Many communities in North West and North Central are contributing money to buy guns and other weapons to protect themselves against bandits, terrorists and other criminals, Daily Trust reports. Wealthy individuals are also reportedly buying personal guns to protect themselves against aggression or buying weapons for groups.
Villagers in Niger, Zamfara, Kaduna, Plateau and Katsina States are on the lead as many communities in States having security challenges have stockpiled assault rifles to protect themselves.
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The states have been in the spotlight for many years as most of the stories coming from there are about killings and destructions mostly by sundry criminals.
While the residents could not go to farms or markets for fear of invasion, some of them rarely sleep in their houses at night.
Community leaders and residents who spoke to our correspondents said they resorted to self-help because security operatives have not been deployed to protect them or the few deployed are overstretched.
Daily Trust reports that the community leaders were only amplifying the position of their governors who at different times expressed frustration with the level of insecurity in their domains.
As chief security officers in their states, they had said they were helpless when it comes to security matters even as in some cases they “formalise” the activities of vigilantes, hunters and other non-state actors to beef up security.
For instance, Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State had severally noted that the use of local vigilantes had helped in addressing the numerous security challenges in his state.
While receiving an award in Owerri in May this year, he had said: “We in Borno State have been experiencing security challenges for over 12 years, however, a lot of transformation is taking place but part of what we are doing to put under control the security situation in the state is to engage the local vigilante; they have taken over the policing of the state to the extent that they had driven the insurgents far away from the state to Sambisa Forest.”
Daily Trust reports that while some communities bought Dane guns, others buy pistols, revolvers, pump-action and in some cases AK-47 rifles.
Many of those who discussed the matter with our reporters said apart from reaching consensus at the community level, they rarely push to get a licence from relevant authorities before buying the arms.
A source from a community that had suffered from several attacks in Shiroro Local Government told Daily Trust that even though they did not have access to the type of sophisticated weapons being used by bandits, they have already resorted to self-defence using locally made weapons.
“Recently, we killed about 10 bandits when they came to attack us,” he said. Another source from a community in Rafi Local Government, which had also been attacked severally said they did not support arms procurement.
“It was suggested that we should buy arms but our community didn’t support it because if it solves the problem now, it will lead to another problem in the future,” he said.
“If communities have problems with one another in future, they will use it against each other,” he said. An effort to get the Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji Ahmed Ibrahim Matane to speak on the matter proved abortive as of the time of filing the report.
Kaduna, Plateau communities arming selves
In the last three years, some communities bedevilled by insecurity in Kaduna State have found ways of acquiring arms to defend themselves against banditry.
Our correspondent reports that communities in Kaduna’s Birnin Gwari, Giwa, Igabi and Chikun Local Government Areas have narrated how they now assign young men to keep night vigil of their communities against impending attacks by bandits.
A member of a community in Giwa LGA told Daily Trust that, “We know for a long time that government cannot protect us and so, we now protect ourselves and we don’t need any permission from anyone to do so.”
Another villager from Igabi LGA told our correspondent that when they defended their communities sometimes in a shootout with bandits, the bandits then shift their attention to other vulnerable communities who do not have the firepower to defend themselves.
“We have noticed that there is no point running from our homes because they will still come back. So, it is better to stay back and defend our homes even if it will cost us our lives,” he said.
Daily Trust reports that it has been the same in some communities of Plateau State where local blacksmiths make local firearms for communities to defend themselves against attacks.
“Some of us have obtained a licence from the relevant authorities and went ahead and bought pump-action,” a merchant who does not want his name mentioned, said.
“Even AK-47 is not difficult to buy these days because some people import them provided you are ready to pay. This is the only way to protect yourself, your family and your wealth,” he said.
In Zamfara too
Residents of many communities across the fourteen local government areas of Zamfara State are also stockpiling arms to defend themselves against bandits. Checks across the communities in the state revealed that residents have since discarded the idea of relying on federal security operatives to defend them.
For instance, in one emirate, there are communities known for their bravery when it comes to self -defence to the extent that the armed criminals also suffered losses whenever they raided the communities.
“We are stockpiling our arms…Every household or every individual has a gun and if we sense trouble we come out en mass to defend ourselves and this is helping us,” a community leader, who does not want his name mentioned for security reasons, said.
“There was a time they launched a daring attack on this community. We inflicted severe loss on them and they were forced to limp away in defeat,” a resident told our correspondent.
Our correspondent learnt that in some local government headquarters and other relatively bigger towns, some well-to-do individuals are buying arms for vigilantes or Yan Sakai.
The individuals with relatively good financial standings are sponsoring the vigilantes by purchasing locally made arms, torchlights, mackintosh, clubs and machetes for them,” he said.
Our correspondent reports that residents had earlier formed and armed local vigilantes or Yan Sakai but authorities in the state disarmed them during the last botched peace deal with the armed criminals.
Later, when they realised that the armed men were not willing to surrender their arms, the vigilante groups rearmed themselves again vowing that they would never give in to intimidation by criminals.
In Katsina, some residents who spoke to our reporter said though the call by the governor to acquire arms for self-defence could serve as a confidence booster, it was rather late as most of the villages that suffered banditry attacks don’t have the means to acquire arms.
A resident of Batsiri, a town that was attacked recently, said, “Even if we are to acquire arms, we cannot acquire the ones that can match that of the bandits. Some of the weapons they carry we don’t see them even with our security agents,” he said.
Also speaking, a resident of Kurfi, Salisu Sani (not real names), said some well-to-do individuals had acquired top action guns with which they protect themselves in the event of an attack.
“I am a member of our local security committee and I know a lot of what is going on. I can assure you that the situation is similar in most of the affected LGAs such as Batsari, Safana, Danmusa and Jibia because we work in synergy with them through intelligence sharing and I know some of those who have licences to hold a gun for self-protection,” he said.
Lawyers decry unregulated use of firearms
Lawyers have warned that although the laws provide for the right to self-defence, they said unregulated access to arms could hurt society in the long run.
Speaking on calls by some state governors to allow people to acquire arms for self-defence, Professor Paul Ananaba (SAN) said the idea was a wrong idea that could adversely affect society in the long run. He advised state governors to instead support security agencies.
“If the governors are overwhelmed, it is not the proper thing to ask everybody to go get arms and defend themselves because the bandits, who have superior weapons, might cause more loss of lives.
“What then is the essence of governance? They might as well ask the federal government to declare a state of emergency,” he said.
Also speaking, Dayo Akinlaja (SAN) called for the adoption of state police as being advocated by some states.
“In the final analysis, it (self-help) may not bode well for the entire society because it is not everybody who has the responsibility to handle the weapons,” he said.
For his part, Malcolm Emokiniovo Omirhobo said, “We need to have a balance of terror by approving high category of firearms like AK-47 to responsible members of society, not a double barrel or pump-action,” he said.
“If you want me to defend myself, why would you give me a lesser weapon than what my assailants are having?” he asked.
Omirhobo said he was planning a suit to compel the president to make the approval of use of high calibre rifles for self-defence as provided by Section 3 of the Firearms Act Cap F.28, Laws of the Federation, 2004.
A report by this newspaper indicated that porous borders and the preponderance of smuggling are making access to weapons easier for people.
In 2017, a cargo of 440 guns was intercepted in Lagos. The consignment was earlier declared as white cement. In all, Customs said it seized nearly 4,000 guns in the various operations and catchment of cartridges at its Niger/Kwara/Kogi command.
In January 2018, a container loaded with 49 boxes of 661 pump action arms was intercepted by Customs. The rifles were laden in a Mack truck before it was intercepted along the Mile 2-Apapa Road, Lagos.
A sample survey of activities of security agencies conducted by Daily Trust showed that in 2020 alone, no fewer than 4,338 arrests were made in different parts of the country, while 255 guns and 2,204 ammunitions were recovered by security operatives. Similarly, 1,417 cartridges were recovered from the suspects, including three dynamites.
ACF advocates use of bow and arrow
The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) has advocated the use of bows and arrows by villagers to defend themselves stressing that any use of firearms must be done within the limits of the law.
The ACF National Publicity Secretary, Emmanuel Yawe, who spoke on the recent announcement by Katsina State Governor, Aminu Bello Masari to defend themselves said:
“Governor Aminu Bello Masari as the chief security officer of Katsina State may have a better understanding of how local hunters in the state can help secure the states from bandits.
“The local hunters did very well in Adamawa State against Boko Haram. They know the terrain, they know the people and they know their juju. So when it comes to fighting with juju you will find them with their local juju. If Masari finds that the local people will help better, I think he should be allowed to advocate it,” he said.
On the position of ACF as to whether communities should be allowed to stockpile weapons to defend themselves, the ACF stated that: “They should do so within the limit of the law. Even acquisition of firearms, private individuals are allowed to possess firearms, there is a process to get the certificate and so people need to follow those processes. Things like bows and arrows that villagers use can also be very effective. Some of these things can be done to secure the rural areas,” he said.
Comments by leaders on self-help
Governor Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina State had last week urged people in areas prone to banditry to acquire weapons and defend themselves against bandits.
In a statement issued by his Director-General, Media, Abdu Labaran Malumfashi, Masari said, “It is the people’s meek submission that emboldens the bandits to continue with their heinous activities with murderous frequency.”
In March this year, Governor Abubakar Sani Bello of Niger State promised to procure pump-action rifles for vigilantes to help tackle the recurring incidences of kidnappings in the state.
“We are not going to disband the vigilante as a result of threats from the bandits. Even when banditry activities in the state are stopped, the vigilante will still be there to provide security in the local government areas,” he had said.
Also, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State in May advised the residents to arm themselves.
“Get a licence for Dane guns from local government chairmen and use them to defend yourselves. In December 2020, he made another call to youth to take up the job of securing their community by complementing the duties of security agencies.
In February this year, the Minister of Defence retired Major General Bashir Magashi told Nigerians to summon the courage and face marauding bandits kidnapping for ransom in the North.
Magashi’s comment came on the heels of the abduction of staff and students of a secondary school in the Kagara community in the Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State.
“It is the responsibility of everybody to keep alert and to find safety when necessary. But we shouldn’t be cowards. At times, the bandits will only come with about three rounds of ammunition, when they fire shots, everybody runs,” he said.
However, he expressed opposition to allowing citizens to carry arms saying, “Even in the developed countries, they are still debating on it, whether to continue or not. But I don’t advise Nigeria to start issuing firearms for personal use.”
In 2018, a former Minister for Defence, retired General Theophilus Danjuma called on Nigerians to defend themselves.
“You must rise to protect yourselves from these people, if you depend on the Armed Forces to protect you, you will all die. This ethnic cleansing must stop in Taraba and it must stop in Nigeria,” he said.
From Lami Sadiq (Kaduna), Shehu Umar (Gusau), Tijjani Ibrahim (Katsina), Abubakar Akote (Minna), Fidelis Mac-Leva, John C. Azu, Idowu Isamotu & Faruq Shuaibu (Abuja)