The directive by Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State tasking citizens to take up arms in self-defence against marauding terrorists is a reality check on serial governance failure in the country. The oddly familiar call is another expression of helplessness now morphed into hopelessness in state-own institutions to safeguard lives and properties. But beyond arguments on the legality of self-help, it is time Matawalle and other advocates of arms-bearing mutate their grim concerns into a proactive push for holistic reform of the security system, especially the restructuring of the police force for efficiency. To keep overlooking the real solution for extreme stop-gap measures is shortsighted.
It is obvious that the Nigerian state is suffering the twin maladies of governance failure and administrative rigor mortis. Indeed, governments generally face challenges and are most remarkable for problem-solving skills. Quite unforgivable, in the case of Nigeria, is the intransigent negligence of the problem of insecurity that forecloses genuine efforts at tackling the ills. Specifically, insecurity has been most intractable in the lamentable life cycle of Muhammadu Buhari’s administration – a conspicuous contrast to the basis of modern government ab initio.
In the concrete jungle that Nigeria has become, scores of precious lives are daily lost nationwide to well-organised terrorists, sophisticated bandits, network of kidnappers, armed robbers and unknown gunmen that have gained swathes of lands with impunity. Be it at home, road, rail, school, farmlands and even worship centres, nowhere is shielded from their dastardly attacks even as state governors have become regulars at mass burials. Life has become all too cheap, hellish, nasty, brutish, short and full of uncertainty. Really, Nigeria has never had it this grueling and its state administrators this clueless.
On that pedestal, Matawalle’s clarion call on the people of Zamfara to acquire licensed guns for self-protection finds justification. Indeed, rather than sit back in trepidation waiting to be slaughtered, raped and held captives in their own homes while the security agencies seemingly look in opposite direction, a more effective deterrence is to get arms and be battle ready. After all, it takes courage to live as well as to die! But such unconventional and uncivilised approach to modern state security is more of a pushback against stark failure in governance. Before Matawalle, governors of Benue and Katsina had in frustration prompted the people to self-defence.
Much earlier, former Chief of Staff, General Theophilus Danjuma, at a convocation lecture in Taraba State, bluntly alleged connivance between the armed forces and herdsmen to kill unarmed Nigerians in an act of ethnic cleansing in the state. He told the people: “If you are depending on the armed forces to stop the killings, you will all die one by one.” Though the armed forces countered his allegations, the killings have not stopped in Taraba and other parts of the country. Early this year, it was the turn of Buhari-appointed Minister of Defence, Major General Bashir Magashi (rtd), to rally Nigerians to self-defence against terrorists and criminals – in a country that routinely appropriate the highest votes to security! Put together, they are insulting to the Commander-in-Chief and the security agencies that have failed in their remit.
Inherent red-flags notwithstanding, advocates of arms-bearing and self-defence in the Nigerian peculiar setting can do no wrong, neither should they be ignored. Theirs is a radical departure from the simplistic routine to merely sit back to lament complicit negligence and institutional indifference of the Buhari administration. As their elected state executives, Matawalle and co-advocates of arms-bearing are constitutionally duty-bound to ensure security and welfare of their people. That lives and properties are daily lost under their watch attest to their failure and that of the Federal Government that centrally controls the underperforming security agencies.
By extension, the governors have the duty to courageously own up to the failure and return the people to the earlier consciousness of self-preservation – being the first law of nature. Clearly, it is more of an existential imperative than legal niceties. Every individual has the natural right to self-defence for self-preservation in the face of existential danger. More so, Section 33 (2) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, 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. Section 59 of the Code has it that nothing is an offence that is done in the lawful exercise of the right of private defence. Therefore, advocacy for self-defence is highly justifiable.
On the flip side, however, Matawalle and company should go beyond ticking boxes on insecurity or advocating gun culture, while advertently making real reform an afterthought. A policy of gun for all will definitely create its own set of security problems against the society. It is no longer news that besides the disastrous governance of yesteryears that has morphed into a monster of criminal elements, the failure of the central policing system has left the entire country in dire straits. Curiously, the armed forces are now performing the job of the police, while the ill-equipped and poorly trained policemen are simply helping themselves. Matawalle and other governors know this, and it is most unpardonable that they have routinely ignored a demand for the reform of the Nigerian Police.
As this newspaper consistently hammers, only a decentralised policing system that is funded and controlled at the State and local levels will work intelligently and yield the desired result. How many of these governors push for State police or any other superior approach to reforming the current police structure at the meeting of the National Security Council? How many of the state governors took it upon themselves to demand enabling laws, create regional and state security agencies like their counterparts in the South are doing? How many of those governors have made more than just a feeble attempt to demand for an annual appraisal of the security funding, materiel and operations of the armed forces for efficiency? To keep paying lip service to the undercurrent of the insecurity challenges while hiding under federal police for selfish political purposes is denial of real reforms, which cannot be placated by mere lamentation or a dangerous gun culture. A comprehensive and sincere reform of the entire security architecture offers a more lasting solution than the simplistic deployment of firearms into private hands.
Typical of the Federal Government and its armed forces that have become more adept in tirades than in battling criminals, they have found faults in the calls on arms-bearing. As a matter of fact, the drawback of the primordial defence strategy is its predisposition to a state of anarchy. Talk of one where guns illegally mill round cities, gun duels become more regular, and weapons becoming means of dispute resolution between neighbours. Notably, even in the United States that is often cited as a reference point for arms-bearing, the tolerance is beginning to wane significantly.
In a country that has an estimated 393 million guns in circulation; Gun Violence Archive showed that more than 20,900 have died of gun violence this year alone. More than 45,000 Americans died from gun homicide and suicide in 2020. So, the recent landmark agreement between Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Senate, leading to some gun control reforms, after two mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, is symbolic to the growing unpopularity of having guns in the custody of private citizens. Certainly, the U.S. is leading the gun control advocacy with the affirmation that the solution to insecurity is not having more guns in private hands – especially those that could be dangerous to themselves and others.
But to sit back and do nothing in the face of gun-toting criminals and laid-back security agencies is more dangerous than potential spike on homicides and suicides in a gun liberalisation regime. The state executives should do more to demand an overhaul of the security system. Certainly, there is need for more ammunition, but only in the hands of well-trained and motivated security agencies under the control of state governments and not just the federal.