By Josef Omorotionmwan
LIKE America, like Nigeria. Here, we are looking at two countries that have many things in common. Both of them were at various times in their early development faced with bitter civil wars, which had the concomitant effect of leaving a proliferation of guns on their trails.
Because of the debilitating effects of guns in society, both countries have always welcomed, with enthusiasm, any measure at gun control. This partly explains the euphoria and immense co-operation that have greeted, in large measures, the recent call by the police authorities on Nigerians to surrender the guns in their possession.
Like Nigeria, like other ethnic-cleansing nations. On the other hand, Nigeria is similarly situated with many countries of the world that have hidden under the guise of gun control to dispossess some citizens of their guns, only to round them up in their millions and exterminate them. This forms the basis on which there is deep apprehension in some quarters about the current gun control measures in Nigeria.
Again, the fears here are genuine; and they must be properly addressed in the course of the gun control exercise.
When push comes to shove, what works for the smaller nations may not work for the bigger ones. For instance, Switzerland issues every household with a gun and trains every adult on weapons handling. Yet, it has the lowest gun-related crime rate in the world.
Apparently, America got it wrong when it reckoned that the cure for violence is more violence. What has today gone awry in America started as a simple humane gesture. After the civil war, there were guns everywhere. The guns were being used to torment and kill innocent citizens. To the government of the time, if a man must die, he must be seen to have made efforts to defend himself instead of being plucked off like foliage. They then came up with the Second Amendment to the American Constitution, which Amendment was ratified in 1791. It provides, “… The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”.
Essentially, the right to bear arms is the right to kill. What was intended for self-defence soon blossomed into an instrument of mass destruction.
Every situation reminds us of the tooth-paste, which once you press out of the tube, cannot be put back. Once gun-proliferation started, there was no stopping it. The people watched helplessly as an attempted simple defence mechanism grew out of hand with the result that today, it is no news in America that a man is gunned down at the street corner. The only issues that today struggle for the headlines are the mass killings that are racially motivated.
Nigeria has followed the American pattern very closely. She has not been the same after the end of the Civil War in 1970. In large measures, the guns that entered into wrong hands during the war easily formed the nucleus of what we have today in the forms of armed robberies, assassination, kidnappings and the rest. Gun control efforts have not been too successful, either; but they are continuing. What is on the mind of the administration?
From the lessons of history, it is also clear to many Nigerians that countries similarly situated with Nigeria have hidden under their gun control laws to exterminate undesired elements. A few of these counties will do.
In 1911, Turkey promulgated gun control laws under which citizens were dispossessed of their guns. Between 1915 and 1917, 1.5 million Armenian Christians were slaughtered; and their cities were taken over by Muslims while their churches were converted to Mosques.
In 1929, the Soviet Union introduced some gun control measures. Between 1929 and 1953, about 20 million defenceless dissidents were rounded up and sent to the gallows.
In 1938, Germany introduced gun control measures. Between 1939 and 1953, the Nazis regime rounded up about 13 million defenceless Jews and others and exterminated them.
The Cambodian Authorities introduced their gun control laws in 1956. During the period 1975-1977, one million educated people unable to defend themselves were rounded up and slaughtered like chickens.
We have deliberately restricted this narrative to the 20th Century; and there are indications that during the period, not less than 56 million people have been dispatched to their early graves with the instrumentality of gun control.
True, Nigeria needs gun control. We cannot continue to exist in this gun-dominated society where life can be cut short at the least prompting. Life is too precious to be wasted. Even at that, this still represents the less of two evils.
On the other hand, for the current gun control efforts to be successful they must not only be transparent; but they must also be seen to be transparent. Instead of any form of double standard, the rule of engagement must be the same. The Fulani herdsmen, the militants of the Niger Delta and, indeed, every Nigerian, must come under the laws. It can’t be done otherwise.
There must be an impartial and unbiased umpire, probably a committee of eminent Nigerians, to enforce compliance. This is one high-risk area where we cannot leave our fate in the hands of the Northern-dominated Security apparatus as currently constituted.
Clearly, no matter how fast you want to run, you cannot run faster than your shadows. It is also true that no matter how objective a man wants to be, he cannot see anything other than with his own eyes. Nobody is out here to question the Hausa/Fulani hegemony. But the truth must be told that the issue facing us at this late hour is not such that we should be separating a fight as if we are helping one side. Enough is more than enough!
This is the hour of decision. In a situation where we lack enough wisdom to do, wisdom consists in not doing at all. If our gun control efforts are not geared towards the ends of safety and security as commanded by our Constitution, then, let’s abandon them and remain the way we are!