The seeming inability of the government, at all levels, to curb insecurity in the country is forcing Nigerians to resort to self-help. Many Nigerians, including some very prominent, traumatized by the worsening security challenges, are today advocating self-defence as a counter-force.
The right to self-defence is a natural reaction to a life-threatening situation. It is the authority to prevent being a victim of force through the use of a sufficient level of counteracting violence. It is an inherent right to use force in response to an armed attack.
Reports abound around the country of criminal elements visiting mayhem and violence on unarmed civil populace causing death and destruction. There have been allegations of helplessness or even connivance on the part of security agencies that prompted the serving Defence Minister, Bashir Magashi to state that the people have a right to defend themselves. Before him, his predecessor in office and former Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen TY Danjuma, had actually accused the security agencies of acting hand- in- glove with the terrorists. More recently, former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom and Emir of Muri in Taraba State, Abbas Tafida have added their voices to the call on the people to organize and defend themselves against any form of attack.
In February this year, the Defence minister told Nigerians, “Don’t be a coward, defend yourself against bandits. It is the responsibility of everybody to keep alert and to find safety when necessary. But we shouldn’t be cowards. At times, the bandits will only come with about three rounds of ammunition, when they fire shots everybody runs”.
Nigerians interpreted the minister’s remarks as an admission that the government has failed in its responsibility to ensure the security and wellbeing of the people. In March 2018, Gen Danjuma, at the convocation of the Taraba State University, had reportedly said, “Everyone must rise up…I ask every one of you Nigerians to be alert and defend your country, defend your territory because you have nowhere else to go….” In June this year, at an event in Abeokuta, former President Olusegun Obasanjo argued that the federal security architecture as organised and operated by the present government cannot give any individual or group hope, let alone assurance of security within Nigeria.”
He warned that, “Our destiny is in our own hands” and therefore suggested that Nigerians must take initiative and spearhead actions that would “devolve more security responsibility on the community, local and state authorities.”
Most recently, the Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom, on his part, suggested that the federal government should grant licences to responsible citizens to carry sophisticated weapons such as AK-47 in order to deter criminals from attacking innocent and helpless Nigerians.
The emir of Muri, on his part spoke in the same vein when he issued a 30-day ultimatum to herders terrorising residents in his emirate to vacate the forests in the state. He warned that the people would be forced to take the law into their own hands to deal with the situation.
In May, some Yoruba leaders advocated self-defence among Southwest residents. And last month, some Christian stakeholders, including security experts, met in Abuja where they urged Christians to go beyond prayers and explore their rights to self-defence in tackling insecurity in the country. They argued that Article 51 of the UN charter is clear about the inherent right of the individual and collective to self-defence.
Amid these calls for the people to defend themselves, this newspaper is compelled to refer to the constitutional responsibility of the government to guarantee the security and wellbeing of the citizens. This function of the state is recognised as a social contract where the people have consented to a central authority in exchange for the protection of their rights, security and maintenance of social order.
We admit that insecurity is, indeed, major challenge facing the nation today. However, we are worried about the danger in advocating that Nigerians should defend themselves against criminals. One can only imagine a situation where everyone is armed. The chances are that in no time, we will all end up dead.
We urge the government to rise up and act decisively, put measures in place so as to end kidnapping, banditry and all other forms of criminality plaguing the country. The government controls the coercive instruments of state. To that extent, there ought to be no excuses for inaction in the face of inescapable challenges of governance, because they are in office to solve problems and not to explain their failure in doing so.
In our considered opinion, it is imperative that the government intensifies efforts to ensure security of lives and property at all times. For an administration that came into office with the mantra of security as one of its cardinal tenets, this expectation from the people is peculiarly urgent.