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Thinking out loud: Naija’s big problem with guns

A couple of weeks ago, Burna Boy allegedly made a pass at a married woman at Club Cabana; he was rebuffed. Allegedly, he didn’t take…

A couple of weeks ago, Burna Boy allegedly made a pass at a married woman at Club Cabana; he was rebuffed. Allegedly, he didn’t take the rejection well, fighting ensued and his security agents shot at the woman’s company, hitting her husband and his best friend. A Twitter user, an apparent friend of the victims, posted photos of both men in the hospital. According to BBC Pidgin online, the police arrested the officers involved. Lots of ‘allegedlys’, but the one irrefutable fact is that a shooting happened inside the club (and two Naijans visiting from abroad got hit). 

Not that long ago, a video of a purportedly inebriated police officer (attached to a private citizen) who shot in celebration at a birthday party in Lagos, and killed two people, went viral. Whatever happened to that officer sef? Last I heard, he was on the run.

Last week, one of my WhatsApp contacts forwarded a video clip of men in civilian clothes driving through a relatively populated public space, randomly shooting and being cheered on. The gist was that they were some sort of security personnel who’d apprehended some Unknown Gun Men and killed them. The corpses of the dead were thrown unceremoniously into the open back of a van and displayed. What kind of nonsense security personnel do not know that shooting anyhow can result to killing anyhow? The people cheering seemed oblivious to the fact that their cheering didn’t provide a bulwark for them against the potential consequences of gun irresponsibility. That random bullet itching to hit someone isn’t going to distinguish between a friend and an enemy. It’s called “caught in friendly fire” for a reason. 

Our society is awash in guns. That much is clear. Apart from the epidemic of Unknown Gun Men, Boko Haram, herder-farmer groups and other domestic terrorists who apparently have access to these weapons, everybody and their dog who can afford it has firearm-carrying officers/guards. We may not have the problem the US has of more guns in civilian hands than there are people in the country, but we have a huge problem nevertheless.  A friend in Enugu told me of being in a salon when another woman walked in with her police escort. The latter carried his gun in full view of the salon’s customers for the duration of his boss’s visit (a few hours). My friend was very uncomfortable because she knew that if an altercation broke out – for whatever (petty) reason – the officer would more likely than not use his gun, and justice would maybe never be served. I recall being in the lobby of a hotel in Lagos when some big shot walked in with a retinue of cops, all with their guns on display. Biko, I immediately left the lobby. Our police can be trigger-happy. Just google Nigeria and trigger-happy cops, and weep. 

In an ideal world, private citizens shouldn’t have access to armed guards. Period. 

Private citizens should not have access to armed guards, especially in a society where those guards bring their guns to petty fights. I understand that in our DIY culture, with our security challenges, folks (feel they) need to provide their own security, but biko have your guards save their weapons for criminals. They should certainly not be bringing their guns into clubs and hair salons and hotel lobbies. They shouldn’t be whipping them out at the slightest provocation. They should certainly not be shooting live ammunition in celebration of anything. That is how accidents happen. 

There needs to be an emphasis on the better (proper?) training of armed personnel, from the cops patrolling our roads (who threaten to use their guns to “waste” citizens at any given opportunity, mostly unwarranted) to those guarding our personal spaces. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the bulk of their victims are innocent citizens, most often caught by “stray bullets” rather than criminal elements. There should also be (more) transparent prosecution of cases where these armed police/military/guards’ negligent acts cause bodily harm or death. There can be no change unless training and prosecution happen simultaneously. 

Where there is no justice for victims of gun violence – particularly where the violence is intentional or caused by gross carelessness – the violence will only continue. Again, while I don’t have precise numbers, it’s fairly safe to assume that getting justice for victims is rare. In a country where a policeman can audaciously claim, “’I’ve wasted your son, you can’t do anything about it,” like Mr. James Nwafor reportedly told Mr. Emmanuel  Iloanya  (per an article in the New York Times), whose son, Chijioke was “disappeared” by SARS for no just cause, seeking justice can seem impossible. Yet we hope. And we try. And we must.

We must, because lack of accountability will only lead to more violence, and as long as guns are as easily accessible as they are to personal security guards, and our cops can wantonly kill or threaten to, that’s where we are headed. Sadly.  


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