THE Minister of Defence, Major-General Bashir Magashi (retd) has continued to face a barrage of criticisms over his suggestion while reacting to the recent kidnap of students in Kagara, Niger State, that Nigerians should defend themselves against bandits. The minister’s statement can literally be interpreted to be a call on the people to carry firearms and weapons to defend themselves, an official endorsement of self-defense.
No doubt, the weighty proclamation has many implications and could be disturbing to the diplomatic world, foreign investors, and the government’s drive at tackling insecurity. The right to self-defense 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.
The Nigerian Constitution entrusts the government with the obligation of providing welfare and security for the citizens. This responsibility functions as a form of the social contract, whereby individuals have consented either explicitly or tacitly to surrender some of their freedoms by submitting to a central authority in exchange for the protection of their rights for the maintenance of social order.
English philosopher and political theorist, John Locke in his Two Treatises of Government, argues that the failure of social contract manifests when a government fails to discharge its basic duty of protecting and securing lives, property, and the right to govern. Succinctly put, the inability of successive governments in Nigeria to address the issues of security and welfare as they ought to have done is seen as a failure in the maintenance of social order. To situate Locke’s theory within the suggestion by the defense minister is a clear demonstration of a default as the country has surrendered to the superior power of insurgency that is fast threatening our corporate existence.
We need answers to these questions for a better appreciation of the debacle we have found ourselves in: Is the minister admitting that our security operatives have been completely overwhelmed by bandits? Is he advocating for individual arms for defenseless Nigerians who are being killed daily? Is he encouraging our untrained and unarmed citizens to embark on a suicidal mission against heavily-armed terrorists?
Is the minister justifying the failure of the state, through the government, to perform its contractual and statutory duties to the citizens? Whichever way we may want to look at the questions, what can easily be inferred is that of hopelessness on the part of government based on the minister’s admission.
Leaders worth their onions are not allowed to give 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. Based on this logic, if the minister now calls on the people to rise up and defend themselves due to the inability of the state to live up to expectations, it means that being an integral part of the government, he is throwing up his hands in despair, which suggests that the state is either no longer interested or incapable of protecting the people. The defense minister’s utterance can imply that whoever wants to live should find other means of protection in a country where the purchase and carrying of firearms are largely restricted.
The twist of words by many public officials has increasingly become worrisome and a pointer to the fact that those in government may actually be part of the problem, but prefer to look the other way round. For instance, Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, was furious when he was challenged, having earlier admitted to paying killer herdsmen to stop killings in Southern Kaduna, but later recanted that he would never negotiate with the bandits.
Bauchi State governor, Senator Bala Mohammed, had encouraged herders to protect themselves by bearing AK-47 guns but later claimed that he was quoted out of context, just as the Plateau State governor, Simon Lalong, maintained that a number of farmers to bear arms for self-help, to give the impression that farmers and herders are both guilty of arms-bearing.
The positions of Magashi, El-Rufai and Mohammed, and other advocates are completely different from those canvassed by the likes of former Chief of Army Staff and Minister of Defence, Lieutenant-General Theophilus Danjuma (retd), who had called for self-defense against herders attacks having accused the armed forces of compromising their integrity and colluding with herdsmen, saying that “our armed forces are not neutral”.
According to him: “If you are depending on the armed forces to stop the killings, you will all die one by one”. Danjuma had stated that security agencies were complicit in the orgy of killings because of the recurring habits by soldiers and security agents, who often disappear and leave the people to fate whenever they are under attack.
In a similar vein, the Catholic Bishops of the Owerri Ecclesiastical Province joined the call for the citizens to defend themselves against bandits in every guise in view of the “serious doubts on the willingness and capability of Nigeria’s security outfits to rise up to their constitutional responsibility”. The Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, had equally suggested that the Federal Government should grant licenses to responsible citizens to carry sophisticated weapons to deter criminals from attacking innocent and helpless Nigerians, just as former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, lamented that the federal security architecture, as currently organized and operated, cannot give an assurance of security, and warned that “our destiny is in our own hands”.
The government continues to fail in securing the nation due to weak political will to stem insecurity, rabid sectionalism in appointments into key security positions, and poor coordination and synergy among the agencies. A country with a manifestation of divided military and security forces is certainly heading towards implosion if something radical is not done to abate the drift.
The call for self-help through arms-bearing is diversionary, misplaced, and defeatist. The way forward is to embrace state and community policing as well as empowering vigilante and neighborhood watch outfits that would strengthen intelligence and boost grassroots security, as obtainable in other climes. More importantly, we need to stop our politicians and leaders from causing further damage by giving the poisonous antidote to solving nagging national problems in the name of self-defense.