Nigeria’s Insecurity: One  Man, One Gun? -By Mbang Confidence, Esq.

Mbang Confidence, Esq

INTRODUCTION

Recently, the security of the nation have been a major issue of discourse in the polity.  Insecurity has plummeted in the six geo-political zones, this is not good for the nation, a nation blessed with natural and human resources – beyond measures. Insurgency and high class criminality such as kidnapping, have eaten up the fabrics of our safety as a Nation. Through the North East, North West, and North Central, it has not been easy battling with insurgence for over a decade. The spates of criminal activities in the South East and South West has  also contributed to the insecurity of the nation. Currently, the rate of crime coupled with different  forms of insurgency have worsen the insecurity in Nigeria. Kidnapping is now the order of the day. The middle belt suffer a special kind of terrorism from herdsmen and rustlers in thick forest and farmlands. There is no single state free of one form of criminal activity or the other.




This article takes a bite on the doctrine of social contract, it runs through the highlights of insecurity in Nigeria, interrogate the question on who can bear arms, and whether citizens should be allowed to bear arms – the One Man, One Gun question.

 


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THE SOCIAL CONTRACT: NIGERIA IN ISSUE

The primary purpose of Government is to provide for the welfare and security of the people. This responsibility is heavily captured in section 14(2) of the 1999 Constitution, as follows:

“ It is hereby, accordingly, declared that: (b) the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” This is the real essence of government, little wonder, Theresa May said, “National security is the first duty of government but we are also committed to reversing the substantial erosion of civil liberties.”

If it can be reminisced that the people gave up certain degree of rights and privileges to the government in return for the provision of security and welfare, then, the doctrine of  Social Contract,  propounded and crusaded by Thomas Hobbes, and other early philosophers, is as good as a failing project. Take note, that the provisions of section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution, as altered, is in chapter 2, which makes it non – justiciable, and in effect, a mere guiding principles of government as the overall interest of the people. It is barely a declaration without any sign of penalty for actors that fail and divert public funds to the detriment of the masses. This is not good for the masses in this state of economy.

 

The present situation have led to the question; whether or not citizens should be allowed to bear arms for self defense and protection?. Should it be – One Man, One Gun?. However, we shall take a brevi manu of some of the major insecurity pointers. We shall also through some shades at the law, and proffer the way forward for the present state of insecurity in Nigeria.

 

UNRAVELING THE OBVIOUS: A BREVI MANU OF NIGERIA’S INSECURITY

Insecurity in Nigeria majorly dates back to the 1960’s following the killing of top government officials, and general civil unrest through the period. The trend led to the civil war, through the coups and counter coups, up until 1999 when a stable civilian democratic government was put in place. The period saw the proliferation of firearms in the nation and became the beginning of insecurity.  In 2002, the emergence of the Boko haram terrorist group throughout the north east, was a top launch of insecurity in the nation. The terrorist group killed thousands of people, and rendered millions homeless. The terrorist organization is so deadly that they even engaged in suicide bombings, mass killing, amongst others.

The former militant group of the Niger Delta region also raised some security issues in the nation. The group were not satisfied with the state of wellbeing and the impacts of oil and gas explored in the region. They were not duly compensated and protected from the negative impacts of oil exploitation in the region. The emergence of the herdsmen is another major insecurity factor in the nation. Major states in the middle belt and North, have been victims of extrajudicial killings, maiming and burning.

The South East has not been exempted since the emergence of the proscribed IPOB and it’s security unit, the Eastern Security Network (ESN). The emergence of the unknown gunmen is still a nightmare, yet to be fully unraveled. Today, the South South is the mainstay of Kidnap, Robbery, and other Criminal activities. Lately, the level of kidnap skyrocketed and made the government to enact the Terrorism (Prevention and Prohibition)Act, 2022, which classified kidnap as a terrorism related offence.

Honestly, the level of banditry in Nigeria has plummeted to another level. From the 2023 Christmas Eve Plateau State massacre that saw the killing of over 200 persons, and over 10,000 displaced, to series of kidnap in Abuja, and  other parts of the nation, is it not safe to think that the state is overwhelmed?. This is not just about the government, it is about each and everyone of us as Nigerians, have we not failed?. Remember, security is all man business!

The insecurity have also affected the economy, as many top investors have either left or preparing to leave. The nation is becoming overwhelmed with hardship amidst insecurity, the security agencies seem helpless, and the government seem to have failed in providing security. This only raises the question to wit: is the Nigerian State failing?. What do you think?.

 

BEARING OF FIREARMS: THE LEX LATA

The level of insecurity in Nigeria has raised concerns as to the possession of firearms, and other weapons. The proliferation of firearms amongst citizens contributes to the insecurity across the nation. It is no news that citizens are caught with arms, and a good number of cases awaiting trials (ATM), and prisoners  committed offenses relating to illegal possession of illegal arms. The Police Act, 2022, Armed Forces Act, 2004 and the NSCDC Act, 2003, also have provisions relating to this discourse, however, we shall limit our discussion.

 

THE 1999 CONSTITUTION OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, AS ALTERED.

The Nigerian Constitution does not guarantees the right to possession of arms by private citizens. The Constitution is silent on this right. It is on like the second amendment of the American Constitution which provides that “… the rights of the people to bear and keep arms shall not be infringed”. Section 33(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, guarantees the right to liberty in the following words, “(1) Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria. Sub section 2 of same section gives citizens the right to defend themselves in the face of threat to life. This is the right to Self Defence.

 

FIREARMS ACT, 2004

Under the Firearms Act, firearms mean: “any lethal barelled weapon of any description from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged.” Ammunition means “a component part of any firearm and includes shots, bullets, missiles, etc. The Firearms Act highlights the permitted and prohibited forms of firearms capable of being in the possession of private citizens of Nigeria.

Specifically, section 3 of the Firearms Act provides that: “no person shall have in his possession or under his control any firearm or ammunition except in accordance with a license granted by the President acting in his discretion.”

Under the law, persons disqualified from owning firearms are: people under the age of seventeen; people of unsound mind; people not fit to have possession of the firearm in question on account of defective eyesight; a person of intemperate habits; someone who has been convicted of an offence involving violence or the threat of violence during the five years preceding the application. License are granted to person that have attained the age of 17, with a clean criminal record, among other requirements. The applicant must pass a background check relating to his or her mental health, addiction record or traits of domestic violence. Once granted, the holder must act within the purview of the license. For instance, license to a short gun, is not same with license to an A.k 47 gun.

Possession of firearms, which is not in accordance to the provisions of the Firearms Act and the Firearms Regulation, is a crime punishable with a maximum imprisonment term of 5 years. However, as serious as this may seem, Section 3 of the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act provides for a fine of N20,000.00 (Twenty Thousand Naira) only or an imprisonment of a term not less than 10 years or both for any person convicted for illegal possession of Firearms under the Firearms Act.

 

TERRORISM (PREVENTION AND PROHIBITION) ACT, 2022.

Section 24 of the Terrorism (Prevention and Prohibition) Act, 2022, provides that, 24.—(1) A person, who knowingly or intentionally— (a) seizes, detains, or attempts to seize or detain a person, property, or facility in order to compel a third party to do or abstain from doing a lawful act, (b) threatens to kill, injure or continue to detain a person in order to compel a third party to do or abstain from doing a lawful act, or (c) gives an explicit or implicit condition for the release of the person held hostage, or the property or facility detained, commits an offence. By sub 2, the penalty for this offence is either a Life Imprisonment, or Death Sentence, depending on whether death was a result from same.

 

CONTROL OF SMALL ARMS AND LIGHT WEAPONS BILL, 2021.

The general objective of the Bill is to (a) control the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in Nigeria; (b) provide a framework for the coordination, implementation and monitoring of all efforts geared towards the control of small arms and light weapons in Nigeria; and (c) prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.

The Bill bars possession of firearms by private person unless granted license by the President, through the Inspector General of Police, or Commissioner of Police. The Act okays the grant of license and permit for muzzle-loading firearms by individuals. Like the Firearms Act, it also provides for persons disqualified from the grant of license. The Act propose to establish the National Centre for the Coordination and Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons in Nigeria. The center shall be domiciled in the office of the National Security Adviser.

 

FIREARMS ACT (AMENDMENT) BILL, 2022.

After 67 years, the firearms is now due to be amended, considering the wake of various forms of crimes, and access/proliferation of firearms. The Bill is bent on making Nigeria’s law on firearms be in accordance with global best practices. The Bill also made specific provisions on the possession of small firearms and weapons, such as handguns and other short barreled weapons. The Bill seeks to: increase the fines imposed for offences committed under the Act from N1,000 to N100,000; Provides for the destruction of firearms illegally imported into the country or possessed by individuals without valid license in order to build public confidence; Complement efforts targeted at eradicating and preventing illegal firearms within circulation; Generating revenue for the Federal Government to recycle and reuse waste recovered from the destruction of firearms.

 

ONE MAN, ONE GUN?.

One man, One gun?. This question have been asked by many pundits, lawmakers, jurists, and public analysts. In other words, should citizens be allowed to bear arms?. There is no consensus, and the answer depends on the bias of the writer. This question is very germane to the extent that public trust in government is waning, and the state is losing grip of it sovereign status.

Recently, TheCable reported that the argument as to whether citizens should bear arms has gained more traction. When the Chief of Army Staff, Taoreed Lagbaja was asked on the possibilities, he said, “I do not support that. I think that is a call for anarchy.” The Inspector General of Police also refused the suggestion. They think it would cause more anarchy in the system. But if I may ask, what have they (military and para – military) done to savage the situation?. Should the citizens be left to lick their wounds?.

I was not surprised when Distinguished Senator Ned Nwoko, introduced an Amendment Bill, geared towards allowing private citizens to bear arms. According to Punchng.com, the Senator noted that, “it is evident that the existing security measures have not been sufficient in safeguarding our communities… Allowing law-abiding citizens to possess firearms could potentially provide a sense of security and a means to protect themselves and their families from immediate threats.” The distinguished lawmaker rained heavy whether in the qualifications to possess arms, and the objective of curtailing proliferation of small arms and weapons. However, he admonished on a proper process and management to achieve objective, thus; “Nonetheless, this approach necessitates a meticulous regulatory framework and oversight to prevent any adverse consequences and prioritize public safety above all else.”

This agitation is not new, the former House of Representatives Majority Leader, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, in 2022, agitated for arms bearing, and even the former Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, in 2020 appealed to the Federal Government to allow responsible Nigerians bear arms to defend themselves. While this agitations are expedient following the rise of insecurity in Nigeria, we should always take solace from the global community. The United State of America like Nigeria, survived a Civil War, after which firearms and other  weapons of destructions were in circulation. They sought guns control after discovery that the possession of guns were proliferated. Consequently, the long awaited effect of guns circulation became a reality, they then decided that, ‘’if a man die, he must be seen to have made efforts to defend himself instead of being plucked off like foliage.’’ Hence, the second Amendment of the American Constitution, which ratified in 1791. The Amendment provided thus, ‘’…The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.’’ Past and successive Presidents of the USA have defended this right from time immemorial. For instance, George Washington in his First Address to both House of Congress, Jan 8, 1790, noted thus, ‘’A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined.’’ Thomas Jefferson was caught saying, ‘’ No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.’’

Gentlemen, the right to bear arms which reemphasize the right to life, is technically the right to kill. It is liking pouring water on sand, and still expecting it to remain the same. Consequently, the so called insecurity mechanism metamorphosed into weapons of mass destruction, and so it is not uncommon to hear that a man was gunned down in the streets of America. At best, what is tenable should be gun control laws, without an express right of all citizens to possess guns. In any case, even if the basic test where to be carried on citizens for gun possession, not many would be qualified. The control of gun should be balanced and fair in a multi-ethnic and lingual nation like Nigeria.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

Nigeria is a muti-ethnic, and lingual nation, with over 220 million people spread across 176,606 wards, 774 LGAs, 36 states, and a federal capital area. It seem the defense and law enforcement agencies are overwhelmed, and the hope on government is waning. While conceding to the fact that allowing citizens to bear arms is an unholy venture, the following recommendations are necessary:

  1. Employment:it is obvious that lack of employment is a bane to healthy security. The popular aphorism that, an idle mind is the devil’s workshop is a truism, and have proven to be so. The Federal and State Government should endeavor to create jobs in order to divert the attention of persons thinking about crime.
  2. Economy:currently, the economic state of Nigeria is abysmal, it is in a waterloo. The situation is so bad that there is no food security, as food hoarding at boarders and other places have become the order of the day. The Naira – Dollar exchange rate has raised inflation, and the masses hardly eat three square meal. It is high time we become realistic that we cannot deal with insecurity in the face of economic crisis.
  3. Community/State/Regional Policing: this concept is not alien to policing in Nigeria. In fact, it has been one of the key issues of security discourse over the decade. The Nigerian Police Force seem to be overwhelmed, therefore, the need for a remodel cannot be overemphasized. Happily, on the 15th February, 2024, the President and 36 States Governors saw the need for a proper model of policing in the face of insecurity.
  4. License to Citizens:as noted above, the President through the Inspector General of Police, has the authority to grant license to qualified private citizens to own personal firearms for protection and security. Currently the grant of license is in abeyance, and this makes no sense considering the spates of insecurity in the nation. It is therefore expedient that the Inspector General of Police raises the embargo, and continue the grant of license to citizens.
  5. War on Proliferation of Small Arms and Weapons:a major factor of insecurity ranging from armed robbery, kidnap, etc, is not unconnected with the illegal possession of small arms and weapons. The Control of Small Arms and Light Weapon Bill, 2022, is still ongoing, this would be a major win for the government in curbing proliferation.
  6. Religious/Traditional Rulers: Religious and traditional rulers have an import role to play in the bid to curb insecurity. Their roles in the society cannot be overemphasized.

 

CONCLUSION

Insecurity is a national issue, and it is all mans business. We are not oblivious of the efforts of government, but this efforts are not good enough. We must call a spade, a spade.  It is this failure of government that led many pundits to agitate for arms bearing by citizens. From a general survey and critical thought on this issue, it is reasonable to submit that citizens should not be allowed to bear arms. We can only imagine but not concede to 150 million people being allowed to bear arms out of the 220 million, it might  be a situation akin to the Hobbesian State. We must learn from past mistakes of nations that liberalized arms bearing, and ended up regretting same due to proliferation afterwards. No person can solve a problem by creating another.

 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT:  

The rifle itself have no moral stature, since it has no will of it own. Naturally, it may be used by evil men for evil purposes, but naturally, there are more good men than evil men, and while the latter cannot be persuaded to the path of righteousness by propaganda, they can certainly be corrected by good men with rifles. JOSEPH COOPER, (THE ART OF RIFLES).

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