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Arms bearing by Nigerians as recipe for bedlam, wanton homicide

By Eno-Abasi Sunday (Lagos), Kelvin Ebiri (Port Harcourt), and Abdulganiyu Alabi (Kaduna)
04 October 2020   |   4:19 am
Video clips of Governor Babagana Umara Zulum of Borno State, being shielded by a battery of security operatives, shepherded into a vehicle and spirited away from the scene of a Boko Haram attack, were still making the rounds on the Internet...

Assorted kinds of guns

Video clips of Governor Babagana Umara Zulum of Borno State, being shielded by a battery of security operatives, shepherded into a vehicle and spirited away from the scene of a Boko Haram attack, were still making the rounds on the Internet, when another video emerged detailing a shoot-out between Zulum’s details and insurgents.

In that July 29 Boko Haram attack on Zulum’s convoy near the town of Baga, while the governor, a professor of Agriculture and Environmental Engineering was unharmed, there were casualties in his entourage.

In the second attack, which happened on Friday, September 25, Zulum’s advance team was ambushed between Monguno and Baga, killing eight policemen, three soldiers, and four members of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF).

Zulum, who was in Baga in preparing to receive thousands of residents displaced by the terrorists in 2014, arrived there by helicopter, only to be informed of the attack on the rest of his team that travelled by road as it passed through a village close to the headquarters of the Multinational Joint Task Force.

For the second time in three days and the third time in three months, Zulum’s convoy was again attacked, last Sunday morning even though no death was recorded.

The latest attack, which occurred when the convoy was returning to Maiduguri, the state capital, happened around 10.30 am, about two kilometers away from Baga, saw the insurgents shooting at the convoy, thereby shattering the windscreen of some vehicles and bursting the tyres of others.

Despite promises of making the country safe and secure during the last round of electioneering, the security situation in the country is deteriorating greatly. In fact, the last five years of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration has witnessed insurgents graduate from attacking soft targets to a routine assault on high-profile military locations and personnel.

For instance, two weeks ago, the Nigerian Army lost 10 soldiers, including Col. Dahiru Bako, a brigade commander in Damboa, Borno State. Five days after Bako was murdered, another colonel, M.Z Manu, was also killed by bandits in Unguwar Doka Village, in Faskari Local Council of Katsina State.

The military brass and some soldiers were on routine patrol when they ran into an ambush by the bandits, who wasted no time in killing them. Indeed, the figure for civilian and military casualties in different parts of the country has been on a steady rise month-after-month.

Thousands of deaths orchestrated by Boko Haram, Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP), bandits/cattle rustlers, and armed criminal elements in the North, as well as those perpetrated by kidnappers, robbers, and sundry criminal gangs vividly paint a picture of an unsafe country, which is gradually getting adrift.

Perhaps, it is scenarios like these, coupled with the seeming incapacity to contain the wanton killings and mounting insecurity by the Nigerian Armed Forces that forced Governor Samuel Ortom to recently proffer the “gun-for-responsible Nigerians” solution.

Ortom’s position may not have been shared by Zulum, who has suffered several attempts on his life, but he also came up with his novel solution, when he called on the Federal Government to consider seeking the support of the Chadian military in its bid to end the security challenges in his state and other parts of the country.

A statement by the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) spokesman, Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, quoted Zulum as calling on the Federal Government “to ensure that Chadian soldiers are invited to join their Nigerian counterparts in the fight against insurgency if any meaningful success is to be recorded on the battleground.”

However, in his Independence Day speech, President Buhari said: “As a government, we remain committed to our constitutional oath of securing the lives and properties of the citizenry. I, however, call on the citizenry to also support the government by providing the necessary community-level intelligence in addressing these challenges. In moving forward together, it is important to strengthen our economy to provide sustainable means of livelihood for as many Nigerians as possible to eradicate absolute poverty from our midst.”

But Governor Ortom has, in the past weeks, been consistent in asking the Federal Government to grant gun licenses to responsible Nigerians to carry sophisticated weapons such as AK47, adequately fund security agencies, and ensure continuous training for their personnel to enable them to keep pace with global trends in the fight against insecurity. He, however, stressed that the policy should be backed by a strict legal framework to prevent illegal possession of arms by the citizenry without exception.

Ortom in his submission during a virtual meeting convened by the Centre for Values in Leadership, in collaboration with Nigeria Governors’ Forum, said it was time governments at all levels realised that insecurity is a real threat to the country’s development, even as they must be willing to take on the malaise headlong.

In the paper titled, “Insecurity and Governance Challenges in the New Normal,” Ortom said training and funding of security agencies must never be toyed with if the country places a premium on the safety of the lives and property of its citizens.

Ortom’s submission about arms bearing by “responsible Nigerians” appear to be a bit unpopular with a cross-section of Nigerians, who believe that the initiative may be counterproductive.

While some of them say that it could lead to the birth of more warlords across the states, others say most Nigerians may be too temperamental to bear arms. But those who support the governor’s attempt to justify his suggestion with the wanton killings that his people have witnessed lately.

A retired Assistant Commissioner of Police, Dr. Uche Chukwuma, argued that because a lot of Nigerians are psychologically temperamental, granting them licenses to bear arms could be a recipe for wanton homicide.

He, however, said instead of criticising the Ortom, people need to appreciate that Nigeria is grappling with insecurity because of the over-centralisation of security in the country for so many years. And regrettably, those people who are supposed to control the security apparatus are creating insecurity by looking the other way when some elements from certain parts of the country go about harming, maiming others, and flaunting their weapons all over the place.

Chukwuma who is the Director-General of the Rivers State Neighbourhood Watch Safety Agency said one way to resolving the safety conundrum is for the Federal Government and the National Assembly to be courageous enough to establish a state policing structure, alongside the existing federal structure.

“The federal structure today has outlived its usefulness and it is no longer doing well hence the need for restructuring, working alongside the state policing system, with jurisdictional boundary spelt out. Let us try it for 10 years and we’ll see that the security situation in this country will change for the better. Every state will have boundaries to operate and the federal police will come in when necessary. As a matter of reality, I have sent this suggestion to the Senate”

He continued: “By the time you create a state security system, there will be the need to regularly check within the state to ensure that those bearing arms illegally are flushed out. When all the states have their security apparatuses in place, then the governors who are the chief security officers would be empowered to give directives, with their commissioners of police working together with the federal-controlled police. Once this is in place, the issue of insecurity in this country would be highly controlled,” he said.

A sociology teacher at the University of Port Harcourt, Dr. Sofiri Peterside, observed that Governor Ortom’s clamour must have stemmed from the seeming inability of state-owned security forces to protect and defend the citizens.

Peterside, who is against citizens bearing arms because the society is not mature to the extent where restraint and control can be brought to bear on such gun handlers, added that there is so much bitterness and inter-ethnic rivalry among citizens, and if the opportunity for people to bear arms is created, this country will disintegrate. He stressed the need for those who wield power to deploy the same in a way that brings happiness to the greatest number of people.

“My take is that widespread licensing of gun ownership would even create more confusion in our country, given the way we operate and given the fact that the level of awareness and enlightenment on civil rights is actually at a very low ebb. I do not support that because it is going to create more confusion and more problem in our emerging democracy,” he said.

He maintained that should government decide to issue a license for Nigerians to begin to bear arms for personal protection, those whose who had already illegally acquired arms would have an opportunity to legitimise the action they took a long time ago.

“There are a lot of arms in circulation given our porous borders and those arms have already surfaced in our inter-community, inter-ethnic clashes, and farmers/herders conflicts. I think we are not ripe for that at this moment, as the government is still struggling to mop up weapons that are illegally in people’s hands, particularly in border towns” he said.

Northern groups have equally faulted Ortom’s call saying such a move was tantamount to having more warlords like Terwase Akwaza, popularly known as Gana, who was killed by the Nigerian military a few weeks ago. They insist that such a development would plunge the country into anarchy.

According to the Convener, Joint Action Committee of Northern Youths Association (JACNYA), Mr. Murtala Abubakar, the motive behind Ortom’s call was for him to divert the public’s attention from “all the atrocities that he has committed in his state.”

Abubakar said: “That call is completely unnecessary considering the level of development in Nigeria. Even in advanced countries where people bear arms, you can see that there is a very serious debate going on about continuous arms-bearing.

“Today, arms-bearing constitutes a major security threat in the United States, and that is why the issue is also dominating talks during the presidential campaign. So, I think it is not something that we should contemplate here, considering our level of development. So, for me, Ortom is simply trying to divert attention from all atrocities committed by one of his campaigners, that is the late Gana. My happiness is that Nigeria has all the records, and at the appropriate time, whoever is linked, or involved in the mass murder committed against the innocent people of Benue State will be held accountable.”

On the way out of the dire security situation in the country, Abubakar said: “The way forward is to strengthen our law enforcement agencies; the Nigeria Police Force needs to be well-equipped, while its personnel are routinely trained and retrained.

“At the level of recruitment, people who are highly educated and intelligent should be given preference because policing is a difficult job that must be executed intelligently for maximum impact and positive result.

“In addition to considering educated and intelligent people for recruitment into the police force, it is also very important to consider people that are passionate about crime-fighting because they are people who we will be relying on for intelligence gathering. Since they would also wield firearms, they should also be courageous and of high moral standing. This is very important,” he submitted.

Beyond all these, he said it is also very important for the government to address factors that promote insecurity in the country and push people to commit crimes.

“The government has to address the underlying factors that are pushing people to commit crimes. For instance, lack of job opportunities, the absence of an enabling environment for creativity and entrepreneurship to thrive, and lack of education. Once the government is committed to all these, crimes will be reasonably checkmated. This is the way to go, and not calling on the government to issue gun licenses to Nigerians, which will ultimately not solve the problem but would end up aggravating it.

“Another factor that is also giving rise to insecurity is the fact that we live in communities where people having mutual distrust. Assuming you have militias like Gana from the Tiv, and his ilk from Jukun extraction, only God knows what would befall people on both sides of the divide,” Murtala said.

In the same vein, the President of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), Yerima Shetima said legitimising arms bearing by Nigerians will do the country no good, as it would, sort of, saddle individuals with the task of defending themselves.

He pointed out that there is no guarantee that if members of the society pick up arms they would do better than security agencies that are constitutionally saddled with such tasks.

“Calling on the Federal Government to approve gun licenses for many responsible Nigerians could indirectly mean an invitation to anarchy. We have constitutional bodies that are saddled with such functions, so we must always engage them and contribute our quota to making them succeed. There is no way that members of society can pick up arms and perform better than those trained for such an assignment. With the fragile situation that the country has found itself today, it won’t be a good advice to call on people to carry arms.”

On why most northern groups are not condemning attacks on Governor Zulum, to let the world to know that they do not approve of such attempts on the lives of their elected and non-elected officials, both ACYF and JACNYA said that they have on several occasions condemned attacks launched by the insurgents on the Zulum’s convoy and others.

They said northern groups recently increased the tempo of their protests against the incessant killings in the North in particular and the country at large, part of which includes the call on President Buhari to review the country’s security architecture, and to sack all service chiefs.

According to Shetima, despite northern groups’ dissatisfaction with the attacks, there is a limit to what they can do. He, therefore, called on the governor to thread with caution and listen to security advice, as he has been alleged to embark on journeys against security advice.

Shetima, who alleged that propagandists from the South implanted in the North, have been downplaying their efforts to stem security challenges in the region added, “some of us are making an extra effort to go out of our way to discuss the insecurity in the North as a whole.

“Even a few days ago, at the level of CNG, there was a protest in Zamfara State, all in line with this issue of insecurity. Don’t also forget that not quite long, there was also a protest against insecurity in Katsina State.

“But the case of Borno State, to an extent, has turned out to be something else, specifically not because the story of insurgency is new, but the constant attacks on the governor. This, sometimes make us feel strongly that there is more to the attacks.

“But as a group, we still want to draw the governor’s attention to what is being said about him ignoring security advice. As the chief security officer of the state, should anything happen to him, it’s not him alone that will suffer the effect, the state and indeed the country would be affected considering the position he is occupying.

“We appreciate the fact that he’s passionate about seeing this insurgency come to an end, but he should try not to be in confrontation with these insurgents since he is not a security expert…”

Similarly, the JACNYA convener, Abubakar said northern groups would continue to condemn the rising attack on Zulum, as well as speak against the rising wave of insecurity in the zone.

“Anybody who tries to accuse northern groups or elders of doing nothing in the face of all these is trying to be mischievous. The truth of the matter is that the young people and groups have sacrificed so much to bring an end to these crises to the extent that youths from the CJTF also go after these insurgents.

“It is the efforts of young peoples’ groups that have pushed these elements far into Sambisa forest. We have tried so much. The ACF, the Joint Action Committee of Northern Youths Association, have all come out to condemn in the strongest of terms, the attacks on Governor Zulum. Beyond the condemnation, we have also taken a step further to enlighten young people.

“Coalition of Northern Youths Association came out strongly to say enough of these killings. It even gave the Federal Government an ultimatum to bring an end to the incessant killings. As a result of that call, there was a meeting with states and non-state actors with a view to come up with robust measures to combat this criminality…It should also be noted that we have been consistently demanding that one of the surest ways to end these crises is to sack the service chiefs. It’s a demand that we insist must be met.”