BY CHARLES KUMOLU, Deputy Features Editor

Guns: WHEN the Inspector General of Police, IGP, Ibrahim Idris announced that all state commands of the Nigeria Police Force, NPF, had been directed to mop up illegal arms within 21 days, the optimism that greeted the news was a cautious one.

Ibrahim Idris, IGP

Considering the scale of violent deaths in Nigeria, the statement would have elicited total excitement across the country.But that was not the case in a country the United Nations identified to be hosting 70 percent of estimated 500 million illegal weapons in West Africa.

So far, concerns over the workability of the order overwhelm the goals it seeks to achieve.

From Zamfara to Benue, Jos to Abraka, there are more ambiguities than excitement over the move which could curb the menace if properly executed.

Findings by Saturday Vanguard revealed that many are more curious about the feasibility, scope, and modus of the disarmament.

On the streets, in the boardrooms and hallowed chambers, the feelings are similar.

However, opinions were not found to be divided over the needfulness of the directive by the IGP.

Another area of concern is what seems to be the non-inclusion of rampaging herdsmen among the groups to be disarmed.

Surprisingly, the order is silent on whether gun-wielding herdsmen should submit their weapons and also be subjected to stop and search, raiding and other methods to be used by the Police.

Enforcement of order

The Police had in a statement announcing the setting up of a Task Force on illegal arms, outlined how the order would be enforced at the expiration of the 21-day ultimatum.

“The operation will equally include cordon and search and raid, seizure from any premises, hideouts, dwelling houses or buildings or sites (completed or under construction) or any other location where these illegal/prohibited firearms are kept,” the statement by NPF Spokesman, Mr. Moshood Jimoh said.

The statement further offered clarity thus:    “A police joint task enforcement team has been set up at the Force Headquarters by the Inspector General of Police, while the Commissioners of Police and the Assistant Inspectors General of Police in the states and Zonal Commands respectively have been mandated to immediately set-up similar Police Joint Task Enforcement Teams in their states and zones.

Categories of weapons

“The categories of    prohibited/illegal firearms and ammunition, specified under Chapter F.28 LFN 2004 Fire Arms Act include “artillery, apparatus for the discharge of any explosives of gas diffusing projectile, rocket weapons, bombs and grenades, machine-guns and machine-pistols, military rifles, namely; calibers 7.62mm, 9mm, .300 inches, Revolvers and Pistols whether rifled or unrifled (including flint-lock pistols and cap pistols), firearms such as pump action gun of all categories and any other firearms/lethal weapons fabricated to kill.

Police operatives

“Individuals and groups such as vigilantes and neighbourhood watch groups under state governments, local governments or town unions, hunters and watch night men who currently possess the illegal firearms are given 21-day ultimatum from February 22, 2018, to surrender them to the Commissioner of Police in their state.”

Carrot and stick

With the expiration of the deadline and the readiness of state commands to commence enforcement Saturday Vanguard gathered that there are fears that the enforcement processes might be abused.

These fears were informed by the thinking that carrot and stick option would have resonated well with Nigerians.

Respectively, cash for arms deal, recruitment for arms, amnesty and the use of religious leaders to persuade illegal arms holders, were cited by proponents of this view.

“The Police should be commended for announcing the order but the modus operandi is a challenge to that fortuitous move by the police leadership. I have not seen where this model helped in gun control,” Dr. Prosper Anetor, Managing Director, Lion Gate Securities, told Saturday Vanguard.

He expounded his assertion, saying that objectives behind gun control or better still disarmament hardly yield  results with force alone.

“While I still praise the IGP, I need to be convinced that most of the illegal arms in circulation would be retrieved by raiding all manner of places based on intelligence. We need not forget the existence of crisis of confidence between the citizens and law enforcement institutions, especially the Police,” he stated.

Information from the public

A retired Police Commissioner, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, however, differed on the modus of enforcement, as he told Saturday Vanguard that the decision to embark on raiding of suspected homes and hideouts is in order.

“That is the only process they will employ to recover the arms very well. And they are going to do it based on the information they receive from members of the public. Without working with the public it will be difficult for the Police to identify people who carry arms in communities. Asking those, who have licenses to renew them is also good because there are people whose licenses had expired and they are still carrying arms,” he said.

He, however, re-echoed the opinion of those, who expressed concerns about the likelihood of the order being exploited.

‘’The Police gave grace to people who are carrying illegal arms and they should not be faulted by deciding to retrieve the arms based on intelligence at the expiration of the grace period. Since human beings are not perfect, I will not fault those, who are afraid that the process might be abused.”

To ensure that the order is executed without infringing on the rights of Nigerians, the retired police officer said: “I am urging senior officers, who have the responsibility of supervising the process to ensure that it is not abused.”

Rules of engagement

Executive Chairman of Centre of Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, CACOL, Mr. Debo Adeniran,    did not kick against the method to be used.    He, however, wants the Police to be guided by rules of engagement.

“The way the Police put it is as if they want to retrieve arms from licensed groups that don’t belong to armed-bearing groups. But if it is only illegal arms, that is in order.    We are not denying them the right to suspect possible areas of crime nor their right to raid homes, but that should be carried out within the specifications of the law, ‘’ he stated.

Adeniran, however, demanded that those, whose home may be wrongly raided, be compensated when they seek redress.

“They raided Akala and other areas suspected of hosting criminals in Lagos. That is good for the system if the police do not abuse the process. The IGP should provide a mechanism that would ensure that those, whose homes may be wrongfully raided, are compensated. There should be a leeway for them to seek redress whenever their places are raided with wrong information,” he added.

On his part, a security expert, Mr. Folunsho Attah, said: “Raiding of suspected homes is a routine exercise of the Nigerian Police. On the IGP’s order on illegal arms, I think the Police at various state levels should do it with their discretion.    It must not be by harassment or coercion. I will highly advise that they allow the 21-day ultimatum to elapse before doing so. If a state Commissioner of Police is not careful, some of his men might abuse the process. The 21 days must elapse. The police should do it with utmost decency. ‘’

Niger Delta Amnesty model

Asked about the notion in some quarters that Niger Delta Amnesty model should have been adopted by the Police, Attah said the rate of arms proliferation in Nigeria demands stronger measures.

“The two situations cannot be compared because, during the period of militancy, arms proliferation was between militant groups, but these days there are many arms in the hands of miscreants and hoodlums as witnessed in the activities of Boko Haram, kidnappers, and hi-tech robbers among others. During the time of militancy, the crime level was not as high as it is today. What the police are doing in Nigeria now is in consonance with what is happening all over the world. In every situation, it is important to consider the realities on the ground.”

Notwithstanding Attah’s downplaying of the carrot and stick option, Saturday Vanguard gathered that it remains the most popular method of gun control.

Massive buyback program

For instance, Chris Weller in a piece entitled: These four countries Have Nearly Eliminated Gun Deaths: What the US Can Learn, narrated how the Australian government was forced by an alarming rate of violence to hold a forum on gun control.

He said: “A spate of violence in the 1980s and ’90s that culminated in a 1996 shooting that left 35 dead led Australian Prime Minister John Howard to convene an assembly to devise gun-control strategies.

“The group landed on a massive buyback program, costing hundreds of millions of dollars offset by a one-time tax increase that bought and destroyed more than 600,000 automatic and semiautomatic weapons and pump-action shotguns.

‘’Over the next few years, gun-death totals were cut nearly in half. Firearm suicides dropped to 0.8 per 100,000 people in 2006 from 2.2 in 1995, while firearm homicides dropped to 0.15 per 100,000 people in 2006 from 0.37 in 1995.”

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