Mr. President, Arm Your People

By Okey Ikechukwu

Our people say that a father who allows his son to enter the village square for a wrestling contest and then enforces a family rule of not grappling with anyone in public has guaranteed the defeat of his son even before the latter’s opponent is known. That appears to be the position of the average Nigerian today. Thus, except the Federal Government urgently reviews the existing policy on arms possession in Nigeria, the nation’s growing reputation as a mass killing field will become its marker, and identity trademark.

A few days ago, Miyetti Allah set up a Nomadic Vigilante Group in Nasarawa State, which is within spitting distance of the Presidential Villa, in order to help improve national security. If reason and common sense are not being stood on their heads here, why should Miyetti Allah’s expression of “shared commitment to economic prosperity, job creation, and the fight against banditry and cattle rustling” not start in Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara, Borno and Bauchi states. The states have the highest negative security indices, extremely high poverty ratings and every other thing that diminishes life in Nigeria today. 

If, as stated by the initiators of the vigilante programme, part of the reasons for setting up the group is to “help flush out the bad elements among them in the state”, the question WHY NASARAWA STATE? Still remains.

The fact that kidnapping and banditry are going on unabetted and even increasing all over the country, plus the additional fact that the Federal Capital, which is the seat of power and the residence of the Commander-in-Chief of our Armed Forces, is now  favorite hunting ground for freelance bandits, sundry criminals and kidnappers, now makes it mandatory for President Tinubu to ask himself why adult Nigerians of both gender, whose character and means of livelihood can be vouched for, should not carry arms and  ammunition for self-protection.

It is incomprehensible to basic common sense, logic and any decent interpretation of holistic national security that Nigerians who are not in military, police or security-related jobs are forbidden from owning, or possessing, a short gun; or any such weapon. It was not always so. The ban came at a point, due to the exigencies of a specific historical hour. That historical hour, which is far behind us now, led to new rules that limited any interested persons to either a single or double barrel, cartridge powered, long snout rifle. This species of guns have limited firepower and cumbersome loading protocols, which leave is possessor at a clear disadvantage in the face of any real danger that requires prompt response.

Before this development, the Mossberg Shotgun, including the short barrel option, were available under government license. So was the .22 Gevam Sporting rifle, a lovely French product, my favourite, with its twelve round slim magazine.

Is it not strange that there are citizens – sometimes of questionable origins – who freely and openly wield banned military assault rifles within the same country where such hardware is banned? They flaunt it everywhere, ostensibly to protect their cattle from cattle thieves. So, should all other trades group also arm themselves against whatever dangers threaten their members and their goods? Would that be the way to go and still remain a viable 21st century nation?

In the same country that banned military assault rifles are impudently wielded by teenagers in defense of the cattle they are rearing for some members of the elite, a pastor who was caught on social media brandishing the same military assault rifle is on trial for illegal arms possession. One of the charges against the former Central bank Governor, Godwin Emefiele, was illegal possession of arms. But little boys are walking freely all over the Federal Republic of Nigeria with the same military hardware unchallenged by the national security machinery.

As was said on this page on July 17, 2019, “The strength of the criminals all over the country today, some of them Fulani from outside Nigeria, actually comes from the fact that they are unchallenged for now. When the government of Ghana took concrete and firm steps to contain their excesses it became obvious that they had no capacity to do anything. But that is because the Ghanaian State took its own survival seriously. The Fulanis, and Myetti Allah, did nothing when Sule Lamido, as governor of Jigawa State, forbade open wandering of cattle in his state. They also did nothing when Lamido authorized every citizen of Jigawa State to kill and barbecue any cattle found roaming in the city. No one heard their whimper about this “Lamido’s free gift to the people of Jigawa State,” as it was then called. And Lamido is Fulani, and of the right breed if you like”.

It should not be in the midst of the current bedlam in national security that Miyetti Allah, which has not been particularly helpful in building bridges, should launch a vigilante outfit. Recall that the same group created an uproar when, a few years ago, it tried to make pretensions about providing the same service in Imo State. Sheik Gumi and several other advocates of a romance with bandits and banditry, must be clapping right now for Miyetti Allah, an organization for cattle herders and related trades, and its Nomadic Fulani Villante Movement.

Is this, perhaps, a pro-Fulani hegemonic outfit that was quickly cobbled, to make life impossible for the new “inferior” governor of the state; and possibly as a Dess Rehearsal for a Fulani Army that will protect Fulani-wide interests; including the occupied lands of the Middle Belt? Just asking.

Abdullahi Bello Bodejo, the national president of the association, said in his inaugural address that the primary objective of the nomadic vigilante group was “to help secure the livelihoods of farmers and herders, and aid sharing of information and intelligence with security agencies”. This will come such voluntary activities as “first aid, community security, and relief services to affected communities as well as help in communal development efforts”.

Alhassan Sule, the national secretary, told Nigerians during the flag off that the vigilante personnel “will undergo rigorous training from renowned security organisations before commencement of operations”. So, the launch is not the commencement of operations? What are the renowned security organizations being mentioned here? Who approved and funded everything connected with this vigilante group? Can any other association do the same, “in support of national security”? Are the personnel now on full time job, for which they are paid regular salaries? What is their background, and what will you do with them in the next one, two, five, or ten years? Who assessed them, and on what basis were they recruited? Etc. etc.  

The Nasarawa State Commissioner of Police, Usman Nadada, while advising the group to abide by “rules of engagement in carrying out their duties”, urged the general public to cooperate with the vigilantes in the fight against kidnapping and banditry in the state. Nasada’s statement, that the group is not allowed to bear arms, “except the ones provided by the police, in the discharge of its duties” rests on some questionable assumptions.

The first is that the police can, and should, arm the group.  The second is that an undermanned, underreamed and under-equipped Nigeria Police can oversee this group. The third, and final, questionable assumption is that the police can control this group once it becomes operational. Will the farmers in Nasarawa State and environs not see this as a signal for a final ditch contest for living space?

The corollary to the above is that there is no reason why any other association should not, following this precedent, set up is own vigilante group, “to help secure the livelihoods of farmers and herders, and aid sharing of information and intelligence with security agencies”.

Is The North really paying attention to what is happening to it, especially on account of its refusal to count the toll of insurgency and banditry?

As was said on this page three years ago, under the title ‘Northern Nigeria: The Pretense persists’: “A recent lengthy submission from the elder statesman, Ahmed Joda, rested on a telling conclusion: Northern Nigeria is not developing its human capital. It also does not have the time to do so anymore. Therefore, it is now ill-equipped to fit into either the knowledge-driven world of today or the new world of tomorrow. It needs at least 20 years to become significant in any way. But, rather than wake up to this benumbing fact, there is the pursuit of the illusion of dominance.

Meanwhile the people of the region lack the skills for tomorrow, as majority of its youth lack everything that could make them part of a 21st century world. The major point in Joda’s intervention is that the triumphalism of cattle rearers, whose illusion of invulnerability is fuelled and sustained by a national security framework that is skewed to promote insecurity in specific regions of the country, will go burst sooner than later. Confiscation of the headship of institutions of state is not the same thing as creating a “replacement generation” that could be part of a 21st Century world.

Drugs, poverty and rapacious daredevilry have chased northern big men to Abuja. But is Abuja itself still safe? Are some high-profile estates and exclusive neighbourhoods in Abuja not being quietly attacked these days?”

The above was written three years ago. What is the situation today?

As a last shot from the aforementioned piece, you have this: “As local economies collapse, as re-desertification takes over many places, as farmlands and animal husbandry are abandoned, as the proceeds of crime become the new means of livelihood for the unlettered, the threat to the children of the elite will multiply. The peace of mind of those who had the chance to make a difference but failed to do so will evaporate. The free-band society of cattle herders will collapse before their very eyes, as much of the North is taken over by “degenerate marauders who know nothing about modern statehood, law and order etc.”

As I said at the beginning of this article, “Except the Federal Government urgently reviews the existing policy on arms possession in Nigeria, the nation’s growing reputation as a mass killing field will become its marker, and identity trademark.

Mr. President, please, arm your people!

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