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Arms bearing: Debate rages as citizens ponder self-defence

By Chijioke Iremeka
02 July 2022   |   2:39 am
>The rising and widespread insecurity in the country has raised posers about the preparedness and ability of the law enforcement agencies to tackle the alarming wave of criminal activities


The rising and widespread insecurity in the country has raised posers about the preparedness and ability of the law enforcement agencies to tackle the alarming wave of criminal activities across the nation.

The situation is fast becoming worse that some leaders have started directing their people to bear arms for the safety of their lives, families and community. CHIJIOKE IREMEKA writes that call for citizens to bear arms is a ‘vote of no confidence on the government and its security operatives.

For over a decade now, Nigeria has witnessed unprecedented bloodshed, destruction of properties and displacement of innocent people from their native homes and places of business.

The government, to which the masses have surrendered their freedom and loyalty under The Social Contract, seems to be overwhelmed and unable to keep its part of the pact.

Under the Social Contract theory, the masses consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedom and submit to the authority (the government) in exchange for the protection of their lives, properties and the remaining rights or maintenance of the social order. But where the government to which the citizenry submitted their freedom could not fulfil its own part of the bargain, self-help becomes inevitable under the natural law.

Self-help involves people providing support and help for each other in an informal way, rather than relying on the government or the constituted authorities. Thus, the seeming inability of the Nigerian government to protect its citizens against widespread massacre by terrorists necessitated calls for arms bearing by the people to protect themselves against the marauding criminal elements who have placed every Nigerian on death row.

Despite the fact that arms bearing by citizens for self-defence are banned and discouraged in the country, there has been a trenchant call for citizens’ ownership of light firearms to stem the unrestrained killings of the masses by criminal groups.

Though the liberalisation of arms has its implications, the promoters of private ownership of firearms by the citizens believe that before a criminal will come to attack a man with a corresponding fire force, the criminal would think twice knowing that his life will also be in danger.

Among those who support the liberalisation of guns in Nigeria are the state governors, who make the call alongside other highly placed Nigerians, including legal practitioners.

They urged the government to grant a gun licence to only sane Nigerians without any criminal records, to enable them to protect themselves and their environment.

The Commissioner of Police in Zamfara State, where Governor Bello Matawalle recently asked the residents to acquire guns in self-defence, agreed to the fact that the police would not be going about with the farmers to their farms.

The situation is also likely to worsen the food insecurity in the country as a lot of Nigerians can no longer afford the prices of food items in the market. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has already said that about 19.4 million Nigerians would face food insecurity between June and August 2022.

Recently, Governor Matawalle of Zamfara State and his Benue State counterpart Ortom reportedly asked the residents of their states to acquire guns for self-defence. They said the move would help in reducing the incessant attacks on their subjects, especially as the law enforcement agencies appear to have been overwhelmed and may have been compromised.
The calls by the two governors followed an earlier one by other highly placed Nigerians who suspected that the security operatives were in close deal with terrorist groups to kill and maim innocent citizens under the guise of political, religious and ethnic affiliation.
A former Chief of Army Staff, during President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, Gen. T.Y Danjuma, once advised Nigerians to get guns and defend themselves against bandits, alleging that the military had compromised. Though his advice was criticized, it spoke volumes about the level of insecurity in the country, considering the amount of information that such an ex-military chief could have about Nigeria.

Danjuma, while speaking at the maiden convocation and 10th anniversary of Taraba State University on March 24, 2018, alleged that the armed forces were conspiring with herdsmen to kill innocent Nigerians.

He was quoted as saying: “I am not a politician and politics is one profession I don’t want to belong to because if I’m a politician, I will not say what I am going to say to you now. When I arrived in this arena, I saw a rich cultural display and I was amazed at the rich cultural heritage of our people.

“Taraba is a mini Nigeria with diverse ethnic groups living together peacefully, but the peace in this state is under assault. There is an attempt at ethnic cleansing in the state and of course, in some rural states in Nigeria. We must resist it. We must stop it. Every one of us must rise up.

“Our armed forces are not neutral. They collude with the bandits to kill people, kill Nigerians. The armed forces guide their movements; they cover them. If you are depending on the armed forces to stop the killings, you will all die one by one.

“This ethnic cleansing must stop in Taraba State and other rural states of Nigeria otherwise Somalia will be a child’s play. I ask every one of you to be alert and defend your country, defend your territory and defend your state. Defend yourselves because you have no other place to go. God bless our country.”

The military reacted to Danjuma’s call saying his position was an invitation to anarchy, while others saw it as a deafening signal to the criminal elements in the country.

On March 26, the Federal Government responded to Danjuma’s comment through the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, who said that the advice by the former army chief was highly uncalled for and an invitation to anarchy. He urged Nigerians to report any member of the armed forces suspected to be colluding with herdsmen (and other terrorist groups).

Some governors who are the chief executive officers of their states are now seeing what Danjuma saw years ago, and toeing the same path by calling on the residents to get guns and defend themselves against their assailants.

Also, in what seemed a ‘vote of no confidence on the police and the military, the Minister of Defence, Major General Bashir Magashi (rtd), had earlier this year told Nigerians to rise and defend themselves against the onslaughts of the terrorists and other criminals.

Governor Aminu Bello Masari also called on residents of Katsina State to defend themselves following rising cases of abductions and killings by terrorists. It was a clear call on citizens to take up arms and fight back against the rampaging bandits.

Interestingly, Masari, who made the call, is the governor of President Muhammadu Buhari’s home state, Katsina, and a former Speaker of the House of Representatives. Katsina is one of the most terrorised states in the country. In the last two years, Masari has tried several measures to restore peace to the state, including placating the terrorists, paying them and leading officials of his administration to dialogue with their leaders in their hideouts. He has even offered them amnesty, yet the criminals were not ready to stop their criminal activities.

The call for citizens to bear arms is an expression of total frustration and perhaps, a ‘vote of no confidence on the police and the military.

The governors of Benue and Taraba states, Samuel Ortom and Darius Ishaku, had made similar calls after security agencies failed to protect their states from the marauding militias that have been maiming the people, destroying farms, burning houses, kidnapping for ransom and raping.

Also, following Owo’s massacres, Ondo State Governor and Chairman of the South West Governors’ Forum, Rotimi Akeredolu, also commended Matawalle and warned the Federal Government that its inability to secure the life and property of the people would soon leave entire citizens with no choice but to arm themselves in self-defence.
He said the call for arm for self-defence confirms the pervasive loss of confidence in the current security arrangement of the country, insisting that the establishment of the State Police remains the panacea to tackling the worsening insecurity in Nigeria.

“The directive of the State Governor to the Commissioner of Police to issue licenses to qualified citizens to bear arms in the defence of their immediate environments and the State, in general, is commendable.

“But the National Security Adviser and Inspector-General of Police may have to issue a license to possess a certain category of arms. No such licenses have been issued to individuals since 2007, while those which existed had been revoked.”

Also, the House of Representatives had sought an urgent intervention from the Federal Government to urgently deploy troops to quell the attacks in the state.

Governor Matawalle’s recent call for citizens to bear arms and defend themselves against terrorists is now creating ripples. The directive came on the heels of last Saturday’s major attack on the Mada community under Gusau Local Council, where bandits killed many people, wounded scores of others and forced thousands to flee their homes.

In a statement made available to The Guardian, the Commissioner for Information, Ibrahim Dosara, explained that the decision was taken by the government to ensure adequate security in the state, particularly during the rainy season. 

“Government has resolved to take further measures to deal with the recent escalating attacks, kidnapping and criminal levies being enforced on our innocent communities. This act of terrorism has been a source of worry to the people and government of the state,” the statement said.

The Matawalle-led administration also directed the Commissioner of Police, Ayuba Elkana, to issue licences to all those who qualify and wish to obtain such guns to defend themselves, even as the Nigeria Army said the governor did not have the power to issue the directive.

His words: “Government is ready to facilitate people, especially our farmers, to secure basic weapons for defending themselves. The government has already concluded an arrangement to distribute 500 forms to each of the 19 emirates in the state for those willing to obtain guns to defend themselves

“People must apply to the Commissioner of Police, for a licence to own guns and such other basic weapons to be used in defending themselves. A secretariat or centre will be established for the collection of intelligence on the activities of informants.

“People are strictly warned and advised to make sure that any information about an informant is true and nothing but the truth, as all information on such informants, must carry correct data on the suspects, including their pictures, correct names, address, occupation and witness to testify the genuineness of the information given, as the government is taking punitive measures against anyone found as an informant.”

The state government warned that any person who gave wrong information against anybody would be punished. It requested the House of Assembly to urgently pass the Informants Bill before it, to enable government to take drastic measures on informants as contained in the bill.

Responding to the directive on the gun acquisition, CP Elkana said the embargo on firearms licence was still in force and that the police had stopped issuing a licence to citizens who wish to own guns.

“I have not received any directives and also, there is a ban on firearms licence and we don’t give licence. I cannot comment on compliance yet. Let me see the directive first. This is a farming season and you cannot get police or any security to be following everybody to the farm. They are attacking people on the farm; that is the problem. It is not as if we are not doing our best.”

The Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor, said Matawalle lacked the power to instruct the Commissioner of Police to issue gun licences to the public.

At the Joint Exercise for the National Defence College and War Colleges of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, code-named ‘Exercise Grand Nationale’ in Abuja, Gen. Irabor expressed his disapproval at the measures being taken by Matawalle to secure his state against insurgency.

“I do not think that is the right way to go. I do not think that the governor has the power to instruct the CP to issue licences because the Commissioner of Police does not have the right to issue licences.”

Irabor said he was yet to understand the basis for asking citizens to bear arms, adding that the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister for Justice would look at the Constitution with a view to determining what the laws say and what the powers of the governor are to be able to deal with the issue.

“There are other legal issues of governance that the governor could have addressed using the instrumentalities of the law available to bring greater peace and security,” he said.

Gen. Irabor also clarified the position of the armed forces in the current administration, saying that the Army is not subject to directives from state governments.

“The armed forces are only an instrument of policy implementation. We do not take instructions from state governments, we have a Commander-in-Chief, and the Constitution gives the right and powers to the Commander-in-Chief. So, we are there to give support to the civil authority, in this case, the police,” he said.

However, The Guardian learnt that the call for citizens to bear arms and defend themselves is a constitutional matter, on which a number of lawyers have offered their legal opinions.

To an Abuja-based legal practitioner, Mr Pius Danba, self-defence is part of the constitutional rights of the citizens guaranteed by the law.

According to him, Section 33 (2)(a) 1999 Constitution of Nigeria provides for the right to defend the life of a person and his property. The right to self-defence is also provided in the Penal Code of various states. “For instance, it is provided in Section 59 of the Penal Code that nothing is an offence that is done in the lawful exercise of the right of private defence. It extends to the right to defend properties both movable and immovable,” the lawyer said.

He, therefore, submitted that the call by Governor Matawalle for self-defence is nothing new as it is a call for Nigerians to exercise their right under the Constitution and various Penal Codes.

Danba argued that natural law also presupposes self-preservation. A man, he said, ought to defend himself from any harm that comes his way. He explained that the only requirement of the law regarding self-defence is the proportionality of action.

“The law stipulates that in defending yourself, you are not to use a weapon higher than that used by your attacker. The weapon of self-defence must be proportional to the weapon of the attacker, to escape liability,” he stated.

His professional colleague, Omale Ajonye, argued that under the Firearms Act, every Nigerian could own a firearm with permission or license from the president, Assistant Inspector General (AIG) and Commissioner of Police of every state of the federation. These firearms, he added, exclude assault rifles because firearms are meant for self-defence.

Agony said that in recent times, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) suspended the issuance of licences to persons who may want to or have applied for weapons for self-protection.

“It is my take that with the current security situations, the suspension of issuance of the same should be reversed. It should be issued to persons who are sane, without records of criminality, politically exposed persons, VIPs and vigilante groups across the nooks and crannies of the country, after due scrutiny, to safeguard the life and property of all Nigerians,” he said. He noted that the security of life and property is too sensitive and should not be left to the security agencies alone.

Another legal practitioner, David Iorhemba said the call for self-defence by Masari and any other governor showed that there is no government in the country. He argued that the primary responsibility of any government is to protect life and property, noting that such responsibility cannot be relinquished to any other individual or body.

To him, such calls are a crass display of procedural ignorance, arguing that rather than such a call, the government and its agencies should strive to live up to their billings and stop asking the people to do so for them.

Iorhemba argued that the governor’s advice is a clear declaration that the state government, which he heads, and the Federal Government, whose direct duty it is to secure the country are incapable of protecting life and property in the country.

According to him, such a call coming from the governor of the president’s home state is unfortunate as it could put the government of the day in a bad light.

Umahi Ekwe, also a lawyer, argued that the electorate had submitted their collective mandate to their leader; therefore, the government owed them a duty to protect them.

“For the governor to now turn around to ask the people who have submitted all their resources, rights and obedience to the state to defend themselves is an admission of failure,” he added.

However, the residents of the Birnin-Gwari Emirate in Kaduna State have started arming themselves against further invasion by bandits.

A community leader in the emirate and former Managing Director of Kaduna State Media Corporation (KSMC), Alhaji Zubairu Abdulra’uf, pointed out that the people of his emirate have already adopted that option.

Abdulrra’uf said the incessant attacks on his people completely paralysed economic activities in the rural communities and made travelling in the area difficult or even impossible in some places.

He said: “We have reached the point of no return. People are being pushed to the wall. Just yesterday, Randegi is one of the areas where these bandits have their routes through Zamfara to Niger State.

“The people of Randegi confronted the bandits, who tried to overrun the farming community, and succeeded in dislodging the criminals. So, I think our people are now ready if the government cannot perform its constitutional function.”

The former broadcaster with DW Radio also said the bandits had been imposing a tax on Birnin-Gwari farmers for over two years, adding: “Yes, N200 million was paid to bandits in Randegi district alone. When you talk of Birni-Gwari Local Council as a whole, it’s between N300 million and N400 million paid to these bandits.”

More so, the coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) has commended Governor Matawalle, over his call for residents to arm themselves against bandits and terrorists, in self-defence.

The group called on the Northern governors and leaders to join willing citizens to protect and secure their communities from killers.

CNG’s commendation followed the position of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Gen. Lucky Irabor, against Matawalle’s directive.

But in pre-colonial Africa, Nigeria inclusive, individuals carried arms, be it farming or hunting tools or war weapons. This could be found mostly in male members of the community who belong to age grades.

Also, male age grades in communities had access to sophisticated tools or components for manufacturing weapons within their community, which could be used for self-defence or tribal wars.

One of the cardinal responsibilities of government is the security of life and property provided for under Section14 (2) (b) of the 1999 Constitution as amended. So paramount is this responsibility that the entire economic, social and political progress of any society depends on it.

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