BELLO Masari, the governor of Katsina State, recently gave an unusual advisory which bordered on self-help to residents of the state. The governor, in a moment of anger and frustration arising from the unremitting attacks by bandits on innocent citizens, pointedly advised the residents to arm and defend themselves. Masari undoubtedly gave that seemingly inappropriate advice because the official security apparatus seemed helpless and incompetent to rein in the deadly assaults on the residents of the home state of President Muhammadu Buhari. The governor’s advice is an unequivocal declaration that the subnational government which he heads, and the Federal Government whose direct obligation it is to secure the country, are incapable of protecting the lives and properties of citizens.
It should be noted that Governor Masari is not the only prominent Nigerian or state actor asking citizens to take this somewhat awkward course of action in a country that claims to subscribe to the rule of law. For instance, in March 2018, at the maiden convocation ceremony of the Taraba State University in Jalingo, the Taraba State capital, the country’s former Chief of Army Army Staff and two-time Minister of Defence, Lt. General Theophilus Danjuma (retd), called on the people to “rise and defend themselves against the killers ”. He not only made the call because he felt the security agencies had been suboptimal in the performance of their duty to protect lives and properties, but he also accused the security agencies of complicity in the selective killings, kidnapping and other forms of criminality in the country, especially in Taraba State. Also, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State has consistently advocated self defence. Even if that call is somewhat impracticable without breaching the extant laws, it is difficult to blame him for advising a recourse to self-help judging by the level of insecurity in his state and the apparent demonstration of incapacitation and/or unwillingness by the security agencies to curtail the mayhem.
Similarly, the incumbent Minister of Defence, Major General Bashir Magashi (retd), in February this year, rallied Nigerians to defend themselves against bandits who had turned kidnapping into a thriving business. However, the motivation for Magashi’s advocacy would appear to be different: he believed the bandits and kidnappers were having a field day because the victims did not resist the criminals, but rather made themselves easy preys. Certainly, the minister’s laughable but dangerous advisory that citizens should stand up to heavily armed bandits with bare hands cannot work, as that would be tantamount to suicide. On the other hand, the genuine call by prominent Nigerians for self-help is equally infeasible under the extant laws.
Currently, the law prohibits citizens, including state actors outside the security agencies, from bearing firearms without valid licences. And even at that, there are certain calibres of firearms that are the exclusive preserve of the security agencies, and the state cannot issue licences to ordinary citizens to bear them. On the contrary, the bandits, killer herdsmen, Boko Haram terrorists and other criminals are not circumscribed by such state restrictions. Indeed, the felons have left no one doubt that they possess sophisticated arms and munitions, including the surface-to-air missiles which they deployed to shoot down a Nigerian military aircraft in Zamfara State recently. How would citizens armed with clubs, machetes, dane guns and the like confront such well-armed outlaws? In any case, it is not the place of citizens to defend themselves against violent attacks by criminals, having surrendered their right to do so to the State.
To be sure, it is not difficult to understand the frustration that prompted Governor Masari to ask his people to carry arms and defend themselves, especially against the backdrop of the apparent failure of the carrot approach he earlier adopted to reduce the spate of banditry in the state. However, it bears stressing that even though self defence is recognised by law, arms bearing needs official permission. As expected, the Federal Government, through the Minister of Police Affairs, Mohammed Dingiyadi, in a manner that detracted from realism and without proposing an alternative course of action to combat the heightening insecurity, has contradicted Governor Masari’s proposal. He warned that citizens had no right to take up arms against bandits.
The government is evidently overwhelmed by the worsening insecurity in the land and clueless about how to put paid to it, yet it is deluding itself that it has the monopoly of violence in the face of unprecedented and pervasive security breaches by diverse non-state actors. The country is in an unusual situation and the government needs to wake up. A state of anarchy has literally been foisted on the country and the question can therefore not be pinned down to legality alone. If the Federal Government would not permit citizens to bear arms and defend themselves, it should up its ante in a significant fashion to contain the grave dimensions of lawlessness in the land. Yes, Governor Masari’s formula is most unlikely to provide the optimal solution to the prevailing security conundrum, but the available choices are diminishing by the day. And truth be told, the current spate of disorderliness and near absence of governance in the land is clearly unsustainable.
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