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Descent to self-help

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[FILE PHOTO] Kastina Governor, Aminu Masari Bello

The frustration with the palpable failure of a constituted authority to secure the life and property of Nigerians has eventually crept up to the high level of government. This is evident from the recent submission of the Katsina State Governor Bello Masari that citizens have a moral right to defend themselves and not meekly submit to murderous bandits. 

Masari may have spoken in understandable frustration like many, high and low, in the polity. Indeed, the separatist organisation has been quick to cite this as vindication of repeated calls by its leader, Nnamdi Kanu, who has ever urged Nigerians to arm themselves in self-defence against bandits.

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Masari’s position makes sense to the extent that self-defence can be defined as a measure taken to protect oneself from unprovoked, unwarranted attack. And, in the face of glaring evidence of the incapability, or unwillingness of the state to, for so long protect the people, many persons have, long before the governor spoke, advocated self-defence.

As far back as March 2008, retired General T.Y. Danjuma, a former chief of army staff and later defence minister of this federal republic, spoke at a public function to  warn the people of his Taraba State and by extension Nigeria, ‘‘to be on your alert and defend your country and your state.’’ He added ominously ‘‘you must rise to protect yourselves from bandits or you will all die.’’ One can reasonably say that the general, from his vantage position, could not but have perceived more clearly than the average citizen, something sinister. Nonetheless, the response from federal authorities was dismissive.  A spokesman for the then Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, described Danjuma’s remark as ‘‘highly uncalled for…an invitation to the anarchy that should be disregarded by well-meaning Nigerians.’’ 

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Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom, Taraba State Governor Darius Ishaku, even the Niger Delta activist Asari Dokubo have, at different times, recommended self-defence against the mindless killings in various parts of the country. Darius urged the people of Southern Kaduna to ‘‘wake up from their slumber and defend themselves instead of lying down and allow yourselves to be annihilated by other groups.’’ He added, ‘‘you have a constitutional right to self-defence and now is the time to use it. The government alone cannot do it.’’ More recently, the Federal Government has, in a way come round to a sad admission of its impotence against rampaging criminality on the one hand, and a vindication of its very superior officer in the military on the other.

In February this year, the current minister of defence, retired general Bashir Magashi spoke in a very similar vein. ‘‘It is the responsibility of everybody to keep alert and to find safety when necessary. But we shouldn’t be cowards…I don’t know why people are running from minor things like bandits gunshots. They should stand and let the killers know that even … villagers have the competency and capabilities to defend themselves.’’

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The pertinent question is with what are they to defend themselves against sophisticated weapons of the murderers? In response to a related question, Magashi expressed opposition to allowing Nigerians to own firearms saying directly that ‘‘I don’t advise Nigeria to start issuing firearm for personal use.’’ Talk of a man who speaks different things from different sides of his mouth! But of course, according to press reports, villagers have taken the Magashi proposition to heart. It is reported that communities in the Northwest and North Central zones of the country are stockpiling arms. Indeed, self-help may be of some help because the Bornu State governor, Babagana Zulum is reported to say that the local vigilante ‘‘has taken over the policing of the state to the extent that they have driven the insurgents far away from the state to Sambisa Forest.’’ If this account is accepted, it is a strong argument then for state police because, as it has been said ad nauseam to the Federal Government and its embarrassingly ineffective police force, all policing is local.  The states must therefore push this APC government to honour its promise to the electorate in 2015. The party of assumedly honourable men and women committed itself to ‘‘begin widespread consultations to amend the Constitution to enable states and local governments to employ state and community police to address the peculiar needs of each community.’’

The brazenness with which bandits execute their plans against the Nigerian state is further proof of the apparent helplessness (for whatever strange reason that only the Buhari government can explain) of the Federal Government which holds all the instruments of coercion and law enforcement. Beyond carrying out attacks in Abuja, the federal seat of power, the most insufferable incident is the recent attack on the elite military institution in Kaduna. Three young officers were killed in an invasive operation that reasonably calls to question if the military can defend this country at all as constitutionally required of it in Section 217.

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The failure of Nigeria’s leadership is fast driving this country down the road of a failed state. Of the 12 indicators of a failed state as defined globally, Nigeria of 2021 meets at least seven of them. The Nigerian state suffers from ‘‘group grievance,’’ ‘‘economic decline,’ ‘‘human capital flight,’’ ‘‘demographic pressure,’’ weak and corrupt public service,’’ deterioration in the rule of law, deterioration in human rights,’’  and ineffective security apparatus.’’ It may be no exaggeration to add even that ‘‘state legitimacy is in doubt.

A descent to self-help is a perfect recipe for chaos.  But it seems this is what Nigerian leaders think is the way to go. What a pitiable way to think, what a shame! This is not acceptable. Governments at every level must, repeat must rise to their constitutional obligation as spelt out in Section 14(2)(b) of the Constitution. No option to this is acceptable to the electorate that gave them the job to lead.

All is not at all well with this country and the earlier the leadership stops living in denial, the more quickly it acts to pull Nigeria from the brink, the better for the 200-plus million Nigerians, for Africa and for the world.

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