, if an issue concerning politics transcends beyond internal democracy discussions or governmental consultation and spirals into a security crisis on the streets with political opponents squaring up against each other, the government is inclined to arrest the situation by declaring an SoE immediately.
War/invasion of a country
If a country is attacked/invaded or is involved in a war with another country, the government of the affected country is empowered by its constitution to declare a state of emergency. The declaration enables the government to shut its borders, control the influx of people in and out of the country, deploy troops seamlessly and properly plan for all circumstances to keep its country and people safe during such war or invasion.
In the event of a negative impact following the occurrence of a natural (or man-made) hazard, a state of emergency is declared. This enables the government to evacuate residents of the affected areas and provide relief to them while assessing the situation and making plans to remedy or find an alternative solution.
Whenever an epidemic or a pandemic plagues a country, it becomes expedient for any government to urgently declare a state of emergency to address the situation. The SoE may require the shutdown of all borders, the increased presence of law enforcement agencies to implement the shutdown, and the quarantining of affected areas by medical professionals. It also enables medical professionals and scientists to trace the source of the epidemic/pandemic and contain the surge of the disease.
History of the state of emergency in Nigeria
A state of emergency was declared for the first time in Nigeria by the Tafawa Balewa-led administration on 29 May May 1962. The SoE was declared following the political crisis that rocked the defunct Action Group (AG), the dominant political party in Western Nigeria, and the instability in the Western Region government. The crisis led to commotion and wanton destruction in the then Western Region by politicians affiliated with the warring factions – Obafemi Awolowo, the leader of the AG; and Samuel Akintola, Premier of the Western Region. Following the state of emergency declaration, Balewa announced the appointment of Moses Majekodunmi, the country’s Minister of Health, as the administrator of the Western Region. The SoE lasted until December 1962.
The next time a state of emergency was declared in Nigeria was four decades later when President Olusegun Obasanjo imposed it on Plateau State on 18 May 2004. Obasanjo declared an SoE due to weeks of fighting between Christians and Muslims in the state and the inability of the state government to quell the crisis. The President subsequently sacked Governor Joshua Dariye and suspended the Plateau State House of Assembly for six months. He also appointed Major-General Chris Ali (retd.) as the Interim Administrator of the state. The SoE lasted for six months.
Obasanjo made another state of emergency declaration, this time for Ekiti State, on 18 October 2006. The SoE was declared following the constitutional crisis sparked off by the impeachment of Ayo Fayose, Governor of Ekiti State, and his deputy, Biodun Olujimi, by the Ekiti State House of Assembly. The President suspended the state legislature for six months, alongside Fayose, his deputy, and Friday Aderemi, the former speaker of Ekiti Assembly, who claimed to be governor. He subsequently appointed Tunji Olurin, a former army general, as the Sole Administrator of the state to maintain security there for six months.
Goodluck Jonathan became the next President to declare a state of emergency in Nigeria when he did so for four states on 31 December 2011. Jonathan declared an SoE for parts of Niger State, Plateau State, Yobe State, and Borno State following the incessant attacks by Boko Haram. The President also announced the temporary closure of the country’s borders in the affected areas. Unlike previous emergency declarations, Jonathan did not dissolve or suspend the legislature and did not sack the governors. Instead, the military was provided with broad powers to tackle the insurgency.
Jonathan extended the state of emergency to the entirety of Borno and Yobe states and subsequently included Adamawa State on 14 May 2013. This was done in an attempt to curb the violent attacks by Boko Haram, which had escalated to a geometric level. But just like his declaration in 2011, the President stated that “the governors and other political office holders in the affected states will continue to discharge their constitutional responsibilities” during the period of the SoE. More troops were deployed to the affected states.
Conditions for the declaration of the state of emergency in Nigeria
A state of emergency is a legal instrument provided for in the 1999 constitution (as amended). Section 305(1) states that:
Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the President may, by instrument published in the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation, issue a Proclamation of a state of emergency in the Federation or any part thereof.
Section 305(3) lists the conditions that the President can declare a state of emergency in the country. It states:
The President shall have power to issue a Proclamation of a state of emergency only when –
a. the Federation is at war;
b. the Federation is in imminent danger of invasion or involvement in a state of war;
c. 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;
d. 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;
e. 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;
f. there is any other public danger which clearly constitutes a threat to the existence of the Federation; or
g. the President receives a request to do so in accordance with the provisions of subsection (4) of this section
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