The Minister of Defence, Major-Gen. Bashir Magashi (retd), faced barrage of criticisms over his proclamation that Nigerians should defend themselves against bandits while reacting to the kidnap of students in Kagara, Niger state. The minister’s statement can literarily be interpreted to be a clarion call on Nigerians to carry fire arms and weapons to defend themselves and a form of official endorsement of self-defence. No doubt, the statement has many implications and could be disturbing to the diplomatic world, investors and the sincerity of government in tackling insecurity.
The constitution entrusts the government with the obligation of providing welfare and security for the citizens. This is a form of social contract whereby individuals have consented either explicitly or tacitly to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to a central authority in exchange for protection of their remaining rights for the maintenance of social order. Borrowing from the English philosopher and political theorists, John Locke in his “Two Treatises of Government”, the failure of social contract manifests when a government fails to discharge the basic duty of protecting and securing lives, property and the right to govern.
Succinctly put, the failure of successive governments in Nigeria to address the issue of security and welfare of the people the way they ought to have done is seen as a failure in terms of state-citizens relationship. If we may ask, is the defence minister accepting that our security operatives have been overwhelmed by bandits? Is he advocating for individual arms for defenseless Nigerians, who are being killed daily? Is the minister encouraging the novice populace to defend themselves with light arms against heavily armed bandits? Is he encouraging our unarmed citizens to embark on a suicidal mission without any legislation in place to legalise arms-bearing?
In an attempt to look at what the minister statement infers, it can be construed as portraying a state of hopelessness on the part of the government. Leaders worth their call to service are not allowed to give excuses for inactions in the face of inescapable challenges of governance since they are in office to solve problems and not to explain their failures or inability to perform. Based on this logic, if the minister now calls on the people to rise up and defend themselves for the inability of the state to live up to expectations, it means that being an integral part of government, he is throwing up his hands in despair that the state can no longer protect and not interested in protecting the people. Therefore, anybody who wants to live should find other means of protecting himself or herself in a country where it is unlawful to purchase and carry fire arms.
In recent times, twist of words by government officials have become a recurring decimal and a pointer to the fact that those in power may be part of the problem, but prefer to look the other way. For instance, Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai was furious when he was challenged to having admitted to paying killer herdsmen to stop killings in Southern Kaduna, but later recanted that he would never negotiate with bandits. The 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.
The above positions of Magashi, El-Rufai and Mohammed and other advocates are completely different in context with reference to the concerns raised by the likes of former Chief of Army Staff and Minister of Defence, Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (retd) when he called on Nigerians to start defending themselves against herdsmen, saying that “Our Armed Forces are not neutral. If you are depending on the Armed Forces to stop the killings, you will all die one by one”. In similar vein, the Catholic Bishops of the Owerri Ecclesiastical Province had called on fellow 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 licences 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 organised and operated, cannot give an assurance of security and warned that, “Our destiny is in our own hands”. The truth is that the Federal 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 among the agencies.
The way forward is to embrace state and community policing, vigilante and neighbourhood watch outfits that would further strengthen intelligence and boost grassroots security, as obtainable in other climes, whereby the security architecture is not unduly centralised like ours that operates a dysfunctional federal system. Not only that, we need to stop our politicians and leaders from causing further damage by giving poisonous antidote in the name of self-defence.