Arms bearing and the Nigerian reality, By Zainab Suleiman Okino
Those who oppose states or local governments having their own security arrangement will soon begin to accept the reality of its necessity.
On Saturday, June 25, a colleague sent some disturbing pictures and material to me for publishing. The images were reminiscent of a war situation – of people in long queues with a few salvaged belongings; babies strapped to their mothers’ backs; little ones managing to pace up with their parents; placard-carrying teenagers in staged, meek protest; overloaded Volkswagon golf cars, and other pictures of a subdued town that had just been deserted. Welcome to Mada town in Zamfara, though not officially at war, but whose residents, nevertheless, had to flee their ancestral homes because of incessant attacks and abduction of people of that town. A day after the Mada exodus, on June 26, the governor of the State, Bello Matawalle anounced some counter-banditry measures that have got Nigerians arguing over the propriety of the proposed measures.
For many parts of Zamfara State, the Mada story is their lot. We can at best sympathise with the people, but the governor of the State, whose responsibility it is to provide security and succour, is no longer at ease. He can no longer rely on Abuja’s assurances and arms provision steeped in controversy; he must have run out of patience in pacifying the bandits, who terrorise and enforce levies on innocent communities, maim and rape men and women. He came up with an answer many are not comfortable with, but as the saying goes, an unpalatable solution might be better than none.
As such, when the government of Zamfara State asked “individuals to prepare and obtain guns to defend themselves against the bandits and it (government) is ready to facilitate such, especially for farmers to secure basic weapons”, and claimed to have “concluded arrangements to distribute 500 forms to each of the 19 emirates” and establish a “centre for the collection of intelligence”, hell was let loose among Nigerians on its practicability. And the fact that it is a violation of the constitutional provision against arms bearing by just anyone in the country.
Sadly, what the governor thought was a good approach — that certain categories of people should carry arms to defend themselves and their communities — has been met with mixed reactions. For the Federal Government, as represented by the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Lucky Irabor and the commissioner of Police in the State, the governor has overstepped his boundaries, in a faulty federation that makes it impossible for the commissioner of Police to take orders from the governor of a State he is serving in, especially if that State is in a opposing political party.
The governor is in a catch-22 situation. Imagine the desperation and helplessness that must have driven the State governor to this level of action or statement, which has a lot of implications for personal safety, state and national security. Although his action can boomerang on his preeminent position as governor, all the acclaimed efforts of the Federal Government have not guaranteed security for the people. Supposedly in charge of the security of all, the Federal Government has failed, and the governor’s proposal is a vote of no confidence on the central Government’s unified security architecture. No matter how we try to couch it, this federation has failed, can no longer serve the purpose of its establishment, and has negated the spirit and purpose of government. Conversely, this glaring failure is indirectly a reason for the opposition to the Zamfara proposal, on which many of the tongue-in-cheek apologists of the failed federal state are anchoring their views.
Apart from the fact that self-help can leave all of us with bloody noses, the method that the governor is proposing to apply is akin to having communities take responsibility for their protection. Yet, these same politicians — including Matawalle — are averse to the devolution of powers, especially between the State and local governments, as an integral part of a holistic structural change that might make it impossible to come to share the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) money in Abuja monthly. Or allow local governments to function independently, obviously because they have no innovative or entrepreneurial skills to turn their states around.
Meanwhile, there is a semblance of ‘state police’ in almost all the states of the federation, where all sorts of vigilante groups exist, which sometimes organise, defend, and protect these governors’ interests, especially at critical periods of electioneering campaigns and election rigging. There is Hisbah in Kano; they apprehend people who run foul of the law and criminals. There are LASTMA, LAWMA, KAI and even a powerful non-state actor, Olumo’s group in Lagos; groups that are feared and respected more than the police.
What is therefore the role of political leaders? Just to live in luxury, drive about in posh cars, build expensive mansions, and travel to exotic destinations around the world? So, in one breath, governors do not want powers devolved and local government autonomy, yet the Zamfara governor is proposing to “distribute 500 forms to each of the emirates in the state for those willing to obtain guns to defend themselves”. This may just be the beginning of the implementation of state-controlled policing by other means.
Matawalle’s proposal is not such a call to anarchy, as it is a call for introspection, for a revision of a system of government that is clearly not serving anyone well; a system that has failed in its core mandates of providing welfare, security, and the protection of lives and property of citizens. Unfortunately, the supposed solution is coming rather late and is almost incapable of nipping banditry in the bud, at a time it has become a transactional and thriving industry, and at a time Zamfara people are deserting their homes, having run short of means of paying ransom to abductors. Besides, how would the people acquire the suggested arms when they cannot even meet their basic needs?
Matawalle’s recipe also reminds us of the South-West security outfit, Amotekun, which though controversial at inception, has since been modified to work with the police to achieve more successes in terms of security, and is not doing badly. So far, the South-West is about the “safest” part of the country, not only because of Amotekun, but also because the South-West elites are proactive and try to get to the root of disturbing issues before they become hydra-headed. What is Amotekun, if not a form of community policing?
As it was with the introduction of Amotekun, with a bit of modification and little resistance from the Federal Government, so shall state and community police come to stay, in piecemeal in the country, without necessarily calling it by its name. It might just be the sensible way out of our security quagmire. Those who oppose states or local governments having their own security arrangement will soon begin to accept the reality of its necessity.
I was once on a trip to Gembu in Sardauna Local Government of Taraba State. One of our journalist-hosts told us of how it used to take days for people to travel from that part of the country to their capital, Yola, when Taraba was still under the old Gongola State. He also said that it would take just about 15 minutes to get to Cameroon from Gembu, whereas it took us more than seven hours to travel from Jalingo, the capital of Taraba State to the same Gembu. Notwithstanding the historical efforts made by the late Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello, in the plebiscite leading to the ceding of that part of Taraba to Nigeria, I felt it for the people of Sardauna Local Government, who are almost cut off from the Nigerian civilisation, because of its hard-to reach location.
In an event of conflict in that area, as it happened recently, not even the State government in Jalingo can easily mobilise to their rescue. Does it then make sense for Nigerian citizens there to continue to depend on, not even Jalingo, but Abuja for their protection?
Despite all odds, I salute the courage of Governor Matawalle for the reality check and for localising an intractable challenge that has almost consumed Zamfara State. He has set the ball rolling so to say, but the task is more daunting than it seems. However, once there is the will, there will always be a way. If this had happened earlier, the people of Mada, referred to above would not have deserted their town. With support from the State, they would have secured themselves and their town.