By Oludayo Tade

ZAMFARA State, the hotbed of banditry/terrorists in North-West Nigeria announced last week the deregulation of weapon ownership to willing and mentally healthy individuals to defend themselves against rampaging criminals from within Nigeria and their international collaborators.

This ‘self-defence’ call does not only trash the social contract between the government and the citizens which is that the former protects lives and property while the latter submits their power and obey them; it also queries the willingness of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria to live up to the constitutional oath of defending Nigerians and its territorial integrity from internal insurrection and external aggression.

It is sad that the last seven years have seen more ungoverned spaces in Nigeria taken over by internal and external criminals who wreak havoc and compete over communities to maintain dominance where Nigerians are forced to pay to stay alive. Civilians in these troubled communities also guarantee their own safety by supplying information to criminals because the Nigeria State has been irresponsible to protect them on time. This is sad but only the person who wears the shoe knows where it pinches. 

While there has been argument for and against such policy direction, this piece presents the principle of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) adopted in 2005 during the United Nations World Summit. Just like a father as the head of his household is saddled with the responsibility to provide and shield his family from harm, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria empowers the state (national or sub-national levels) to protect the citizens and residents within their geographical territories.

R2P came into existence when world leadership felt they had been irresponsible in World War 1, World War 2 and the Rwanda Genocide with over 20 million dead from the violence. R2P, according to International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty is “the idea that sovereign states have a responsibility to protect their own citizens from avoidable catastrophe – from mass murder and rape, from starvation – but that when they are unwilling or unable to do so, that responsibility must be borne by the broader community of states”.

With different forms of violence and insecurities facing Nigeria, has Nigeria with its federal security architecture demonstrated the responsibility to protect her citizens from banditry, terrorism, kidnapping, cattle rustling, among others? The realities on ground today answer in the negative. What can be responsible for the irresponsibility of Nigeria to protect her people? Responsibility to protect rests on three pillars.

One, it is the responsibility of a state to protect her citizens; two, the wider international community has the responsibility to encourage and assist individual states in meeting that responsibility; three, if a state is manifestly failing to protect its populations, the international community must be prepared to take appropriate collective action, in a timely and decisive manner and in accordance with the UN Charter.

States in the South-West demonstrated it by setting up Amotekun but because the approval resides with federal agency, the calibre of weapons approved for their use is insufficient in fighting the violent criminals they were set up to check. Criminals use AK-47 without taking approval from government and they use it wickedly, but legally backed security outfits cannot. Why is there politicisation of Nigeria’s national security?

Responsibility to protect rests on three responsibilities: responsibility to prevent (there must be political will to check transnational criminals from moving into Nigeria, poverty, unemployment and disarticulated youth population must be attended to); responsibility to react (how did Zamfara, Nigeria and other states react to the criminality of terrorists, criminal herders? With kid gloves?); and responsibility to rebuild (states must rebuild after every military intervention, but at what cost to the national budget?). 

While crimes are local, Nigeria sustains centralised approach to security against contemporary evolution of crimes. Some governors, like Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State, have made a case for international support and mercenaries but the approval will have to come from “almighty” Federal Government whose body language has been one of unwillingness.

We also have to clearly define the type of international support we are calling for going by our experience with the procurement of Super Tucano attack aircraft and the control imposed by the seller on how to use and not to use it. We have to decide to protect Nigeria. No external help will do that for us without taking other things in return. Apart from the cost of acquiring arms, it is dangerous to empower the poor populace with weapons because it may become their meal tickets like the bandits and the terrorists.

Sadly, there is no structure in place to do weapon control and tracking with the weapon audit revelation that 178,459 firearms could not be accounted for by the Nigeria Police. I have had the rare privilege of speaking with those who labour day and night to protect Nigeria and Nigerians. I mean those in the Armed Forces, Police, Nigerian Civil Defence Corps, Correction Service, Immigration, Nigeria Customs Service, the Department of State Service, among others, on why it is difficult to end terrorism, banditry, among others. I typically ask them whether they lack capacity or are just unwilling to end the insecurity?

Their responses point not to lack of capacity even with the weapons they have but to lack of political will to end it. Those who have been at the frontline spoke about “orders from above” which renders them incapacitated from advancing to conquer. Some told me about how their oga at the top instructs them to “defend and not attack”. How do you record victory if your instruction is only to wait to be attacked (sometimes killed) and the only thing you can do is to defend? 

Robert Greene in the 33 Laws of Power says wipe out your enemies totally. Our men are capable, majority are willing but without directives from “above” nothing will happen. Does this explain why Kaduna that has the presence of military formations gets attacked by bandits at will with no superior counter force from the Federal Government who controls and issues orders? What happens is the lamentation of Governor El-Rufai about how security agencies know the location of the attackers but he does not understand why they fail to take them out. There is nothing novel in what Zamfara government just pronounced. 

People in terror zones have always reacted in three ways: they flee from such places once they see that the state is unable to protect them. 

Some submit to the authority of bandits and terrorists and kidnappers agreeing to abide with the terms for their safety and the third category of responders are those who deploy self-help. When citizens cry of insecurity and they do not see the appropriate response from government, they enter self-defence mode and begin jungle justice. 

Government must take charge. Our insecurity is caused mainly by Nigerians with external collaborators. I salute our security men and women working hard to defend Nigeria despite poor welfare system and terrible conditions of service. I ask, can those who themselves are not secured secure others?

Can those who arm thugs for political gains withdraw the arms from their cronies after elections? Is there a possibility of reworking the ECOWAS protocol on free movement of persons which is partly compromising the security of our country? The United States of America will not compromise her people. She will go to any country to defend her people and that is why Americans love their country.

Rather than pronouncing a policy which will not work for poor civilians in Zamfara, the State government should join in amplifying the calls for State police. If Zamfara has its police system, it will not need to wait for the Inspector General to deploy one tactical squad located in Abuja to work and return to Abuja. We may seek external collaborations but I doubt if those who sell weapons will be happy for conflict to end. 

Our service Chiefs should depoliticise security and stand to defend the Constitution. Nigeria is what they swore to defend not political office holders. Our men are ready to defend Nigeria if they are given the ‘lawful order from above’. We can’t run gun-democracy and escalate the present state of insecurity by arming civilians.

States should support State policing. States geographically contiguous in northwest and northeast need to harmonize security policies to avoid trans-territorial backlashes. Our security agencies must collaborate to achieve national security. In the interim, we must empower and restructure policing.

We need to recruit more men because we lose our frontline fighters daily. We must take care of the families of fallen gallant security men and women so that their children will not carry arms against the country in future. We need to invest in technology and reduce moles in our security outfits. We created the problems and we only can decide when it should end. Nigerians must defend Nigeria!

Dr Tade, a criminologist, wrote via:


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