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No ‘guns-for-all’ in Zamfara, but …

Reacting to the heightened insecurity of lives and property in Zamfara State, the state government has asked residents to arm themselves against bandits. Zamfara State…

Reacting to the heightened insecurity of lives and property in Zamfara State, the state government has asked residents to arm themselves against bandits. Zamfara State Government in a statement on Sunday June 26, 2022 said it is ready to facilitate the issuance of licenses that will permit residents, especially farmers, to carry guns for self-defense.

“Government has resolved to take measures to deal with the recent escalating attacks, kidnapping and the criminal levies being enforced on our innocent communities”, the Commissioner for Information, Ibrahim Dosara, said in a statement.

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The Commissioner of Police was consequently directed to issue gun licenses to those eligible to bear arms for self-defense. Government said it had concluded arrangements to distribute 500 forms to each of the 19 Emirates in the state for those willing to obtain guns for self-defense. Speaking during an interview granted to Channels Television, Dosara explained that the decision on arms for self-defense became necessary “because the rainy season has commenced and farmers want to go back to their farms”. Meanwhile, there is an existing embargo on the issuance of firearm license as President Muhammadu Buhari had, in May 2019, issued an executive order to that effect.

Other measures introduced by the Zamfara State Government include the establishment of a Secretariat or Centre for the collection of intelligence on the activities of informants. The statement advised residents to be sure that the intelligence report they provide about informants are true. Residents offering intelligence would be required to provide informant’s biodata, and in addition, produce a witness that will ascertain the authenticity of the information offered. To also strengthen its capacity to deal with bandits, the state government ordered the immediate recruitment of additional 200 Community Protection Guards (CPG) in each of the 19 Emirates in the state.

To give legal backing to these new measures, the Zamfara State House of Assembly on Monday June 28, 2022 passed an executive bill to provide a law for the prohibition and punishment of banditry, cattle rustling, cultism, kidnapping, terrorism and other incidental crimes. The Speaker of the House, Nasiru Magarya, noted that the passage of the bill was necessary to restore peace in the state.

In a swift reaction, the military rejected Governor Bello Matawalle’s call on residents to bear arms. The Chief of Defense Staff, General Lucky Irabor who spoke at the opening ceremony of the joint exercise of the National Defense College and War Colleges of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, said there’s no basis for such call at such time in the country. “We are there to give support to the civil authority, in this case, the police. We are there to ensure that peace returns to Zamfara. The governor does not have the powers to ask the CP to issue licenses. I am yet to get the details but I do not think that is the right thing to do”, Irabor said.

To appreciate the latest pronouncements made by the Zamfara State Government, the recent past of insecurity in that state must, first, be put into context. Governor Matawalle should be seen to be speaking out of prolonged frustrations. Zamfara, more than other states, has suffered too many frequent attacks in the unending banditry ravaging the country’s North West region. Many attempts made by the government of Zamfara State to pacify the bandits failed. At one time, the state government reportedly entered into a peace deal with the bandits and allegedly paid huge ransoms when students were abducted from classrooms. Yet, the attacks continued.

At the height of incessant attacks in the state, Zamfara State Government suspended telecommunication services while petrol filing stations and markets were shut for a long period. The attacks, nevertheless, continued and only less than a fortnight ago, 50 wedding guests were abducted in the state. Beyond governance failure, Matawalle’s outburst is an indictment and clear vote of no confidence on the country’s security agencies. Given the helplessness and hopelessness confronting the people of Zamfara State, General Irabor’s response to Governor Matawalle’s call is rather pretentious; seeking to alienate the military from residents’ plight as if all the cries and reports about insecurity in Zamfara were a hoax.

Before Matawalle’s outcry, it would be recalled that Governor Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina State had in August 2021 charged vulnerable residents of the State to arm themselves against bandits. Also frustrated by the unceasing reign of terror and banditry in his state, Governor Nasir Ahmed El-Rufai recently advocated for the engagement of foreign mercenaries in tackling the spate of insecurity in Kaduna state. The Minister of Defence, Major General (retd) Bashir Magashi, too, had once asked Nigerians to summon courage and stand up to challenge gunmen, which of course, can only be done with arms.

These calls collectively suggest that government, which has the constitutional responsibility of protecting citizens, has woefully failed in this mandate. This may explain but not necessarily justify Governor Bello Matawalle’s call on residents to bear arms. It is hard to believe that a statement is yet to come from President Muhammadu Buhari since Matawalle’s genuine outburst. Indeed, this is a sobering moment for the country.

Given all our unfavourable circumstances as a developing nation, making it a state policy for citizens to bear arms is, for now, uncalled for. Governor Matawalle’s call is an open invitation for anarchy. But how far are we, even now, from anarchy? Daily Trust is emphatically opposed to Matawalle’s call in the same way it differed with Governor Ortom when he signed a law that sought to arm Volunteer Guards in Benue state. A guns-for-all regime is a direct recipe for disaster.

However, the continuous abdication by the federal government of its responsibility in securing citizens’ lives and property is unacceptable. The President, as the C-in-C, must proactively and efficiently use the armed forces and the police in deploying necessary personnel and equipment to squarely counter the wave of insecurity in Zamfara and other states of the federation. Nigerians have had enough of empty presidential directives.

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