Adequate arming of state security outfits
Ordinarily, there should have been no rift between the Presidency and some governors over who should bear what arms in securing the polity.
That duty is essentially that of the Nigeria Police Force that, unfortunately, has failed to deliver over the years, not because of lack of will, but more because they have simply been overwhelmed by the increasing enormity and complexity of safeguarding life and property in the country.
It is worth emphasising that it was this failure that prompted governors in the South West, South East, Benue and some others in the North to set up their own security network to protect their people; and, having done that out of undeniable necessity, it simply makes sense that they arm and equip the outfits appropriately to meet their security challenges, particularly to confront bandits, terrorists and kidnappers who are armed with sophisticated weapons.
The dispute that has arisen over the Federal Government’s refusal to allow the states’ security outfits to bear sophisticated arms, particularly AK-47 and AK-49 rifles, to match those of the enemies of their people tells of the unhealthy shenanigans that have clouded the most sensitive matter of keeping Nigerians secured.
Amid the routine loss of lives and livelihood nationwide, this is most regrettable and a failure of leadership by the Federal Government to accord rights of self-defence to sub-nationals.
A sincere leadership would rather push for concerted efforts at policing and work out a uniform guideline for all, against the common enemy. Under no circumstance should state security operators with lesser-grade arms be asked to confront bandits and terrorists with more sophisticated weapons.
Pandering to the earlier whim of President Muhammadu Buhari, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Gen. Lucky Irabor pointedly declared about four days back that no state governor in the country has the authority to acquire high-caliber weapons for use by quasi-security outfits in their jurisdiction.
Fielding question on firearms, Irabor declared that the deployment of high calibre weapons such as the AK-47 rifles among others lies strictly within the purview of the Federal Government security agencies alone. He was reacting to requests for permission to use AK-47 by both Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State and Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State.
The Buhari-led administration has rarely disguised its dislike for state policing which is the norm in true federal systems globally. Contrary to earlier promises and recommendations of the ruling party, Buhari had on national television said state police is not his answer to insecurity. Most curiously, the president has not shown a workable alternative to the failed Nigerian Police or tangible solutions to halt bizarre killings by criminal gangs in the last seven years.
While Akeredolu publicly decried Federal Government’s refusal to grant Amotekun in Ondo State the right to bear AK-47 rifles, Ortom, a few days ago stated that he had requested an AK-47 rifles’ licence but had not received a response from the Federal Government after three months.
The governor consequently gave the administration a one-month deadline to approve his request to obtain an AK-47 licence or he would seek counsel from his people on the best course of action. He spoke during the passing out procession of the second batch of the State Volunteer Community Guards at IBB Square in Makurdi, the state capital.
Referring to viral videos of the training and inauguration of 600 men of the Katsina State vigilante group during which AK-47 assault rifles were used, Akeredolu, himself a commander of Amotekun, protested that the Presidency was discriminatory by refusing repeated requests by governments in the Southwest to procure arms for Amotekun.
“Denying Amotekun the urgently needed right to legitimately bear arms is a repudiation of the basis of true federalism,” Akeredolu said.
“That Katsina was able to arm its state security force with the display of AK-47 means we are pursuing a ‘one country, two systems’ solution to the national question. Denying Amotekun the right to bear arms exposes the Southwest to life-threatening marauders and organised crime,” he said.
And reacting to the indictment, Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu said neither Katsina nor any other state had been officially permitted to procure sophisticated weapons.
“Under this administration,” he emphasised, “the President has repeatedly made it clear that nobody is allowed to illegally carry AK-47 or any other automatic weapons and that they must surrender them.” However, “Governor Bello Masari, had invited the Civil Defence Training College, Katsina, to train the vigilantes for a five-day period in the handling and operations of pump-action rifles.”
If indeed the Katsina Vigilantes were being trained with AK-47 rifles, it would amount to double standard by the Federal Government, which is condemnable because what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander.
Importantly, there is no dismissing the fact that the criminal gangs that the backward political elite had for too long harboured as mere disgruntled bandits in need of amnesty had metamorphosed into a Frankenstein monster that is freely feasting on the lives of residents in Katsina, Kaduna, Zamfara, Yobe and in fact, nationwide. Lest we forget, terrorists ransacked the St. Francis Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State, during a Sunday mass in June, slaughtering over 40 worshippers in broad daylight.
In Ekiti, Ondo, Oyo and all other states in the Southwest, terrorists and kidnappers have rendered the highways, forests and farmlands most unsafe. Governors of these states, including Akeredolu, have repeatedly said that it is self-defeating for vigilantes to keep engaging sophisticated terrorists with dane guns and other antediluvian weaponry.
Although Amotekun is credited with huge successes in combating criminals along with the police and other security forces, the successes came at a huge cost and only left to imagine what they could achieve with the right ammunition.
It is bad enough that the Federal Government is unashamedly against true federalism that decentralises powers and responsibilities to other tiers of government for efficiency. It is worse than it has typically gone parochial in its consent to modalities of state policing within the same federal entity. Regrettably, both lend credence to insinuations that the Buhari administration does not genuinely seek an end to insurgency and terrorism nationwide.
Otherwise, the Federal Government should itself be championing state policing that accords more powers, and responsibilities and demands accountability from each of the 36 state governors. That approach is in tandem with the principles of true Federalism that resonate globally. For instance, there are 17,985 police forces in the United States alone.
The United Kingdom devolved policing to have 46 sundry police forces. Switzerland is no exception as every 26 cantons has a police agency itself, the same for each municipality, while the Federal Government provides specialised services and border protection. Why is Nigeria different and President Buhari’s tenure oddly insensitive to the security of lives and properties of the citizenry?
The reservation that some state governors are untrustworthy of more powers, including that of security, is all too familiar. Indeed, there is no perfect model devoid of its limitations. However, this boils down to the same grave error that the current administration is guilty of – the lack of true federalism. But where there is one, with a Commander-in-Chief that is willing, the Federal Government should assume its appropriate role of checks and balancing of powers conceded to state executives, and ensure that state police do not become a tool to fight political opponents. Power is always a potential loose cannon, without an effective control mechanism.
Next is streamlining all security agencies in the country and collectively agreeing on the categories of arms they can bear, based on the categories of duties assigned vis-à-vis the realities. It is the only way to avoid the current confusion.
The onus is on the Federal Government to determine where and how weapons are sourced for the entire country and sundry agencies. The contrary will be dangerous for the entire country.
Clearly, state policing is an evidence-based solution whose time has come and no amount of shenanigans should turn back the hands of the time. If it is sincere in fighting crime countrywide, the Federal Government should now be strategising on how to make regional security outfits to transmute to state police, with adequate arms to stem criminality of any sort.