Obviously overwhelmed by the killings, abduction for ransom and raiding of communities by bandits and terrorists in Zamfara state, Governor Bello Mohammed Matawalle has decided to resort to self- help by encouraging the people of the state to take up arms and begin to defend themselves.
While admitting that it is alarmed by the act of terrorism, the state government said the directive was part of its commitment “to ensure adequate security and protection of lives and property of the citizenry in the state”.
The governor said that his administration’s call on citizens to arm themselves was part of the measures “to deal decisively with the situation”. Before now, the state government had adopted different measures including dialoguing with bandits, banning the use of motorcycles, shutting down petrol stations, markets; blocked phone and internet services, suspended some traditional rulers accused of aiding the bandits, organized series of prayers including sending people to Saudi Arabia to hold special prayers, among other measures.
These measures did very little to address the needless killings, hence this last desperate move to arm the citizens who are being called upon to be responsible for their own security. Assuming without conceding that this call is fitting in the circumstance, do the citizens have the means of procuring sophisticated weapons that can match those used by the bandits?
Perhaps in exasperation, the Zamfara government observed that this call on citizens to arm themselves for self-defence is the last resort. In any case, Bello Mohammed is not the first governor to advocate for self-defence. Before him, the taciturn Governor Aminu Bello Masari, whose state, Katsina is also in the eye of the storm made a similar call after he negotiated and offered amnesty to bandits that later reneged on their pledge to lay down arms. Benue’s Governor Samuel Ortom also urged residents to arm themselves as part of effort to curb banditry in his state.
The difference, however, is the fact that Governor Matawalle is taking it a notch higher by approving licences for gun ownership. Once people accede to this call, there will be huge circulation of small and light weapons with all the attendant consequences including the possibility of an anarchic situation.
We admit the fact that the state government has found itself in a catch-22 situation. But then, Zamfara governor, like other governors who have advocated self-defence, needs to know that in making such a call, he has failed the simple test of governance.
Section 14(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999 as amended), vested the responsibility of protecting the lives and property of the citizens on the government. In fact, protection of life and property is the single most important reason for a government’s existence. Perhaps this understanding informs the decision to name the governors as chief security officers of their respective states.
It is an admittance of failure for a government to shift this onerous responsibility to the citizens by asking them to defend themselves as witnessed in Zamfara. It is ironic that this same governor who is abdicating his responsibility of protecting lives and property in his state, a while ago shelled out humongous sums to acquire luxury vehicles for traditional rulers.
As a newspaper, we vehemently reject the notion that the state government is helpless. The government, we strongly believe, has all it takes, including the ability to seek for external assistance, in dealing with this terrible security situation and it must do that now, instead of looking for a convenient and utterly impracticable solution like asking residents to arm themselves.
More than anything else, Governor Matawalle must muster the political will to act decisively, including prosecuting all those accused of sabotaging the efforts towards finding a lasting solution to these intractable security challenges rocking the state.
We recall that some politicians and highly placed traditional rulers have been accused of allegedly aiding and abetting banditry in the state. The government also suspended some traditional rulers. However, months after their suspension, little or nothing is being heard about their prosecution. Why is the government dilly-dallying in prosecuting those accused of aiding banditry? Should they not be having their time at the courts now? How many banditry- related cases are being prosecuted in courts across the state?
Interestingly, the Zamfara state House of Assembly recently passed a bill for the prohibition and punishment for banditry, cattle rustling, cultism, kidnapping, terrorism and other incidental offences in the state. We urge Governor Matawalle to urgently sign the bill and ensure it takes full effect. Those found wanting should be punished without fear or favour.
In our considered opinion, asking citizens to arm themselves is not and cannot be the lasting solution to the senseless killings in the state. Rather, it will fuel another circle of killings. Even more than that, the decision has the potential of putting more guns in the wrong hands.