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03
July
2022

Insecurity: Reps warn states against arms bearing, propose state police

Following the rising clamour by state governors for citizens to bear arms for self defence in the face of worsening insecurity, the chairmen of relevant committees at the House of Representatives have kicked against the move, saying the level of arms proliferation in the country was already worrisome. They said they should rather push for state police.

The latest clamour for arms bearing by citizens was from the Zamfara State government, which about a week ago asked the citizens of the state to obtain guns and apply for permit from the police. The move was due to the increase in the activities of terrorists in various parts of the state.

The Governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), who is also the chairman of southern governors’ forum, described the move as commendable, saying the state had been pushed to the wall.

Previously, Governors Samuel Ortom of Benue State and Bello Masari of Katsina State had repeatedly called on their citizens to buy guns and defend themselves due to the lingering insecurity that daily claims the lives of many across the country.

Meanwhile, the Reps members warned that the security situation would be made worse when people have the liberty to carry arms for self defence.

The Chairman of the House Committee on Defence, Babajimi Benson, told one of our correspondents in an interview that state police and not self-defence measures could address the security challenges especially in Zamfara State.

Benson said, “There is rule of law and there is rule of man. The rule of law gives authority to the law enforcement agencies to enforce the law, which means we have to follow due process and the constituted authority. Nowhere in our constitution permits individuals to carry arms. I think the right approach for the governor should have been to fight for state police.

“When that matter came up for debate in the constitution review session, I’m not sure Zamfara’s position was for state police. So, carrying guns will turn us 50 years back and it will be going back to the rule of man. When the rule of man takes precedence over the rule of law, there will be a lawless state.

“The Chief of Defence Staff has given assurances that there is no need for the citizens to be carrying arms. So, let us hold him accountable. Two things I think we need to do: we need to revisit the state police issue and local government areas within Zamfara need to be more proactive to ensure that the welfare and security of the people are uppermost on their minds.”

He said even though there was no law on this in existence “but it is something we can look at and will be subject to a robust debate.”

Also, the Chairman of the House Committee on Army, Abdulrazak Namdas, who spoke in his private capacity, stated that he wouldn’t subscribe to asking citizens to carry arms.

He added, “Already, in Africa, Nigeria has the highest number of small arms and light weapons in circulation. If you now say that citizens should get arms, then it is like licensing everybody in this country to do whatever they want.

Nigerians’ firearms affordability

“Let me even ask; how many people in Zamfara State are Nigerians; those that are law-abiding citizens and doing legitimate businesses, how many of them can afford to buy a rifle? I am not talking of criminals who are already in the business and can afford it because somebody is sponsoring them. I’m asking, the man you said should go and buy arms to protect himself, how many of them can afford to buy arms? How many Nigerians eat sufficiently and you are asking them to buy arms?”

On what the people should do if the government cannot protect them, Namdas said it was the duty of the government to protect its citizens as the constitution clearly states the security and welfare of citizens are the essence of government.

He added, “So, in this case, we must hold the government responsible, in that the government should protect the citizens. That is the most important thing to do. You cannot ask the citizens to protect themselves. That means we have transferred the powers from the government to the citizens. That means we have lost confidence in the government. In Nigeria, if you allow this to happen, then you are going to create a crisis; more crisis than we expect.”

A ranking member of the House, who spoke to one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity, pointed out that politicians were likely to manipulate the 2023 general elections should civilians be allowed to bear arms.

The lawmaker said, “The truth is that electioneering has begun and proper campaigns will soon start. If you say people should go and buy arms, there is this fear that politicians will use these rifles and ammunition at the nick of time, and they would have claimed that they are not responsible for disruption of the elections as citizens already had the right to bear arms. But they will use it to win elections.”

Another lawmaker, who also preferred to be anonymous, stated that only individuals could apply to the Nigeria Police Force for licence to own arms, while condemning the decision of the former Inspector-General of Police (Mohammed Adamu) to suspend the issuance or renewal of the license, a decision that has been upheld by the incumbent IGP, Usman Alkali Baba.

“Application has been suspended and that is one of the arbitrariness in Nigeria, did you know the IGP suspended the law on his own,” he added.

Though Kaduna State is one of the states under terrorists’ siege, a member of the House of Reps from the state, Garba Muhammad, warned that granting the general public access to arms would worsen the security crisis the move sought to address.

Muhammad said, “I have studied what he (Matawalle) said. Everybody is frustrated, maybe that was why he decided to talk like that. My fear is that you may solve one problem and develop another bigger problem in the future.”

‘Arms-bearing is better’

Meanwhile, the deputy chairman of the House Committee on National Security and Intelligence, Adejoro Adeogun, said it was better to allow citizens to carry arms, given the prevailing insecurity across the country.

He stated, “I think it is proper in the present circumstances to allow law-abiding citizens to bear licensed firearms for self protection. It will deter criminals and complement the efforts of the security agencies to protect defenceless citizens.”

On whether there is a law that allows people to procure arms and defend their lives and property, Adeogun said, “Yes, the Firearms Act, Cap 28 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, allows Nigerians over the age of 17 to apply to the Inspector-General of Police for license to bear certain categories of firearms.

On whether there is a law that allows people to procure arms and defend their lives and property, Adeogun said, “Yes, the Firearms Act, Cap 28 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, allows Nigerians over the age of 17 to apply to the Inspector-General of Police for license to bear certain categories of firearms.

“That, in essence, means that Nigerians who meet the laid-down conditions can obtain licenses for firearms for the purposes of self-defence, hunting and sports.”

Asked if the National Assembly would consider and pass a law that empowers the people to arm themselves given the spate of insecurity, Adeogun said, “The Firearms Act is at an advanced stage of amendment at the House of Representatives, to make the conditions for licensing, possession and usage very stringent but at the same time open a wider window for law-abiding citizens to possess licensable weapons.

“The intention of the ongoing amendment is not to make possession of firearms a right. Much as we face dire security challenges now, we must be careful not to democratise possession of firearms given our limited ability to monitor and control usage.”

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu, could not be reached for the position of the Green Chamber on the issue. When contacted, he requested our correspondent to send the enquiries, which he said he would respond to later as he was indisposed.

In the upper chamber of the National Assembly, a senator from Zamfara State who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Sunday PUNCH, “If I’m to speak as a lawmaker, I will say people should not take laws into their hands as the general usage of guns is illegal in the country. But if I am to speak as a politician and a humanist, I would say the killings are too many. As a humanist who values human lives, you can tell what my opinion would be on that.”

Plateau residents improvise

Despite the embargo on the issuance or renewal of gun licences across the country, findings by one of our correspondents revealed that residents have continued to acquire guns to defend themselves.

The Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Alabo Alfred, declined comment on the issue when contacted, but sources in the state command confirmed to one of our correspondents that investigations by the police revealed that people had been procuring arms.

One of the sources said, “There has been an embargo on the issuance of gun licence here since 2010, but I cannot say the residents have stopped acquiring the licence because I know many of them go outside the state and find a way to get their licences.

In an interview, a security expert and former army officer in-charge of Training and Operations at the Defence Headquarters in Abuja, Brig.-Gen. John Sura (retd.), said given the prevailing security situation in the country, it was in order for residents to acquire guns.

Sura said, “You may say it is wrong, looking at it constitutionally but speaking from a human angle and the need for survival, I will say the idea of residents acquiring guns is quite legitimate. People are attacked in their homes now and they have nothing to defend themselves. The situation is as bad as that.

“So, for self defence, it is good as long as the person who acquired the gun does not use it for criminal purposes. That is why in advanced countries, they allow minimal weapons and not high calibre weapons to be used by residents for self defence. I think we should embrace the idea as a country since we don’t have adequate number of security agents for us to counter and be able to defend the people from the activities of those who daily terrorise or kill innocent citizens.”

Embargo on licensing

In Niger State, the Police Public relations Officer, DSP Wasiu Abiodun, said there was no pending application before the command. “There is nil application in Niger command,” he added.

In Cross River State, the Police Public Relations Officer, SP Irene Ugbo, also said there had been no recent request for gun license in the state. Since the embargo which everybody is aware of, no recent request has been made,” she said.

In Anambra State, the police spokesperson, Tochukwu Ikenga, said in the past one year no individual had approached the command for renewal or issuance of gun license. “We don’t have any pending application before us at the moment,” Ikenga said.

In Katsina State, the PPRO, SP Gambo Isah, said, “We are not issuing any permit to anybody since the suspension (of the exercise) by the Federal Government.”

In Ondo State, the PPRO, Mrs Funmilayo Odunlami, said there had not been issuance of licence to those requesting for it due to the embargo. “Everything about gun licensing has been put on hold for now,” she added.

The Senior Special Assistant to the governor on Security Matters, Alhaji Jimoh Dojumo, however added, “There is nothing wrong in people carrying guns, our own point is if our  people carry guns, since they are not carrying the guns to commit crime like some people are doing, there is nothing wrong with it. We are in support of the amendment move, while some are carrying guns  illegally, we encourage people to carry it legally.”

In Bayelsa State, the PPRO, SP Asinim Butswat, said the police had stopped the issuance of gun licence in line with the embargo on the exercise. “For now, the police are not issuing gun licences,” Butswat added.

In Ogun State, the PPRO, DSP Abimbola Oyeyemi, said, “You know the police have suspended issuance of licence for guns and since then no application has been received.

In Delta State, the PPRO, DSP Bright Edafe, said there was no application at the moment.

In Gombe State, the Commissioner of Police, Ishola Babaita, said in an interview with one of our correspondents that no application had been received by the command. “Nobody has come for renewal or application since my assumption of office in Gombe and the embargo has been there for more than two years now,” he added.

In Lagos State, the PPRO, SP Benjamin Hundeyin, told one of our correspondents that the command had not been accepting requests due to the embargo. “For us in Lagos, there is nothing like pending (gun licence requests) because we don’t even accept them to start with,” he added.

Meanwhile, in Osun State, the PPRO, Yemisi Opalola, said there was a surge in the request for gun licenses in the state, although she could not say in specific the number of requests awaiting approval. She said the requests could not be treated as the embargo on licensing was still active.

“We are even interested in retrieving weapons in the wrong hands, so approval of new licence could not be given, as there is embargo on that. We have many requests pending but no approval on the request for now,” she added.

Also, in Benue State, the PPRO, SP Catherine Anene, said the residents of the state had continued to make requests. She added, “The command has been receiving requests for gun licenses in the state but the request is not formal. They may not come to the office to request but people keep on requesting if we are no longer issuing gun licence. The requests have been on for some time now.”

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