10 December 2018

Nigeria: Firearms for Zamfara Vigilantes

Emir of Anka and Chairman, Zamfara State Council of Chiefs Alhaji Attahiru Muhammad Ahmad made what looked like a strange plea last week when he called on the federal government to provide rifles for them to deal with armed bandits. Speaking in Gusau on Tuesday, December 4, 2018 during the distribution of 850 motorbikes to the recently recruited Civilian Joint Task Force in the state, Alhaji Attahiru said armed bandits, cattle rustlers, and kidnappers were killing their people. "We are in serious trouble as a people; things are worsening by the day. The criminals have changed tactics and authorities must change their tactics too."

The Emir also said, "Farming and animal rearing that were hitherto major occupations of the citizens, especially dwellers of rural communities, have now been abandoned as armed bandits have placed the state under siege." He advised families of abductees to stop paying ransom, saying "if a captive dies, he dies the death of a martyr." He also said "the only power these bandits have over us is that they carry AK47 rifles while we have nothing except sometimes when we carry sticks in self-defense and one cannot use that against guns."

Emir Attahiru then said if government accepts to provide them with Ak47 rifles, they should also be given pump action guns and the official license to possess and operate the weapons against the enemy. The emir commended the efforts of the state government and security agencies operating in the state and implored members of the civilian JTF not to take laws into their hands. Zamfara State Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Bello Dankande Gamji, said the constitution has spelt out who should carry guns.

The Emir of Anka's request for permission to carry firearms in order to protect themselves from bandits illustrates the long-standing frustration suffered by the traditional rulers and their subjects. We appreciate their suffering and we sympathize with the emir and the entire people of Zamfara State over the perennial banditry that has ravaged the state for six years now. However, we think it is dangerous for government to approve the emir's request for government to allow citizens in the state to bear arms.

Misuse, abuse and gun running are three immediate consequences of granting permission to untrained members of the public to carry arms. Such permission will open and sustain the open market for Small and Light Weapons (SALWs) in the country. For example, the proliferation of arms in the country cannot be isolated from many acts of violence including insurgency in the North East, resurgence of militancy in the Niger Delta region, incessant farmers/herders' skirmishes in the North Central, rising wave of violent crimes including armed robbery, kidnapping and banditry especially in Zamfara and other states in the North-West. This is even as the permission for non-state actors to carry arms for self-defense has not been granted.

Given the pervasive state of insecurity in Zamfara and other parts of the country, there is a compelling necessity for government to upgrade the operational capacity of the Nigeria police. Just last week, the Force lost 16 policemen and rescued 20 others during a heavy clash with armed bandits in Birnin Magaji LGA of Zamfara state. The endless violence between security forces and criminals, insurgents and militants justifies the need for government to also enforce gun control laws. Countries with laws that allow gun ownership have paid heavy prices for such liberal laws.

While we support citizen participation in law enforcement, we are opposed to allowing them to own or carry firearms for any reason including self-protection. The granting of the emir's request can only frustrate government's effort at actualizing national integration, cohesion and development. The solution is to upgrade the security agencies' capacity to protect all communities from bandits, painful though the wait has been for Zamfara citizens.


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