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By Law Mefor

The argument over whether Nigerians should be allowed by law to carry weapons for self-defence is returning and gaining traction in light of the terrifyingly high levels of insecurity in the nation, especially kidnapping. When the notion was recently put to the Chief of Army Staff, he soberly rejected it. Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff(COAS), Taoreed Lagbaja, thought that there would be anarchy if Nigerians were allowed to carry firearms. “I do not support that. I think that is a call for anarchy,” said COAS Lagbaja during a TV programme recently.

Also, previous Inspectors General Police (IGPs) had similarly firmly opposed allowing civilians to carry firearms. The army and police are rightfully concerned about the likely increase in insecurity that this would herald, but they haven’t made enough efforts in their case to appease the people who have been left almost defenceless and vulnerable to violent attacks by society’s criminal elements, especially bandits, terrorists, and kidnappers who now target people in their homes with little assistance arriving from the security agencies.

It is noteworthy to mention that Nigerians possess legal ownership of some low-grade firearms, including pump action guns, provided they hold an IGP’s or police commissioner’s licence. The question of whether Nigerians should be permitted to carry handguns and military-grade weapons, including AK-47s, is what is currently up for debate. To be honest, one doesn’t think citizens should be allowed to carry weapons of military calibre, such as assault rifles.

Nonetheless, it is important to give careful thought to the problem of certain citizens owning top-grade firearms such as pistols. One would want to mention that certain groups of Nigerians could be allowed to carry pistols that would be provided by the police, depending on criteria including age, education, marital status, and social standing. The majority believe that there shouldn’t be a liberal gun culture in this country since there are criminal gangs, cultists, and cult groups everywhere. For the US, for instance, such a policy had come at a great expense, which that great nation is still suffering gravely.

What the country needs to allow is for mature Nigerians, including professionals, well-established businesspeople, individuals with a clean record, and decent married couples, to possess handguns. One would also support a psychological evaluation of those applying for guns to ascertain the emotional stability of such persons before granting them access. Individuals with violent histories ought to be kept out since such behaviour is a sign of emotional instability, which makes it dangerous to have firearms around them.

However, state police, community police, and even regional police are now required to formally deal with growing insecurity in the country. Because their agents will acquire the required orientation, training, and legal and ethical supervision, these formal police establishments are preferred.

It’s also critical to recognise that an increasing proportion of Nigerians are buying guns off the black market for use in crimes and self-defence. Africa is rife with small arms, many of which have made their way into Nigeria and are accessible to Nigerians who can afford them for both legal and illegal purposes. According to an inquiry, an AK-47 currently sells for between 700k and slightly more than a million naira.

The fact that more firearms are in the hands of unauthorized and untrained individuals raises alarm. The proliferation of weaponry has resulted in an upsurge in insecurity, banditry, kidnapping, and terrorism. However, it will be difficult to stop Nigerians from obtaining firearms illegally for self-defence, given the rising level of insecurity and the fact that kidnappers are now targeting people in their homes.

Citizens have the fundamental right to life, and they are free to take any measures required to defend their lives, including procuring firearms unlawfully if they are unable to do so legally. This is the reason why some have advocated time and time again that the government needs to set up additional levels of police in the nation to successfully address insecurity and restore citizens’ waning confidence. Doing so is the only way to stop citizens from desiring to acquire guns for self-defence and family protection. The average person would rather die fighting than be picked off like a rat by thieves in his home or on the road. Of what value is life if one is unable to defend himself and his family?

Additionally, one had heard that some estates are advancing their estate defence efforts by organising and equipping vigilantes. These vigilantes are ordinarily armed with both single and double barrels. But if they are carrying hidden military weapons, no one will be surprised. Indeed, several estates have prudently taken extreme precautions to protect themselves since kidnappers now visit estates in broad daylight and kidnap people from their homes. Estates without security systems should follow suit, but for legal protection, they should collaborate closely with law enforcement.

Already, there is so little security. Many Nigerians are needlessly dying and the security services are overburdened. The self-help response of citizens is an application of the Newtonian law of physics, which states that action and reaction are equal and opposite. Since the hunters began shooting without aiming, Eneke the bird has also learnt to fly without perching, as noted by author and sage Chinua Achebe.

The Federal Republic of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution (as amended) states that every citizen has an unalienable right to life and that a person is not criminally accountable for an act if it is reasonably necessary to defend against actual and unlawful violence that is being threatened against them or another person while they are in their presence, according to Section 32(3) of the Criminal Code. Nigerian citizens and groups ought to employ self-defence measures but cooperate with law enforcement as a compliment and augmentation since the country’s security structure has shown itself to be woefully inadequate.

Nigerians are said to be 220 million people spread throughout 176,606 wards, 774 LGs, 36 states, and a federal capital area. The 371,000 police officers and men the country currently has under one command cannot effectively protect 220 million Nigerians in such great diversity. To exacerbate the situation, the police force is not only woefully understaffed but also receives inadequate salary, funding, supplies, and training.

Nigeria is not doing enough to address the issue of insecurity. The police are the main security force, but despite the activities of terrorists and bandits, the expansion of ungoverned areas, and the widening fault lines, successive governments have not taken the required steps to reconstruct a comprehensive security architecture by restructuring the police the way it is found in other 25 federal countries of the world. Today nowhere is safe in Nigeria, not even the federal capital territory of Abuja.

For emphasis, let it be restated: State police, community police, regional police, and forest rangers are what the country needs now. It is simple to find out how these police levels can be established with sincerity to produce favourable results by setting up a technical study group. State police, community police, regional police, and forest rangers exist in other federal nations, so, why not in Nigeria?

For once, as a country, let’s take security as comprehensively as it deserves. Those against decentralisation of police in Nigeria don’t wish the nation – Nigeria – well or are not just realistic.

Dr. Mefor, an Abuja-based forensic and social psychologist, is a fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts; drlawmefor@gmail.com; Twitter: @Drlawsonmefor

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