Dismantling of vigilante and ban on firearms

Everything is absolutely wrong with the order issued by the inspector general [IG] of police, Ibrahim Idris, to police commands asking them to dismantle all forms of vigilante as well as confiscate various categories of firearms across the country.

We suspect the IGs decision emanated from the recent speculation of proliferation of firearms in the country. Recall that a cache of pump-action rifles in containers was recently seized in Lagos. This, perhaps, would ordinarily justify the IGs decision. There is no doubt that the security agencies, especially the police, seemed completely overwhelmed by gun totting herdsmen, vigilante groups, terrorist organisations, armed robbery gangs and kidnappers unleashing terror on innocent citizens of this country.

Terrorism remains the worst form of crime against humanity as the dastardly acts are often targeted at defenseless people, often for insubstantial reasons like drawing attention to a cause or enacting a political change or gaining political leadership. Boko Haram insurgency and other forms of criminality in Nigeria such as the gruesome activities of herdsmen, ritual killing/murder, kidnapping, gang violence, rape etc. call for urgent concern as they constitute gross impediments to the growth and development of the Nigerian economy and its role as the main hub of economic activities in the West African sub region.

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Prior to the IGPs order GarbaShehu, special assistant to the president on media, had hinted that the government might ban some categories of these arms when he said that Nigerians would be encouraged to expose the presence of illegal weapons in the homes of powerful politicians and other public figures who may use those deadly arms for sinister political agenda.

The police force spokesman, CSP JimohMoshood, listed the banned arms as artillery, apparatus for the discharge of any explosives of gas diffusing projectile, rocket weapons, bombs and grenades. Others, he said, are machine guns and machine pistols, military rifles, those of calibers 7.62mm, 9mm, .300 inches, revolvers and pistols whether rifled or unrifled (including flint-lock pistols and cap pistols), pump-action guns of all categories and any other firearms/lethal weapons fabricated to kill.

Moshood said that a police Joint Task Enforcement Team had been constituted at the Force Headquarters to coordinate the order and that commissioners of police and the assistant inspectors-general of police in the state and zonal commands had been mandated to also setup similar teams. He said “The operation will equally include cordon-and-search and raid, seizure from any premises, hideouts, dwelling houses or buildings or sites (completed or under construction),” he said. He said that all categories of people bearing arms in the name of vigilante group, neighborhood watch among others have been given 21 days from today to surrender them to commissioners of police in their states.

Germaine as the order might be, we caution that all that glitters is not gold as the implementation of this order, just like others, might be fraught with corruption and irregularities. First, we dare ask: why is this order coming at this time in the history of our country when insecurity is threatening the very foundation of our existence as a nation? Who will dismantle/disarm the herdsmen who are in a running battle with the police and even soldiers in various theatres of war? Will the dismantling of vigilantes not expose the innocent and vulnerable people who cannot afford to pay for special police and military security guards? The imperative for vigilantes cannot be de-emphasized because they have helped to stem the onslaught of kidnappers, robbers and herdsmen in most rural communities. These questions and many more require urgent answers. The decision, we think, was not properly thought-through and, in our opinion as a responsible media platform, should be rescinded to avoid crashing before takeoff.

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Nigeria is grossly under-policed. With a population close to 200 million policed by the paltry number of less than 400,000 policemen, we have a terribly low ratio of over 1/500 policemen. It is from this figure that the personnel on private guard duty with, say,state governors who are said to be keeping 221 of these personnel. Of course, there are those attached toothers in the presidency, the national assembly, the ministers, the judiciary, government officials, political leaders and the motley lot of simply monied characters that have the financial muscle to procure the, often illegal, service.It could, then be imagined how many policemen, in actual fact,remain and available for real policing of the general populace.

It is for these reasons that we plead with the IGP to rescind the order until state policing, as espoused by the current APC government, is eventually put in place. The order prohibits Nigerians from owning guns or bearing illegal firearms but,if the vigilantes are muscled out and the communities are abandoned un-policed, the wider implication would be disastrous. Kidnappers would have a field day; herdsmen would overrun communities unchallenged just as armed robbers would operate with little or no challenge.

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