Zamfara State government recently announced that its citizens could obtain guns to protect themselves from the incessant attacks against armed bandits. The announcement stated:

“The government has directed the state commissioner of police to issue gun licenses to those who quality and are wishing to obtain such guns to defend themselves. The government is ready to facilitate people, especially our farmers to secure basic weapons for defending themselves”.

It is important to get one thing clear. The current system is not working. When communities get attacked, law enforcement personnel are hardly around to defend the citizens from these attackers. So, approving civilian use of arms will at least give the citizens a fighting chance of survival.

The recent ruling of the Zamfara state government to approve civilian use of guns for their personal protection is a clear indictment on the inability of the Nigerian government security forces to effectively protect its citizens from armed attacks.

The consequences of granting citizens access to weapons are two pronged:

On one hand, the citizens might do a great job of eliminating these armed attackers and pushing them out of their communities.

On the other hand, it might backfire, as the armed attackers who have access to funding derived from kidnap for ransom proceeds, could invest in heavier weapons and fighters and intensify their attacks. That means conflict and fatalities in these regions could significantly increase.

– We have been seeing an increasing level of violence and kidnappings across Nigeria – what role are guns playing in this?

All security challenges across Nigeria today involve the use of arms. Everything ranging from the insurgency in North east Nigeria, kidnapping and armed banditry in northwest, the unknown gunmen attacks in the southeast, involve the use of guns.

A 2017 report on small arms and light weapons revealed that there were approximately 6.1 million small arms in the hands of civilian non-state actors, while 586,000 which is approximately 9.5% are in the hands of law enforcement or state actors.

Some illicit arms are produced by local arms manufacturers who typically operate from makeshift factories, without legal permits or proper government oversight. While other illicit arms are smuggled illegally through Nigeria’s poorly secured borders. A recent report indicated that illicit arms in southern Nigeria come predominantly from Eastern European and Asian sources, while in northern Nigeria, illicit arms originate from Libya and are trafficked into the country through the Nigerien border.

– Is citizen taking up arms an effective way of control the violence? 

More arms is never a long term viable solution. One thing the government has not properly considered is what happens to the weapons after relative peace has been restored. How would the state government intend to ensure their citizens do not use the weapons to perpetrate crime as socio-economic conditions increase poverty and pressure on the people. The state government did note that it will issue the gun ownership approval license only to those who qualify, however, it was not clear on the qualification criteria.

A lot of attacks and reprisal attacks persist because of the country’s poor judicial system

More effort needs to be put into non-kinetic and non-violent efforts such as strengthening the justice system, encouraging community dialogue and enhancing conflict resolution structures.

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