It is now over two weeks since President Muhammadu Buhari ordered security operatives to arrest and prosecute illegal arm-bearers. The president first gave the order towards the end of last month during a National Security Council meeting attended by the defence minister, the service chiefs, among others. He repeated the order when he visited Nasarawa State this month.
Here, we are confronted with two possibilities. One is that the order has been fully complied with by security operatives, leading to the mass arrest and prosecution of illegal arm-bearers. The other is that the order has been completely disdained by security operatives. Sadly, the second possibility is the reality today. Nothing underscores this more than the fact that herdsmen who chiefly belong to the category of illegal arm-bearers are still on the prowl despite the presidential order. Indeed, the order has rather become a source of impetus to them to illegally bear arms and use them to inflict pain and death on their victims.
Since the order was given, there have not been reports of security operatives arresting and prosecuting herdsmen for illegally bearing arms. Rather, we have been inundated with reports of herdsmen unleashing more violence in different parts of the country. The order has not stopped herdsmen’s killings in Kaduna, Benue and Taraba States. And despite the order, herdsmen have been killing in the south-south and south-west. Just this week, there was the report of how herdsmen overran local government offices in Ondo State.
The president has demurred at the prospect of intervening in the crisis. Until recently, there was neither a word of caution nor action that showed his umbrage at the regular lunatic bouts of Fulani herdsmen. Therefore, we cannot be easily discharged of the suspicion that the president himself did not mean that the order should be executed when he gave it. As the chief patron of the cattle rearers, he could just have issued the order to distract a traumatised people from contemplating enduring solutions to the crisis spawned by herdsmen.
But if he meant it, it is not likely to be executed since the officials of government who are supposed to do this have not hidden their sympathies for the herdsmen. Besides, we live in a country with many presidencies, with Buhari apparently heading the weakest of them. In this case, the Inspector General of Police, Idris Ibrahim, might have felt beholden to another presidency and not that of Buhari when he dismissed the crisis as a communal misunderstanding that did not demand the urgent attention of the Federal Government that the citizens were asking for. This probably explained his refusal to relocate to Benue as directed by Buhari. And this also accounts for the hubris he has demonstrated as he blamed Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom for the inefficiency of the police he is supervising.
Again, it was the defence minister, Mansur Dan-Ali who declared that the killings were caused by herdsmen because their grazing routes were blocked. As far as Dan-Ali is concerned, Nigeria is one developmental backwater where there is no recourse to the law to seek redress. No, the aggrieved party, especially when he is a herdsman, must administer instant justice – by himself and through violence.
Thus, officials of government who are afflicted with a paralysis induced by their alignment with the argument of the herdsmen that they bear guns to defend themselves and their cows against rustlers cannot execute Buhari’s order. But what they failed to add, and which is clear to the discerning citizens, is that the guns are what the herdsmen use to rape , maim and kill farmers who ask why their crops should be destroyed because they must feed their cows. Consider the case of the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, who at the weekend told visiting Kogi State Governor Yahaya Bello who has offered to accommodate herdsmen that he asked the cattle rearers why they bear arms. Ogbeh said that their response was that they use the guns for their own defence and that of their cattle.
The absence of a counter-logic from Ogbeh is quite in sync with his sympathies for the herdsmen. After all, it was Ogbeh who whined that the nation has not done as much for herdsmen as it has done to incentivise owners of cassava farms. But Ogbeh and other government officials who are aligned with the argument of the herdsmen must accept the imperative of extending it . In other words, it is not only herdsmen who need guns to defend themselves against human threats to their life and business. After all, life has become so unsafe. There is no guarantee of protection from the state security operatives. This is why there is a proliferation of crime manifested in regular kidnapping, armed robbery, assassination, cultism, among others.
Therefore, in extending the logic of the herdsmen, all citizens should be allowed to bear arms. After all, they are at the risk of being kidnapped, robbed or murdered. Primary and secondary school pupils should be allowed to bear arms since they stand the risk of being kidnapped and murdered by ritualists who are chasing quick money.
University students should be allowed to bear arms on their campuses because they are faced with the danger of being robbed and harassed. These arms would be very useful to the students in warding off cultists who might want to kill, rape or force them to be members of their nocturnal and blood-thirsty fraternities. University lecturers and medical doctors have become some of the prime targets of kidnappers. They should therefore be allowed to bear arms.
To prevent journalists who are doing their legitimate work from being harassed by security operatives, they should be allowed to bear arms. The bus driver whom policemen are ready to shoot because he refuses to be extorted of N100 should be allowed to bear arms to defend himself against such mortal threats to his life and business. Not even the market woman is immune from the pall of insecurity in the country. As she ekes out a living, she is faced with the risk of being dispossessed of the proceeds of her sale of vegetables. She should be allowed to bear arms to defend herself. The farmers who are daily confronted with the prospect of being raped, maimed , killed and having their crops eaten up by cows should be allowed to bear arms.
And since herdsmen now attack workers in their offices as in the case of the local government area in Ondo State, all workers should be allowed to bear arms in their offices. And if the infiltration of Aso Rock by Boko Haram members as alleged by former President Goodluck Jonathan has not been stoped by Buhari despite his war on them in Sambisa forest and his seeking $1 billion to finally defeat them, government officials should sling Ak-47 rifles across their shoulders as they attend a Federal Executive Council meeting. Since this is the situation that the government wants, it should not talk of disbanding militias. The government must not be bothered that they are bearing arms since they are being used to defend themselves.
Yet, we must make allowances for the possibility of altruism in Buhari’s order. He might not be disposed to creating an atmosphere of anarchy where other citizens would be free to bear arms under the guise of self-defence while herdsmen graduate into deploying rockets and other weapons to demolish threats to themselves and their cows. In that case, it needs to imbue the citizens with the confidence that it can make one law for all. A law that forbids citizens from illegally bearing arms should not be tweaked to allow herdsmen to violate it without baleful consequences. The government should encourage an atmosphere of confidence in the state to protect all citizens. It should ensure justice for those who have been wronged so that they would not resort to self-help. And now is the time for it to signal its readiness for this atmosphere with the arrest and prosecution of the masterminds of the killings of over 73 citizens in Benue.
Paul Onomuakpokpo is a journalist with The Guardian. He can be reached on Twitter @onomuakpokpo1.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.