Matawalle’s Call for Self-defence

With the inability of the Nigerian security agencies to guarantee safety of lives and property across the country, Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State last week joined some of his colleagues, who have been encouraging their subjects to leverage Section 33 of the 1999 Constitution to defend themselves against violent non-state actors, Gboyega Akinsanmi writes

The state of security is deteriorating nationwide by the day. Its deterioration is evident in the escalation of violent attacks and their collateral costs on human lives at large. As a result, governors are now embracing diverse controversial, but constitutional measures to bring violent non-state actors under effective control.

Zamfara State Governor, Mr. Bello Matawalle reeled out the latest of such measures after the state’s Security Council meeting last week. After reviewing the economic and human costs of insecurity in the state, the council resolved to leverage Section 33(2)(a-b) of the 1999 Constitution to tame the activities of violent non-state actors within its jurisdiction.

 Consistent with this provision, the state government directed the residents to take arms up against bandits and terrorists as a strategy to secure their own lives. Also, it directed the Commissioner for Police to issue licence to all residents qualified and willing to obtain guns for the purpose of self-defence. It finally ordered security operatives to shoot any individual found riding motorcycles within the state.

 Zamfara is not the first state that has called for self-defence amid deteriorating insecurity across the federation. Recently, Ondo State Governor, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, had observed that the governors “can no longer fold their arms or rely exclusively on the distant federal police to adequately protect the lives and property of residents.”

After the recent attacks that killed 41 worshippers at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo, Akeredolu specifically told the federal government “to brace up for a situation whereby citizens will take destiny in their hands and obtain guns to defend themselves against the bandits.”

 In April, Benue State Governor, Mr. Samuel Ortom had challenged the residents “to rise up in self-defence against the Fulani herdsmen in possession of AK-47 rifles.”

In Oyo, Governor Seyi Makinde had approved the recruitment of 500 Amotekun corps to protect residents and their property. Katsina State Governor, Aminu Masari had also once called on his people to defend themselves before they are wiped out by terrorists in the state.

In nearly all states of the federation, governors are adopting diverse measures aimed at creating safe environments that can help them discharge the primary responsibilities stipulated in Section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution. But as indicated in their separate statements, they can no longer trust the police with the security of lives and property within their territories.

Convincingly, the governors have justified their claims first on the rising cases of unprovoked attacks on the soft targets nationwide and also on the failure of the security agencies, especially the Nigeria Police, to effectively contain the activities of violent non-state actors undermining the internal cohesion and economic prosperity of their states.

Consequently, the governors, whose states are worst hit, have embraced self-defence, now challenging the residents to take up arms and defend their communities. And their resolve has ignited protracted national debate across the federation. First, the debate focuses on whether it is constitutional for a state to encourage its residents to defend themselves against bandits and terrorists

 Second, there has been an argument on whether it is within the power of a state governor to invoke Section 33(2)(a-b) of the 1999 Constitution to secure lives and property. However, for some experts, the fear of the governors is understandable. As a result, they argued, the governors cannot fold their arms and watch their people die needlessly daily.

For others, their fear is founded in the unwanted loss of human lives and the  shadow markets of abduction growing across the federation. In the first half of 2022, for instance, no fewer than 4,486 lost their lives due to the activities of violent non-state actors as shown in the Nigeria Security Tracker (NST), a project of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

 In January, according to the NST, 996 cases of violent killing were tracked nationwide. Subsequently, 765 cases were recorded in February; 1,214 in March; 917 in April and 594 in May. As shown in its violence mapping, no geo-political zone had not been caught in the rage of violent non-state actors, though their activities are now more prevalent in the North-central, North-west and South-east.  

 In Zamfara’s case, as revealed in the Mass Atrocities Casualties Tracking Report, at least 210 residents were killed in January; 91 in February; 83 in March; 49 in April and 87 in May, In this year alone, over 542 have lost their lives in Zamfara State. Similarly, abduction cases are as high as human loss.

 With this trend, for some senior lawyers, the governors no longer need further justifications to embrace self-defence than the growing of victims, whose  lives have been exterminated. Besides, they argued, as enshrined in section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution, the primary purpose of every government shall be the security and welfare of the people.

 But the Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor, has rejected argument for self-defence. He believes governors lack powers to direct residents within their territories to take up arms against the violent non-state actors, who have been killing people needlessly and abducting soft targets in exchange for ransoms.

In specific terms, Irabor argued that the Constitution only empowered the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces “to give directives to the Armed Forces as an instrument of policy implementation.”

Rather than clarifying whether Matawalle could direct the residents of Zamfara to defend themselves, Irabor asked the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami to explain this issue to Nigerians.

He insisted that the power to authorise arms possession lies solely in the president. But the former President, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief Joseph Daudu (SAN) argued that the right to self-defence “is God-given and citizens do not need the president to grant it.”

But the right to self-defence is not the reason the governors can no longer depend on the Nigeria Police to secure their people. The real issue centres first and foremost on the country’s security architecture, which the governors argued, is so centralised that the Nigeria Police can no longer discharge their core responsibilities effectively under section 214 of the 1999 Constitution.

Since this provision entirely cedes the policing power to the federal government, the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) had at different times proposed a review of the security architecture to allow the creation of a state police. At its multi-stakeholders summit in March, the NGF justified the state police on the ground that states fund police more than the federal government.

 But this argument lacks merit as far as President Muhammadu Buhari is concerned. As a result, the president rejected the proposal, citing the abuse and suppression of the local governments by state governors. Amid this debate, the governors leveraged Section 4 (7) to ensure law and order within their territories. The Section stipulates that the House of Assembly of a State “shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the State…” 

By virtue of this section, the governors created the Amotekun Corps in the South-west. Under its Anti-open Grazing, Ranching and Prohibition Law, Benue created community volunteer guards. In the North, most state created vigilante groups to contain the activities of violent non-state actors within their territories

All these responses have been helpful to some extent, especially in gathering intelligence. But the economic and human costs of insecurity are increasing daily as revealed in the Nigeria Security Tracker. Like the police, security agencies are obviously overwhelmed, hence their failure to guarantee public order.

The search for effective police system did not start under the current administration. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo attempted it in 2006 with the constitution of a presidential committee to reform the Nigeria Police. Likewise, late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua followed the same path in 2008. Each of these committees revealed the depth of challenges in the police. But the reports only ended up in the national archives.

 With the eruption of EndSARS protests in 2020, the National Assembly expedited the enactment of the Nigeria Police Act, 2021. Among others, the legislation recommended new welfare packages for the police; creation of public complaint offices to make every police personnel accountable and promotion of police personnel as and when due. But the execution of this Act has not commenced.

Even though the execution of the Act has taken full effect, analysts argued that the regime “can no longer substantially address the country’s current security realities” for different reasons.

First, as Country Representative, Transparency International, Mr. Auwal Rafsanjani observed, operating a centralised police structure can no longer guarantee public order in a multi-ethnic federal state like Nigeria.

 Second, for Daudu, every security challenge is local and can best be addressed locally. On this ground, he argued that a centralised approach can no longer address security challenges that plague most states of the federation. The governors, he argued, would not have advocated self-defence if federating units had been authorised to establish its own state police.

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