The horror of the recent massacre of over 59 revellers at a Country Music Festival in Las Vegas, in the State of Nevada, United States of America, is still holding Americans and, indeed, the world firmly in its vicious grip. There is palpable disbelief at the level of wickedness the human mind is capable of. According to reports, one deranged mind, 64 year old Stephen Paddok, possibly acting alone, opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Hotel room on innocent citizens out to catch fun at a festival. At the last count, more than 500 others are battling to save their lives at various hospitals. Security agencies are as yet not able to decipher the motive behind that dastardly act as the man cowardly took his own life.
In the meantime, it has reawakened the once latent debate on gun control in that country where freedom to do almost anything on the face of the earth is guaranteed in the constitution. For the Americans, freedom must not be abridged no matter the circumstances. While the Democrats see what happened at Las Vegas as a wakeup call to revisit the gun control laws, the Republicans are cross with their political opponents for what they described as “politicising tragedy.”
Guns in the wrong hands is a source of worry not just in the United States but everywhere including Nigeria, a country that is having its own challenges occasioned by the wanton destruction of lives and property by the criminal- minded armed with deadly weapons they are happy to use with reckless abandon.
We note, sadly, the difference between America and developing countries, especially Nigeria, in the fight against gun-induced crime. While the security agencies in that land of the ‘Yankees’ are adept at fishing out anyone who uses guns in a criminal manner in no time, the case of Nigeria is the opposite as the nation’s security apparatus seem helpless as kidnappers, herdsmen, terrorists and armed robbers hold the nation hostage. Until recently, terrorists had almost balkanised the country, cutting off the North East from the rest of Nigeria. While that was on, gun totting street urchins operating as kidnappers made life a living hell for Nigerians some of whom were plucked from the comfort of their homes or in the streets. The rascals made travelling on some highways at certain hours of the day a risky adventure.
As if these were not bad enough, supposed herdsmen, armed with automatic rifles are having a field day invading communities, killing, maiming and raping women. Nigerians are asking, whatever happened to the laws against illegal possession of firearms? We are aware that it is against the law to be found in possession of a gun that is not licenced. Even then, one has to justify the acquisition of the gun which includes proving that one is in the right frame of mind and psychologically stable to be trusted with a gun before the licence can be issued.
That, as it seems, was before democracy became a preferred system of government. This whole proliferation of arms and ammunition took a different turn since 1999. Boko Haram is a political creation by some rough characters in politics who set them up, armed and used them to achieve the nefarious aim of putting their opponents in check. Until, like the Frankenstein monster, they became threats to even those that put them in place. Herdsmen and kidnappers, like Boko Haram, are weapons in the hands of politicians until the spun out of control. The issue is usually not who will give water to a monkey but who will retrieve the cup from it? That is the challenge of security agencies as they are confronted by armed criminals who have powerful politicians as paymasters. Worse, in our opinion, even those politicians can no longer exercise control over their own creation.
Gun control is a political issue in the United States. Actually, it was one of Donald Trump’s campaign promises to put guns in the hands of every American who needs one. In the aftermath of Las Vegas, security operatives are striving to unravel the mystery behind that madness. While that is on, politicians are debating the matter at a completely different level. It is not as if the security agencies in Nigeria cannot disarm and round up all those with guns illegally. Will they dare? Those take orders from the politicians. The Nigerian Custom Service recently seized caches of arms at the ports. Soon after, we started hearing about plea bargain, a process that will lead to providing a soft landing for the gunrunners who are, in our view, mere courier for their untouchable godfathers.
Notwithstanding, we think it is time to take a serious look at the proliferation of guns in the country. Nigeria must not wait until a Las Vegas scenario occurs before she realises that the matter is critical enough.