With the outburst of Katsina State governor, Aminu Bello Masari last week, that citizens should take up arms and face their aggressors, there is no better time to rethink the laws governing the use of arms in the country particularly, light weapons. Although Masari specifically stated that citizens should make use of arms permitted under the law to confront criminals terrorising the state, I make bold to conclude that it is illogical to face heavily armed criminals under whatever guise with primitive arms. The Katsina State government went further to suggest that instead of paying ransoms to hostage-takers, empowering citizens with arms and ammunitions would have prevented repeated successful attacks.
The suggestion is not new and it is not in any way different from what some lawmakers have proposed in the National Assembly. In 2018, a former senator from Zamfara Central, Kabir Marafa, while contributing to a debate at the Senate on the insecurity across Nigeria, called for the legalisation of guns and firearms to enable citizens to defend themselves.
“My point is, people cannot be slaughtered in their houses helplessly. Maybe what we need to do is to liberalise gun control. Let everybody own a gun so that when you are coming to my house, you will know that I have my gun while you are coming with yours,” Marafa said in July 2018.
In 2019, another lawmaker, member of the House of Representatives from Delta State, Ossai Nicholas Ossai, sponsored a bill to allow worshippers at religious places to possess firearms. The Bill titled “An Act to Establish Dangerous Weapons, To Provide for the Prohibitions of Possession of Dangerous Weapons Intended to be Used for Unlawful Purposes and Related Matters”
Section 2 of the proposed law, states that this “Act does not apply to the following activities: “possession of dangerous weapons in pursuit of any lawful employment, duty or activity; possession of dangerous weapons during the participation in any religious or cultural activities,or lawful sport, recreation, or entertainment; or legitimate or lawful collection, display or exhibition of weapons”.
Also, more recently, a former minority whip of the House of Representatives and Member representing Chikun/Kajuru federal constituency of Kaduna State, Umar Yakubu Barde, has urged the federal government to lift the ban on the use of firearms in the country and allow individuals to possess the license to bear arms for self-defense.
“On the issue of use arms, I think the time has come, we should legalise guns, so that if you know that I have a gun and you’re coming to attack me, all I need is to have better training over you, you have AK-47 and I also have AK-47, if I have better training than you, I will kill you,” Barde stated.
Although, these positions seem to be pondering towards an age-long conspiracy theory that arms and ammunition companies fuelling insecurity to make sales, there is no doubt that there is a serious security threat in the country with the proliferation of arms and the security agencies are facing an entirely new challenge. This may indeed necessitate that government reviews the Fire Arms Act to enable Nigerians to have more access to weapons to protect themselves.
The conspiracy theory argument is as old as the history of modern crisis itself, however, the ongoing amendments to the Fire Arms Act in the House seek to allow local production of fire arms may just puncture the argument. The bill provides for stiffer penalties for illegal possession of firearms.
Adeogun argued that Nigeria could afford to ignore the multibillion-dollar sector, noting the bill will amend sections restricting private entities from the sector.
“We will be better off as a nation if (military-backed) local businesses are allowed to meet the needs of our security forces through the local production of light weapons,” Mr Adeogun said.
According to the bill, proposed requirements for the use of arms include psychological evaluation and vision quality certificates from a government hospital, not more than six months, police clearance certificate, not more than twelve months, rifle club membership of at least six months.
Also, a firearms proficiency certificate issued by the club and a National Identification Number issued by the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC).
In a similar amendment by the Senate, firearms of military grades but are serviceable, can be deployed for use by Civilian Joint Task Force and other Registered Vigilantes, under the approval and supervision of the Office of the National Security Adviser.
If Governor Masari’s advice is anything to be taken seriously, it is about time for the government to liberalise the use of light weapons and the era of criminals monopolising the use of these weapons should be a thing of the past.
This is about the only way the government can control the use of arms, curb illicit importation, trade and also make the people account for the use of the weapons in their possession.