Katsina State Governor, Aminu Bello Masari recently called on residents of the state to defend themselves, following massive cases of abductions and killings by terrorists.
It was a clear call on citizens to take up arms and fight back the rampaging bandits. He was not alone. Other prominent citizens had previously made similar call.
The Governors of Benue and Taraba States, Samuel Ortom and Darius Ishaku respectively, had made similar calls, after security agencies, failed to protect their states from the marauding militias that have been maiming, destroying farms, burning houses, kidnapping for ransom and raping.
Similarly, the Minister of Defence, retired Major General Bashir Magashi, had early this year told Nigerians to rise and defend themselves. Recall also that a former Chief of Army Staff and Defence Minister, Theophilus Danjuma was the first among leaders to make the call in 2018.
At the maiden convocation ceremony of the Taraba State University in Jalingo, the Taraba State capital, Danjuma called on the people to “rise and defend themselves against the killers.” He accused the military of complicity in the selective killings, kidnappings and other forms of criminality in the country, especially in Taraba State.
Interestingly, Masari, who is making the latest call, is the governor of President Muhammadu Buhari’s home state, Katsina and former speaker of the House of Representatives. Katsina is one of the most terrorised in the country. In the last two years, he has tried several measures to restore peace to the state, including attempts to placate the terrorists, paying them and leading officials of his government to dialogue with their leaders in their hideouts. He has even offered them amnesty, yet the criminals are not ready to turn a new leaf completely. The call for citizens to bear arms is an expression of total frustration.
The call for citizens to bear arms an defend themselves, is a constitutional matter, to which lawyers have offered legal opinion.
An Abuja-based legal practitioner, Mr. Pius Danba said self-defence is part of the Constitutional rights guaranteed for every individual. He said: “It is stipulated in section 33 (2)(a) 1999 Constitution of Nigeria. That section states and provides for the right to defend the life of a person and his property.”
According to Danba, the right to self-defence is also provided in the Penal Code of various states. For instance, it is provided in section 59 of the Penal Code that nothing is an offence that is done in the lawful exercise of the right of private defence. Danba said it extends to the right to defend properties both movable and immovable.
He, therefore, submitted that the call by Katsina State Governor for self-defence was nothing new, which according to him, was a call for Nigerians to exercise their rights under the Constitution and various Penal Codes.
Danba argued that natural law also presupposes self-preservation. A man, he said, ought to defend himself from any harm that comes his way. He explained that the only requirement of the law regarding self-defence is proportionality of action. “The law stipulates that in defending yourself, you are not to use a weapon higher than that used by your attacker. The weapon of self-defence must be proportional to the weapon of the attacker, to escape liability,” he stated.
On the contrary, a legal practitioner Mr. Allen Sowore said the call by Katsina State governor is a betrayal of the social contract between the governors and the governed. According to him, the electorate fulfilled its part of the contract by voting either the president or governor into office. By so doing, he said, the electorate have submitted their collective mandate to such a leader; therefore, the government owed them the duty to protect them.
“For the governor to now turn around to ask the people who have submitted all their resources, rights and obedience to the state, to defend themselves, is an admission of failure. I think the people in return should ask him to surrender all his security aides, armoured vehicles and join them. Where does he expect people who could barely feed to get money to acquire AK 47 rifles?” the lawyer asked.
Also, another lawyer, Omale Ajonye argued that under the Firearms Act, every Nigerian could own a firearm with permission or license from the president, Assistant Inspector General (AIG) and Commissioner of Police of every state of the Federation. These firearms, he added, exclude assault rifles. According to him, they are meant for self-defence.
Ajonye said in recent times, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) suspended the issuance of licenses to persons who may want to or have applied for weapons to self-protection.
“It is my take that with the current security situations, the suspension of issuance of same should be reversed. It should be issued to persons who are sane, without records of criminality, politically exposed persons, VIPs and vigilante groups across the nooks and crannies of the country, after due scrutiny, to safeguard the life and property of all Nigerians,” he said, adding that security of life and property was too sensitive and should not be left for the security agencies alone.
On the other hand, a legal practitioner, David Iorhemba said the call for self-defence by Masari and any other governor shows that there is no government in the country. The lawyer also argued that the primary responsibility of any government is to protect life and property, adding that such responsibility cannot be relinquished to any other individual or body.
He said that such calls were a crass display of procedural ignorance. Arguing, Iorhemba said rather than such a call, the government and its agencies should strive to live up to their billings instead of asking the people to do so for them.
He explained that the governor’s advice was a clear declaration that the subnational government, which he heads, and the Federal Government, whose direct obligation it is to secure the country, are incapable of protecting the life and property of citizens. Iorhemba expressed fears that such an unsavoury call coming from the governor of the president’s home state was unfortunate, and could put the government of the day in a bad light.
Emmanuel Umahi Ekwe, also a lawyer, lamented: “It is a truism that in the present-day Nigeria, human beings are massacred with impunity and properties wasted almost on a daily basis.”
He, however, expressed the view that the call for self-defence was lacking in all sense of decency, democratic and constitutional backing. According to him, it was a call for anarchy. He further declared that the right to life is amply provided for in Section 33 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, which clearly states that every person has a right to life and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, except in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.
Ekwe argued that in the spirit of Section 14 (2b), it is the primary function of the government to protect life and property. The Constitution, he said, has not shifted that burden to citizens at any point in time.
“Moreso, a clear reading of sections 3 and 4 of the Firearms Act shows that it is illegal to possess firearms without a license granted by the President acting in his discretion,” he stressed.
Ekwe, however, expressed the fear that if Nigerians are allowed to take up arms in self-defence, they are being asked to simply go on a killing spree through a mechanism, which lacks the instrumentality of law. “As a country, I don’t even think we have the requisite maturity to handle arms even when granted license,” the lawyer declared.