GUNS

Guns For Nigerians! Why Not?

2 months ago
8 mins read

The debates around the desirability or otherwise of liberalization of gun ownership in Nigeria has gained traction now, no thanks to the unprecedented killings by armed non-state actors in Nigeria. In the last count, between 2015 and 2023, over 30,000 citizens were killed by terrorists, kidnappers and armed non-state actors. In a single night on last year’s Christmas Eve, over 200 Plateau State natives were killed by armed herders.

Also, the national conversations around the issue of liberal gun licensing regime in Nigeria have become popular given the incapacity or unwillingness of the Nigerian police and other law enforcement agents, to check the unprecedented terror attacks, kidnappings, armed robberies, and manifestation of crimes and criminality. For thirteen years running, the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria have embarked on a massive counter-terror war against boko haram, and ISWAP terrorists and there is no end in sight. These are exactly the collective energizer that gave rise to the clamour for guns to be made easily available to law-abiding and mentally sound Nigerians.

Amongst the voices that have enlisted in the vigourous debates is, the Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Lateef Lagbaja who opposed the call for gun ownership by Nigerians as a way of controlling the killings of citizens.

The Inspector General of Police Kayode Egbetokun is also one of those key law enforcement stakeholders that kicked against the advocacy. Many Nigerians are however at a loss as to why anyone wouldn’t want citizens to have the capacity to defend their right to life which if denied, would have no legal remedy.

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However, more voices in support have been added since the call was made by the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) in 2021.

On 19 February 2021, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria had called on the then President Muhammadu Buhari-led government to liberalize access to gun licences for law-abiding Nigerians.

According to HURIWA, this will enable the citizens to defend themselves from those who are out to cut short their lives or kidnap them for ransom.

The rights group said it would be sending a letter to the National Assembly on the matter, where it will request that gun licensing be recognized as a human right.

The human rights group pointed out that the move has become imperative following what it described as the toxic and dangerous climate of fear and violence that Nigerian citizens are now exposed to.

HURIWA stated this during a press conference addressed by its National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko and its Secretary, Onwughalu Queen in Abuja on Friday where it also called on the Nigerian military to end its current operations in Orlu, Imo State and apply political resolution mechanisms to bring the situation under control.

According to HURIWA, the decision of the military to embark on the operation in Orlu should be reconsidered, adding that the military must not rely on hearsay or rumours to carry out such operations.

The group called on governors from the South East and other political leaders from the region to wake up and play their constitutional role of protecting the lives and property of the good people of Nigeria.

“The military operations in Orlu could not have been necessary if the civilian authority in Imo State was responsible and responsive to their constitutional duties of protecting the people,” HURIWA quipped.

The human rights group also called on the leadership and operatives of the Eastern Security Network, ESN, to adhere strictly to the principles of rule of law and work to ensure that their operations are recognised by the laws to be passed by the State Houses of Assembly in the South East of Nigeria.

The military operation in Orlu needs to end or be carried out in an open, transparent, and accountable manner in such ways that the lives of residents of any part of Imo State are not endangered.

HURIWA asked the military to allow credible civil rights bodies to visit Orlu and assess the extent of damage and to interview the residents so as to stop the spread of information that may not even tally with realities on the ground.

The group further called on political leadership in the South East to, without further delay, set up armed vigilante groups such as Amotekun in the South West to protect the people of the region.

HURIWA said the call for a lawfully established security outfit has become necessary because the Federal Government has no workable ideas on how to tackle insecurity in the country.

According to HURIWA, government officials are now speaking at cross purposes and making utterances that are in contrast with the law of the land.

The group recalled that the country’s minister of defence, Maj. Gen. Bashir Magashi, Rtd., had during the week asked the citizens to protect themselves, wondering why such comments should come from an official of a government that has so far failed to stop the circulation of “sophisticated weapons of mass destruction that are wielded by terrorists and Fulani herdsmen.

HURIWA pointed out that the minister’s comment may be interpreted to say that all the security outfits in the country have collapsed.

One of the drawbacks to the realisation of this popular demand for liberal gun ownership in the Country, is the extant legal provisions that make it very cumbersome to obtain a licence and then the limitation in the category of guns that licensees are to bear.

THE FIREARMS CONTROL ACT NO. 32 OF 1959 FEDERATION OF NIGERIA, 2004. CAP. F28 LAWS OF THE Federation is the applicable law for now on that much vexed topic.

This Act has been responsible for the control of firearms in Nigeria for the last sixty-seven years. The Act provides that no person shall have in his possession or under his control, any firearm or ammunition except such person who has a license from the President or the Inspector General of Police.

It states further that no licence or permit to carry firearms should be granted to the following people:

1. Applicants under the age of 17;

2. Persons who are of unsound mind;

3. Persons not fit to have possession of the firearm in question on account of defective eyesight; and

4. Persons of intemperate habits or anyone who has been convicted of an offence involving violence or the threat of violence during the previous five years.

Except for licensed firearm dealers, it is unlawful for anyone to buy or sell firearms or ammunition. The same goes for firearm manufacturing, only the Inspector-General of police can grant a license to make and repair firearms in Nigeria. However, such persons must be duly documented and registered.

Anyone who has in their possession unlicensed firearms; who imports ammunition other than through prescribed ports or who manufactures, assembles, or repairs firearms and ammunition unlawfully shall be liable to a minimum sentence of ten years imprisonment[1].

Exports of firearms or Personal firearms are also prohibited including shotguns other than automatic and semi-automatic shotguns; shotguns provided with any kind of mechanical reloading device; sporting rifles, air guns, air rifles or air killers of the captive bolt type. Dane guns, flint-lock guns, and cap guns are also included in the list. Pistols, and humane

Constitutional scholars have observed that one of the most important responsibilities of the government is the safeguarding of lives and properties, provided under Section 14 (2) (b) of the 1999 Constitution as paramount is this responsibility that the entire progress of any society depends on it.

Furthermore, the Grund Norm guarantees every citizen the right to life under Section 33 (1). It can be validly argued, says legal pundits, that beneath the right to life is the right to protect your life from harm or unlawful attack with reasonable force.

Therefore Section 33 (2) (a) gives private citizens the authority to use reasonable force, unlawful violence or for the defence of property. This is the right to self-defence of most. So the political Constitution amended economic, social and to defend themselves from unlawful violence or for the defence of property. This is the right to self-defence.

The above law notwithstanding, precisely on 4th January 2024, the lawmaker representing Delta North senatorial district, Ned Nwoko, reportedly called for the introduction of a bill that allows civilians to own and carry firearms.

He noted that the bill was important following the security challenges, particularly the recent Plateau killings of December 24, where no less than 100 civilians were killed in the attack.

He said, “An amendment bill allowing civilian firearm ownership must be introduced in the Senate.

“My bill on self-defense and firearms ownership regulation, currently listed in the Senate awaiting its first reading, deals with this pressing issue.

“I am pleased that the topic has gained national significance, sparking diverse opinions and discussions that predominantly fall into two camps – one in opposition and the other in support.”

Senator Nwoko added, “It’s evident that the existing security measures have not been sufficient in safeguarding our communities.

“Allowing law-abiding citizens to possess firearms could potentially provide a sense of security and a means to protect themselves and their families from immediate threats.”

The Delta lawmaker noted that to avoid sabotage and abuse, several streams of control must be exercised to ensure control.

He said, “However, it is crucial to emphasise that the initiative to permit firearm ownership is accompanied by stringent regulations and comprehensive training.

“This approach ensures that firearms are in the hands of responsible individuals who understand the gravity of such ownership and are equipped to handle these weapons safely.

“The illegal smuggling of arms is a significant concern due to the prohibition on bearing arms. Introducing licensed dealerships for firearms could potentially address this issue by creating a regulated avenue for legal firearm acquisition.”

He added, “This move not only seeks to curtail illegal arms trafficking but also provides an opportunity for generating income through licensing fees and taxes imposed on these dealerships.

“The revenue generated from licensing fees and taxes on firearm dealerships could be allocated towards bolstering law enforcement agencies, improving security infrastructure, and implementing initiatives aimed at addressing the root causes of insecurity.”

The law maker, Mr. Nwoko explained that the qualifications for firearm ownership must involve obtaining references from four medical doctors affirming mental soundness, endorsement from the local government chairman for community validation, a traditional leader’s (such as the king) guarantor role emphasising cultural trust, and confirmation by the Divisional Police Officer to verify the absence of criminal involvement.

He stated, “These requirements aim to ensure a comprehensive vetting process, emphasising mental fitness, community support, cultural ties, and a clean record for responsible firearm ownership.

“Proposed firearms for civilian ownership include single and double-barrel shotguns, pistols with a maximum capacity of six rounds, pump-action shotguns, and any other types suggested by the Ministry of Defence.

“This selection offers diverse options suitable for self-defense while emphasising control, regulation, and expert recommendations to ensure responsible ownership and mitigate potential risks associated with firearm possession.

“Nonetheless, this approach necessitates a meticulous regulatory framework and oversight to prevent any adverse consequences and prioritize public safety above all else.”

This is not the first instance where a political figure is championing for Nigeria’s right to bear arms.

The House of Representatives Majority Leader, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, in 2022, said Nigerians must be allowed to take up arms and defend themselves against terrorists.

The then Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, in 2020 also reiterated his appeal to the Federal Government to allow responsible Nigerians bear arms to defend themselves.

“If the bandits, terrorists and criminals know that where they are visiting to attack or destroy property and steal, the people around there have sophisticated weapons like they have, they will caution themselves,” he said in a media briefing.

Similarly, the Katsina state governor is in support of liberal firearms licencing regime in the Country.

Since the voice of the people is the voice of God, I’m convinced that the time has come for the National Assembly and the president alongside the cabinet to collectively consider supporting a national legislation as proposed by Senator Ned Nwoko. This is because, it is only in a Banana Republic will armed non state actors be permitted to continuously massacre citizens even as the publicly funded armed security forces are not able to crush these killers and/or bring then to justice. A stitch in time, saves nine.

 

Emmanuel Onwubiko is the head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and was National Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria.

EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO

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