By Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu
The recent directive by Zamfara State Governmen for its residents, particularly farmers, bo be prepared to defend themselves, is the height of hopelessness a government can unleash on its citizens. The directive does not only absolutely negate the spirit of social contract but portrays how irredeemable security situation in the country have become. If this were to be the case, there was no need for the people to surrender their sovereignty in exchange of security. It will be recalled that Bello Matawalle, the Governor of Zamfara state, recently asked the Commissioner of Police to work out the modalities for gun licence to residents willing to bear arms to protect themselves. This directive has generated mixed reactions and has received serious knocks. The Military High Command in a swift reaction , flayed the caall for Zamfara residents to take up arms and defend themselves against marauding bandits and terrorists. The Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Leo Irabor said he did not see the basis for such call at such time in the country.He said it was expedient for stakeholders to follow the rules and constitution accordingly.
Irabor said, ”We do not take instruction from the state governments. We have a Commander-in-Chief. The constitution gives the right and powers to the C-in-C for the use of the armed forces and I believe what we are doing in Zamfara State and across the states of the federation is not different to the provisions of the constitution. “We are there to give support to the civil authority in this case, the police. We are there to ensure that peace returns to Zamfara. The governor does not have the powers to ask the CP to issue licences. I am yet to get the details but I do not think that is the right thing to do.” The Defence Chief said the federal government through the Attorney-General of the Federation should be in a position to address the issue. “I do not see the basis. My view is that the AGF will look at the Constitution and what the constitution says. That’s the right way to go. The armed forces are in Zamfara but beyond that I believe there are legal issues that should be addressed using the instrumentality of the law to bring peace and security.” “I believe that the federal government through the Attorney General should look at the details of the press release. If what I read is true, I do not believe that the governor has the powers to instruct the CP to issue licence because the CP does not have the power to issue licences. ”Like I said the AGF will do much about it. We have the armed forces in Zamfara, military, police, NSCDC but beyond that I believe there are legal issues”, the Defence Chief said. The recent directive issued by Zamfara state government has aptly captured the inconsistent nature of government policies on measures to effectively tackle insecurity. In 2019, to be precise,President Muhammad Buhari in his gun control efforts reportedly signed a law to revoke all firearm or shotgun certificates or licenses in Nigeria with executive powers. The said law which was proposed to take effect from June that year stipulated that nobody in the country was now allowed to own or carry firearms in the country, except only authorised officers of the Nigeria Police Force and the Nigerian Army, as well as select authorized agencies. The law also prohibited officers of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps [NSCDC], as well relevant security organisations to carry arms,and requires all arms owners are forthwith required to hand in back all types of firearm licenses or certificates issued to them in the past to the nearest police headquarter in one’s state of residence. As usual, the law received huge knocks and was painted in a combined colouration that portrayed ethnicity, religious undertones. The Igbo apex sociocultural body, Ohanaeze Ndigbo in its usual manner fired a salvo condemning the order labelling it “a sign that ominous cloud was gathering in the country”.
The group captured it thus: “This is ominous. The storm is gathering and will soon bare its fangs. The uninitiated continue to wallow in self-deceit until the vultures scavenge for the carcasses. The signs are clear. Why wait for doomsday?” Unfortunately, when countries of the world are making frantic effortsbto check the quantity of arms in illegal circulation, Zamfara stathe is striving to increase the volume of arms in circulation. Gun control measures are not entirely out of place. They are initiated by countries from time to time to check illegal flow or circulation of guns and to strengthen the security fabrics of a country. At this point, there is urgent need to mop up sources of small arms and light weapons. The fundamental truth is that our borders are very porous and smuggling these weapons becomes easy. Part of government’s efforts that would be considered serious is to strengthen our borders to stall the smuggling of these weapons. President Muhammadu Buhari also recently realised the level of porosity of our borders when he directed security chiefs to ensure that they address the gaps that facilitate the inflow of illegal firearms into the country, as well as the porous borders. One of the international expert opinions is that “stemming the steady flow of conventional arms into vulnerable regions required proper export controls and improvements in the implementation of existing instruments”. Second is that there are locations in Nigeria that are gifted with foundry artistry. This is where the locally- made weapons emanate. Another effort would gear towards shutting down these illegal gun manufacturing outlets. Put the other way, what saner climes do would be to tap from the ingenuity of these artisans by gathering them together and deploying their ingenuity to good use.
What is happening in Nigeria currently has an international input both in funding and supply of arms. The question is how prepared are we to ensure that the international sources of these groups are plugged so that their strength could be sapped? We know of recent that some sister African countries were and currently engaged in one internal strife or the other, when eventually this strife are abated, the arms used for that purpose must find their ways into other locations. Collaborative efforts demand that our borders be strengthened to ensure these weapons don’t find their ways into our country. Since we have failed in our responsibility of securing our borders, we have no other option than to pay the price. Also, as early as 2002/2003, there has been huge outcry against the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in Nigeria, even by international bodies.This was largely blamed on selfish bids of our politicians to win the 2003 elections at all cost, thereby arming political thugs. One of the international concerns raised decried the situation thus: “The proliferation of small arms and light weapons in Nigeria in the West African sub- region exerts negative impact on socio-political and economic development. … Despite the existence of this NATCOM, small arms and light weapons are freely circulating in the country”. Our problem is hydra-headed, internally it is alleged that even arms leak to wrong hands through the efforts of our security agencies. It is unfortunate, our messy situation is deeply owed to our inability to nip ugly situations on the bud. We always fight when we are neck deep.
Ukegbu writes from Lagos