Mack Ogbamosa 

Insecurity is everywhere in the land.

Except for the period of the Civil War between 1967 and 1970, the country has never experienced anything close to this level of insecurity. From the North East to the South East, from the North West to the South West and from the North Central to the South South, everywhere is being attacked. If they are not terrorists, they are bandits. If they are not bandits, they are kidnappers. If they are not kidnappers, they are insurgents. They are on the roads, on the rail tracks, they spare no place – churches, mosques, schools, homes and prisons. They are not relenting.

Against this background, many ordinary and prominent Nigerians including governors and those with military background, have made suggestions on the way forward.  Some have suggested that we bring in mercenaries to fight our enemies. Others have called for self-defence by allowing Nigerians to bear arms.

While Borno State Governor Professor Babagana Zulum wants the use of mercenaries to fight insecurity, some of his counterparts are proposing that citizens should be allowed to bear arms to defend themselves since our security forces are not capable of defending us.

Among those making this call are Katsina State Governor, Alhaji  Aminu Bello Masari,  Zamfara State Governor, Alhaji Bello Matawalle and their Benue State counterpart, Mr.  Samuel Ortom. 

The governors have reportedly requested their state Police Commissioners to issue licences to their citizens to bear arms.

Also making similar proposition are a former Chief of Army Staff and Defence Minister at different times, Lieutenant General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma (retd.), and  the current Minister of Defence, Major General Bashir Magashi (retd.)

Much as this suggestion appears good on paper, its implementation will be difficult. 

Besides this, arms bearing for self-defence by the generality of our citizens  cannot be a solution to the insecurity challenge we are facing.

  • Self- defence means one’s justification to inflict harm on another person on the grounds that the harm was inflicted to protect oneself from harm. 

One of the arguments in favour of self-defence is that it is the law of nature.

Thus, the United Nations recognises self-defence in its human rights Charter 

Article 51 under Chapter VII of the Charter which deals with: Acts with respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace and Acts of Aggression, states that: “Nothing in the present charter shall impair the inherent right of an individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.”

The 1999 Constitution (as amended) equally recognises the right to self-defence. 

S 33(2a) of the Constitution states that “A person shall not be regarded as having been deprived of his life in contravention of this Section, if he dies as a result of the use, to such extent and in such circumstances as are permitted by law, of such force as is reasonably necessary – For the defence of any person from unlawful violence or for the defence of property.

Both our Criminal and Penal codes support the right of self-defence. 

Good as these provisions are, there are many impediments to the implementation of this proposal. 

For instance, in defending yourself, you are not to use a weapon higher than that used by your attacker. The weapon of self-defence must be proportional to the weapon of the attacker. How do we ensure this is complied with?

Also, the nation’s Firearms Act does not allow for the possession of arms by those not authorised to do so.

Section 3 of the act states that “No person shall have in his possession or under his control any firearm of one of the categories specified in Part 1 of the Schedule to this Act (in this Act referred to as “prohibited firearm) except in accordance with a licence granted by the President acting in his discretion.”

Section 4 of the act also says that “No person shall have in his possession or under his control any firearm of the categories specified in Part 11 of the Schedule to this Act (in this Act referred to as “personal firearm) except in accordance with a licence granted in respect thereof by the Inspector General of Police, which licence shall be granted or refused in accordance with principles decided upon by the President.”

It is clear from these provisions that contrary to the advice being given by governors, state police Commissioners do not have the powers to authorise the use of firearms. This power belongs to the President. He may, however, donate it to the Inspector General of Police.

Another impediment to the implementation of self-defence is that governors have no control over the police, military and other security forces in their states.

As I have stated in a previous write-up, governors do not have the powers over the appointment of security forces like the police or the military. They do not have authority over their deployment for operational purposes. They are simply lame-duck Chief security officers. 

Both the Constitution and the various acts setting up the agencies give the powers of appointment and to authorise operational use of the forces to the President.  

The situation would have been different if we had state police under the control of the respective governors of the states in question. But this is not the case.

It is unfortunate that the ninth National Assembly did not touch on this matter. None of the 44 bills passed during the recent Constitution amendment exercise, dealt with the issue of insecurity, which is the most daunting challenge confronting the nation today.

Besides, how many Nigerians will have the maturity to handle arms for self-defence?

Are we not going to be creating a Hobbesian state of Nature where life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”?

Insecurity is beyond arms bearing for self-defence.

To tackle the challenge, we must look at its root causes. 

These include poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, nepotism, wide gap between the rich and the poor, corruption, injustice as well as lack of good governance. 

Most of issues have already been tackled in Chapter II of our 1999 Constitution (as amended) under: Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy.

According to the Chapter, the State shall ensure:

  • That the material resources of the nation are harnessed and distributed as best as possible to serve the common good;
  • That the economic system is not operated in such a manner as to permit the concentration of wealth or the means of production and exchange in the hands of a few individuals or of a group
  • That suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pensions, and unemployment, sick benefits and welfare of the disabled are provided for all citizens.
  • That Government shall direct its policy towards ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels
  • That Government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy, and to this end, Government shall as when practicable provide:

Free compulsory and universal primary education. Free secondary education, free university education and free adult literacy programme; 

  • That it abolishes all corrupt practices and abuse of power;
  • That the composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic group or other sectional groups in that government or any of its agencies; and 
  • That the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government 

How well have we implemented these provisions?

It is obvious that we have failed/neglected to implement these provisions of the Constitution. This is why we find ourselves in the state we are today.

Nigerians need a leadership that will ensure the realization of the purpose of the State and the responsibilities of government as enshrined in Chapter II of the Constitution. 

Until this happens, bearing arms for self-defence as currently being propagated as a solution to insecurity in the country can only lead to anarchy.

Mack Ogbamosa, a legal practitioner/Communications Consultant, writes via 

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