It is sadly true the present government has shown scandalous lack of ability to keep Nigerians safe and secure. News of gruesome murders, beheadings, wanton daily and relentless abductions of individuals, sometimes whole families and vulnerable schoolchildren and undergraduates, killing of farmers on their farms, is so pervasive and benumbing. Even homes are no longer safe sanctuaries anymore; terrorists, bandits and kidnappers barge into family homes, killing, looting, raping women and girls and wreaking heinous savagery on defenceless Nigerians.
Roads and highways have become unsafe as well. No one has any assurance of safe return home after venturing out, but venture out for daily activities we must. People now approach churches, mosques, markets, schools, burials, weddings, social occasions and other large gatherings with trepidation, mortal fear, yet these are part of normal everyday life. Priests, individually or in groups, traditional rulers in their domains, ordinary folks in their homes, are casually and wantonly abducted for ransom, some even cruelly and callously murdered by their abductors after ransoms, usually running into millions of naira, had been paid.
In the midst of all these, our ruling elite luxuriate in opulence and sybaritism; they and their families are protected by thousands of police personnel that there aren’t enough for the remaining 200 million fellow citizens who are daily subjected to the most harrowing existence by sundry criminal gangs. Those who ride about in armoured SUVs insult our collective intelligence telling us we are safer today than before they came into office. Police chiefs and military brass daily assure us they are on top of the security situation, that we should not worry but go about our daily business.
Yet, Nigerians in their thousands are callously murdered and kidnapped by gun-toting lunatics roaming the vast nation unchallenged by our security agencies. They are quick to assure us that kidnappers and murders would be apprehended and brought to book, yet we hardly see evidence of such happening.
What rankles greatly is that the same government that is incapable of protecting us has also deliberately disarmed even licensed owners of hunting rifles, single and double-barrel guns – these are not assault weapons mind you – leaving them at the mercy of deranged and conscienceless armed criminals, ostensibly to check proliferation of illicit weapons.
Correct me if I am wrong: how can firearms that are licensed by the Inspector-General of Police after due diligence be classified illicit arms? The same government has unfortunately not been able to check burgeoning criminality and insecurity across the land, yet it stripped legitimate gun owners of their licences and dispossessed them of their legitimately acquired weapons. Not only that, the same government, for inexplicable political reasons, is refusing even legally constituted state-owned security outfits such as the Amotekun corps in the Southwest states permission to carry arms. Why should this be so?
But my main focus here is the debate sparked by the frustrated Zamfara State governor, Bello Matawalle encouraging the citizens of his state to apply to the police for licences to obtain firearms to defend themselves against relentless bandit attacks, abductions, mass murders, burning of farms and depopulating of villages and communities. I am no fan of Matawalle or any of the previous ‘rulers’ of Zamfara State for that matter, but I associate myself with that call, howbeit with some reservation.
Let’s face it, would the governor, so-called ‘chief security officer,’ have made this desperate call if the several federally-controlled security outfits had been able to secure the people? Chief security officer my foot!
Rather than critically analyzing this heartfelt call, there has instead been a flurry of hysterical outbursts condemning it as capable of proliferating illicit arms and complicating our security challenges. Pray, am I the only one who paid attention to the details? The governor asked people to apply for licences for firearms that only the Police Commissioner alone is empowered to grant on behalf of the IGP. He knows, as everyone does, that the police do not give licences for military-grade weapons, and he never advocated that people should possess AK-47 or other assault weapons.
In all honesty, why should the federal government disarm legitimate gun owners it had previously granted licences after they had been thoroughly vetted and certified as worthy by the police? Are there no more upstanding citizens whose identities and bona fides can be ascertained by the security agencies and which can also keep track of usage of firearms for legitimate purposes as hunting and even domestic self-defence? Why should any qualified person not be able to defend himself or herself in their homes before the police arrives? What is wrong in the head of a family protecting his household, especially his wife and vulnerable daughters from wanton rape, murder and abduction?
I know that our government has become so thoroughly desensitized to our plight but must we allow and encourage those who ride in armoured SUVs to continue toying with our security just because some people are unable to understand that legitimate gun ownership by those duly licensed is not the same as proliferating illicit arms?
Governor Matawalle’s position, also endorsed by Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, deserves critical interrogation, not blind condemnation. That is why I consider opposition by various senior security chiefs to lack the required sensitivity because they overlook the agony of a so-called chief security officer of a state watching helplessly as hundreds of his citizens are daily cold-bloodedly mowed down by armed criminal elements whom the security forces have not been able to checkmate. Rather than parroting uncritically federal government’s position or engaging in outright condemnation of Governor Matawalle’s call to licence arms for deserving and qualified Nigerians, let us have instead honest and dispassionate national conversations on the state of insecurity in our country and what needs to be done.
To make my position clear, I do not think it is right to disarm those who have been legitimately profiled and licensed by the police to own individual firms as the Buhari government has done, or to deny those who still wish to apply for it, since the police and other security agencies will do due diligence in checking and certifying their bona fides. It is disingenuous to accuse lawful gun owners of illicit arms proliferation. In any case, have terrorist and bandit attacks, mass murders and kidnappings abated since legitimate gun owners were dispossessed? Certainly not! There is no official or unofficial statistics to show any reduction in criminality since President Buhari confiscated licensed firearms. The policy was knee-jack, for there is no statistics showing licensed gun owners being responsible for the burgeoning and intractable insecurity.
Again, how does one explain or justify the federal government’s refusal to allow lawfully established state-owned security outfits such as the Amotekun to carry arms for public protection? The policy is blatantly discriminatory, unfortunate and completely inexcusable, especially against the backdrop of allegations that the same government granted permission to Katsina State to arm its own security outfit, and will allow private pipeline protection security outfits to bear arms. There is no better time than now to have a quick rethink of the ill-advised policy.
- Prof Fawole is of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
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