Controversy rages over revocation of gun license

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Buhari
Buhari

By Anayo Ezugwu

AS the controversy rages over the signing the Executive Order revoking private individuals’ licenses on firearms or shotguns in the country by President Muhammadu Buhari, Nigerians are being killed on daily bases. Available statistics showed that 7,253 Nigerians had been killed in the last one year.

The report released on June 4 by the Nigeria Security Tracker, NST, indicated that those who died were killed between June 2018 and May 2019. And the figure consists of those killed by Boko Haram, herdsmen and extra-judicial activities by the military and police.

Rather than tackling the insecurity bedeviling the country, the government is more interested in revoking arms license. According to the said executive order, withdrawal of the licenses will take effect from June 1, and that all those in possession of such firearms must surrender them at the nearest police station alongside the licenses.

In effect, the withdrawal will ensure that only authorised officers of the Nigeria Police Force, Nigerian Army and selected security agencies are authorised to carry arms. The alleged order also indicated that Civil Defence agents and some other security agencies are no longer allowed to carry weapons from June 1.

Adamu
Adamu

The President was said to have signed the Executive Order on May 22 in response to threats by some Niger Delta militants to declare a Niger Delta Republic and secede from Nigeria.

Despite generating controversy and arguments across the country, there was no clear attribution in all the reports in the media that Buhari indeed signed the order. The presidency neither confirmed nor denied the stories, and the police said they were not aware of the order.

With this development, many security analysts believe that such order would make Nigerians vulnerable and exposed to criminals, terrorists, bandits and kidnappers. This is one of the reasons why the House of Representatives insisted that Buhari must rescind the order if it exists. They also called on security agencies to rather go after the criminals using unlicensed firearms instead of chasing those who obtained their weapons legally.

Amidst this controversy, Realnews recalled that the United Nations had in 2017 warned the country over the danger of the influx of small and light weapons into West Africa. At a conference organised by the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel, it was noted that arms worth $35 million were entering the sub-region annually.

The conference estimated that seven to 10 million illegal weapons enter West Africa annually, with Nigeria as the major destination of the weapons. In all, the global body noted that Nigeria alone accommodates 70 percent of the 500 million illegal weapons in West Africa. The conference noted that non-state actors like Boko Haram extremists, militias, mercenaries and vigilantes were the main beneficiaries of the weapons.

“Nigeria is one of the countries experiencing some of the most devastating effects of the proliferation of SALW as a result of the spill-over effect of the recent crises in Libya and Mali, as well as unresolved internal conflicts in different parts of the country, especially in the North-East, Niger Delta and Southern region,” it said. In the mix are Fulani herdsmen, who bear deadly assault weapons and wreak havoc on the country.

Despite the dangers associated with weapons, the Nigerian government has failed to act. In 2017, the Nigeria Customs Service officials seized four containers in separate interception operations bearing illegally imported arms in Lagos. In January, the Customs seized 661 pump action rifles; 440 pieces in May; and two separate containers of 1,100 and 475 pieces in September.

This might be the reason why security experts advised the government to go after the illegal importers of arms and guard the porous borders instead of chasing shadows. Ebonabasi Ekpe-Juda, a security analyst, advised the federal government to concentrate on retrieving guns from herdsmen, bandits and kidnappers, who terrorise Nigerians. He questioned the motive behind the order, saying that such action would worsen the security situation in the country.

“I think the order is anti-people. Government shouldn’t collect arms from those licensed. What they do is to disarm those who have it illegally bearing in mind what happened in Benue State where the government demobilised the people and the herdsmen came at night to attack and kill them.

“There is fear that the federal government wants the people to be defenceless in the face of heightening insecurity. Everybody knows that the so called herdsmen and bandits are the ones the government should demobilise rather than licensed gun owners,” he said.

On whether the silence of the presidency over the controversy was consent, Ekpe-juda said the Buhari-led administration talks before thinking. He believed that the government actually considered the order but the outcry from Nigerians forced them to retreat. He said the order was a confirmation to many Nigerians that the present government is in support of herdsmen and insecurity the nation is facing.

“Why did I say so? Herdsmen and bandits cannot go on killing Nigerians and all the government could do is to demobilise licensed gun owners rather than arresting the killer squad. For failing to arrest them, it means that government is supporting them.”

Ekpe-juda expressed fears that Nigeria may be heading towards a repeat of genocide that happened in Rwanda. He said unless something happens, the country may witness Rwanda experience. “If you look at the number of people killed in Kastina, Zamfara, Kaduna, Benue, Taraba, Borno and Enugu states, you will know that we are heading to somewhere.”

Ozekhome
Ozekhome

On his part, Mike Ozekhome, constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, said there were ulterior motives behind the order. He revealed that the president’s order was aimed at curtailing the self-determination aspiration of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, and Niger Delta militants.

Ozekhome in a statement said the order would expose innocent Nigerians to the murderous activities of herdsmen, kidnappers and Boko Haram terrorists. “Ordinarily, one would have readily applauded President Muhammadu Buhari for signing an Executive Order banning the possession of guns, having regard to the unbridled proliferation and possession of small and medium scale politically motivated and banditorily-induced arms currently in circulation.

“However, Buhari’s sectionalistic perceptions of governance from the opaque prism of ethnicity and religious nuances do not give one such euphoric comfort of nationalistically induced decisions. It seems to me a panicky measure meant to forestall the threats by the Niger Delta militants to declare their Republic by 1st of June, and also for the now historic struggle by IPOB for self-determination.

“Whatever be his reasons, the president and his handlers appeared to have lost the larger picture of the citizens’ rights to life and self-defence. Section 33 of the 1999 Constitution provides for the right to life. Section 258 of the Criminal Code which operates in the Southern part of Nigeria and sections 59-60 of the Penal Code that operates in the North, all guarantee the right to self defence and the defence of one’s property,” he said.

But Mike Ejiofor, former Director, State Security Service, DSS, expressed doubt that Buhari would sign such order. He advised members of the House of Representatives to always carry out due diligence before rising and supporting motions on issues of national importance.

He said the legislators ought to have established the existence of such an executive order before making it an issue for debate on the floor. According to him, the order in question currently exists in the realm of speculations because there apparently is no document within the public space to suggest that it exists.

“Have you seen the Presidential Order? I have not seen the order yet and we should not be affirmative about what we have not seen.

“As far as I am concerned, that issue is still in the realm of speculation.  I don’t know why the National Assembly and the House of Representatives particularly should be debating without seeing the authenticity of that order.

“I have not seen the order and the Presidency has not issued any statement regarding that order. I think the National Assembly has not done due diligence in this matter as far as I am concerned, with all due respect. They should first of all establish that there is an order like that, because in law, you cannot build something on nothing. Until we are sure that the order is out, then we can start to comment,” he said.

Similarly, Abubakar Tsav, retired commissioner of police, expressed doubt over the existence of such an order, saying he would be surprised if it exists. “What I expect to happen is for the police that is the issuing authority to carry out an audit of such licences. This will help us find out those using expired licences which can either be revoked or renewed depending on the situation.

“We also need to tighten the laws guarding the issuance of these licences and make sure those who flout these laws are punished accordingly. What we have today are people who get this license, but have refused to renew them, these licences are supposed to be renewed annually.

“What has happened to those arrested for illegal importation of firearms? All we hear is that so and so people have been arrested for importing this number of firearms, but how many have been tried and convicted? We must show that we are a serious country,” he said.

Likewise, the Nigeria Police Force has denied knowledge of such executive order. Frank Mba, Force Public Relations Officer, said he was not aware of the order. “I am not aware of the order and we cannot confirm the order.”

– June 7, 2019 @ 17:25 GMT |

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