Mixed reactions on Sunday trailed the directive of the Zamfara State government for individuals to prepare and obtain guns to defend themselves against bandits, with residents and security experts giving both kudos and knocks on the policy.
Zamfara, which is the epicentre of rural banditry afflicting states mainly in the North West and North Central parts of the country, has for years battled to contain the carnage, including through granting amnesty to the bandits and the use of vigilante forces.
Self-help community volunteer forces, known as Yan Sakai, in Hausa, have also been pushing back the bandits amid criticism of high-handedness and extrajudicial killings.
In the latest move against the criminal elements, who have been declared terrorists, the Zamfara State government said it would dispatch 500 gun licensing application forms to the 19 emirates of the state, making a total of 9,500 potential guns as it directs the state's commissioner of police to issue the license to willing people.
But checks by Daily Trust last night showed that there is an existing embargo on the issuance of firearms licences as President Muhammadu Buhari had, in May 2019, issued an executive order to that effect.
Efforts to clarify the position of the police on the Zamfara government's directive were not successful last night as the Force Public Relations Officer, Olumuyiwa Adejobi, did not respond to calls.
In a detailed statement on new measures to tackle the spate of attacks in the state released by the state's Commissioner of Information, Alhaji Ibrahim Magaji Dosara, the government also marshalled out a number of strategies and directives.
In recent times, bandits have escalated attacks and abductions in communities across the state. At least two attacks were recorded over the weekend in different communities.
On Friday, gunmen launched an attack on the Mada community in Gusau LGA of the state. The attack displaced dozens of people from the community, sparking protests by the aggrieved residents.
Gunmen again invaded the community on Friday evening, looted shops and dispossessed traders and residents of their valuables. The criminals had earlier shot dead three farmers in the community.
Also on Saturday, armed criminals killed two people and abducted four others, including the district head of Rini village in Bakura Local Government of the state.
Residents said the bandits stormed the house of the district head, Alhaji Haliru Suleiman, and abducted him. They also abducted a labourer working in the house and the traditional ruler's daughters-in-law.
In recent weeks, bandits had carried out a series of abductions in Zurmi town, Furfuri in Bungudu Local Government and Gidan Dawa in Tsafe Local Government.
Since the start of the rainy season, several farmers have been shot dead or abducted while tending to their farmlands. Many farmers in rural communities of the state have also been blocked from accessing their farms.
Tsafe Local Government, in particular, has suffered a series of deadly attacks by the bandits since the beginning of this year.
The state government had recently warned that if the attacks persisted it would be compelled to take tough measures, including reconsidering the shutting down of telecommunications services in the state.
The new measures
In the statement, Dosara said the state government has directed the state commissioner of police to issue licences to all those qualified and are wishing to obtain such guns to defend themselves.
"Government is ready to facilitate people, especially our farmers, to secure basic weapons for defending themselves. Government has already concluded arrangements to distribute 500 forms to each of the 19 Emirates in the state for those willing to obtain guns to defend themselves."
The information commissioner said a secretariat or centre would be established for the collection of intelligence on the activities of informants.
He said the state government had requested the state House of Assembly to pass, as a matter of urgency, the informants' bill before it, to enable the government to take drastic measures on informants as contained in the bill.
"The state government has ordered for the recruitment of 200 additional Community Protection Guards in each of the 19 emirates of the state, making it 500 per emirate, to increase their manpower and strengthen their force and capacity to deal with the bandits."
For proper implementation of these measures, the government announced the formation of a special committee to receive intelligence on the activities of informants under the leadership of the Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji Kabiru Balarabe Sardau.
He said there is also the formation of an additional paramilitary unit to effectively reinforce the operations of the community guards.
The government has also reconstituted the state Committee on Prosecution of Banditry Related Offences headed by Dr Sani Abdullahi Wanban Shinkafi.
The government's statement also conveyed the approval of Governor Bello Mohammed Matawalle's immediate closure of all markets in Mada, Wonaka and Ruwan Bore districts of Gusau Local Government, as well as Yandoto emirate in Tsafe Local Government "in view of the deteriorating security situation.
"In addition to this, the government has equally banned riding of motorbikes and selling of petroleum products in Mada, Wonaka and Ruwan Bore districts, as well as Yandoto Emirate.
"Henceforth, all filling stations in the affected areas are hereby closed with immediate effect. Anybody found riding motorbike within the areas is considered as a bandit and security agencies are thereby directed to shoot such persons at sight."
The state government also directed, "The military, police, civil defence and other security agencies to mobilise their operatives and take the fight to the enclaves of the criminals with immediate effect."
Self-defence directive long overdue, but... - Residents
Residents who spoke to Daily Trust yesterday said the state government's approval for individuals to secure guns to defend themselves against bandits' attacks was long overdue.
They said the approval has become necessary considering the inability of the nation's security operatives to defend people from attacks.
"There was an attack twice on Mada community but the security forces in that community did not adequately respond," a resident, Sani Abubakar, said.
Another resident, Abdullahi Magazu, said people should not have waited for government approval, adding that for quite a long time people have lost confidence in the country's security architecture.
"About three months ago, armed men invaded Magazu community and abducted more than 40 people despite the presence of security operatives in the community. None of them responded to that aggression. We can't continue like that," he said.
"Allowing the residents to obtain guns will deter the armed criminals from attacking communities. If they understand that we have the same calibre of arms as theirs to defend ourselves they will be very cautious.
"We shouldn't rely too much on security personnel to defend us. I said it several times that we have become soft targets for the armed criminals because we have no means to fight back," a resident Garba Aja also said.
However, Umar Dan Ajiya opined that allowing residents to get arms is a recipe for anarchy. He said unless concrete measures are taken during the issuance of licenses for arms, there is a tendency for such arms to fall into the hands of unscrupulous elements.
"Government must make sure that only well-mannered individuals get the guns. This is to stop bad elements from having access to such arms, otherwise, the purpose for taking the measure will be defeated," he said.
Call to bear arms, an invitation to anarchy - Security experts
A security expert, retired Group Capt. John Ojikutu, in an interview with Daily Trust, said the decision of the Zamfara State government was borne out of frustration over the worsening insecurity in the state.
However, he warned that it is not the way to go, saying it is an invitation to anarchy, which may consume the governor himself.
In addition, he said, it is a reflection of the failure of the government in tackling banditry and insecurity confronting the state.
He said, "It's an act of failure on the part of the government and one calling for anarchy. What tells the governor too that he can survive it?"
He stated that if the police commissioner should grant the governor's request, "Same should apply in other states," adding, "Anarchy is gradually coming and possibly a revolution in the making."
Also speaking, a retired Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Ambrose Aisabor, insisted that the way to go is to adopt state police, saying the citizens cannot get the sophisticated arms the bandits are using.
He also stated that security has collapsed in the country adding that it was high time Nigeria sought foreign help.
"We also need to get foreign assistance as it is now obvious we cannot do it alone," he stated.
Aisabor added, "The way to go is state police. We cannot continue to pretend we have answers to our security problems. The centre can no longer hold. Community policing can only thrive in the states.
"You cannot decree community policing from Abuja. It will not work. The security situation in the country has collapsed completely. The federal government has no answers. We should go back to the drawing board by way of the state police.
"Intelligence is very key in solving security problems. This is presently lacking in our security architecture. All the intelligence agencies have gone to sleep. They are only interested in regime protection," he added.
Reacting to the directive, a war veteran who fought during the civil war, Abiodun Durowaiye-Herberts, in an interview with one of our correspondents, said it showed that the chief security officers in the state have lost confidence in the federal government.
Durowaiye-Herberts, who is the leader of the Coalition of Concerned Veterans (CCV), described the development as "unfortunate".
He said, "As I said, what can we do? It means that the state governments lack confidence in the C-in-C for them to now resort to self-help.
"For a sitting governor of a state, who ought to be the chief security officer of the state, calling on the citizens to take up arms to defend themselves, of course, it means they are not getting the right signal from the C-in-C."
Durowaiye-Herberts added, "The point here is that everything has gone comatose. It is unfortunate that we have to resort to defending ourselves instead of the government doing so on our behalf. It is a very terrible situation we find ourselves.
"I must be sincere with you, the security agencies have been overstretched, and it is only the commander-in-chief that can give orders to service chiefs and not the state chief security officers.
"Maybe they have reasoned themselves that they are not getting the right signal from the federal level, and so they are left with no other option than to ask their people to defend themselves; it is quite unfortunate. That shouldn't be at all!"
On his part, a security sector reform expert, Chukwuma Ume, faulted the Zamfara State government, saying the directive would compound the security problems in the state if not in the entire North-West zone of the country.
"The call is not in the right direction. It is a call borne out of desperation and frustration. Every day, we hear about all sorts of killings in Zamfara State. I think that's not the way forward.
"There are structural problems that are necessitating such killings and destruction of property. What the state government should do, which I'm sure they may have been doing, is to intensify efforts towards intelligence gathering, community engagements, security sector coordination and use of the existing peace architecture.
"This existing peace architecture is fundamental because these people do not exist in a vacuum, they exist within a community, the communities have their own peace-building architecture, hitherto these sporadic insecurity issues.
"What has happened to those peace-building architectures? What are those things that are binding? What are those things that bring us together? What has happened to those leadership institutions that we look up to some years back? Have they been eroded? If they have been eroded, what can we do to resuscitate those architectures?" the security sector expert queried.