By Rotimi Fasan
In the recently concluded three-part series on the candidacy of the Labour Party presidential aspirant, Peter Obi, I highlighted the problem posed by our unitary form of government that is disguised as federalism, as the main obstacle that a Nigerian president in the post-Muhammadu Buhari era must surmount to be successful.
This form of federalism, warped, cumbersome and anti-progress, is bound to destroy the best effort of any potentially successful Nigerian leader, if it does not lead to the destruction of Nigeria as a state. The truth of that observation is again manifest in the declaration of the Ondo State governor, Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu, to arm Amotekun, the regional security outfit of the South-West states that has had its most successful operation in Ondo State.
Governor Akeredolu had before now applied to the Federal Government for but failed to obtain license for operatives of Amotekun to bear arm. But in a recent statement released by the office of the governor in Akure, Arakunrin Akeredolu observed that the Zamfara State’s counterpart of Amotekun had been granted license to carry arms.
This local security body was established to secure lives and property in the wake of the murderous activities of terrorists that had taken the people back to a Hobbesian state of insecurity. Akeredolu in his statement adduced and alluded to pictorial evidence for his claim. While a spokesperson for the Commissioner of Police in Zamfara was quick to deny that the command had, indeed, granted the state-run security organisation license, his explanation has been far more befuddling than clarifying.
According to him, the operatives seen in the pictures referenced by Governor Akeredolu were not being or had not been granted license to bear arm. Rather, he said, they were only being trained in the handling of arms as they are by duty required to combat arms-bearing bandits. What is the logic in this spokespersons statement, if one may ask?
What is the sense in training to handle weapons, namely: guns and related arms, if the deployment of these operatives will not involve the use of arms? Are they going to confront not just armed but blood-thirsty opponents with their bare hands? What could be propelling that kind of action- a suicidal wish?
This government mouthpiece, so-called spokesman, has been sent on a fool’s errand, deployed to lie by a government that has no reason to be apologetic, placed as it is in a bad place by the misconceived policies of a central government that is determined to hide in plain sight the evidence before the eyes of an observing world.
This, while playing favourites with a Nigerian people supposedly united under one nation but governed under separate laws. Talks in the manner of the Zamfara State’s police spokesperson are a typical case of government magic- “dem turn blue to black…turn electric to candle”, as Fela would have described it.
Let’s get a few things straight about the Zamfara situation, the failed-state scenario in Katsina as well as in other Northern states, in order to be clear about the point I am driving at. It is no secret that Zamfara and Katsina states are the hotbeds of bandit activities among other North-West/North-Central states like Kebbi, Jigawa, Niger and Kaduna.
The Zamfara situation was so lawless that even the state governor at a time was said to be spending more time in Abuja than in his state. It was a two-government state like Katsina where the elected government of Bello Matawale and Aminu Masari share power with the defacto authority of bandits resident in the forests.
The dejure governments of these states had called on Abuja to come to their rescue to no avail. Abuja indeed could not be expected to take any step as it was itself under the outlaw ministration of an admixture of Boko Haram and bandit elements. Some of the bandits roaming the wilds of Zamfara are neck-deep in illegal mining of gold among other precious metals.
They keep the proceeds from their loot just as the state government is said to do its own without caring a jot about what Abuja thinks. The bandits are masters of their own fate and have always operated unhindered. It was in this state of utter frustration and helplessness, where nobody could rein in the bandits that had the ears of community heads and traditional rulers and were more respected and feared than the government represented by Gusau, that Governor Matawale called on the citizens of the state to acquire arms to protect themselves.
It was a unilateral call that went into effect in June, just three months ago. It flew in the face of a 2019 Executive Order issued by President Muhammadu Buhari, banning the possession of arms by so-called non-state actors. While Abuja made that Order to forestall moves by states threatening to arm their people against armed invaders disguised as pastoralists, Matawale’s call came without any care as to what Abuja made of it.
And Abuja wisely looked away but Nigerans, especially states in the South that had for years been in the vanguard of calls for state-run police, took notice. Bello Matawale had by his proclamation that had the effect of a decree put into operation what Southern-state governors needed to but had been too squeamish to do for years. It was part of the obstacle test they had had to overcome even to set up their security outfits in the face of the terror activities of so-called herders.
Yet Bello Matawale was not the first to make that call for private ownership of arms on a mass scale. Aminu Masari, governor of Katsina State, had shortly before Matawale made a similar call on citizens of his state. He had appealed for help from Abuja and tried the appeasement option, as had others like Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State, without meaningful success. Eventually, it was his call to the people to defend themselves that caught the attention of the world.
Up till the time he made that call and even now, people in Katsina as well as Zamfara are still being marched by bandits right from their homes into the forest. Less than a week ago, about 15 worshippers in a mosque were murdered in cold blood by the selfsame bandits. In Zamfara, Katsina and several states in the North, the old saying that an English man’s home is his castle no longer holds true.
Now that terror has been exported to other parts in the country, as is the situation in Ondo State, is there any point in any state or Abuja for that matter insisting that local security operatives should not carry arms? What type of federalism permits that where the centre has failed roundly? Why shouldn’t Zamfarans bear arms? Why shouldn’t Ondo?