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Opinions of Sunday, 11 April 2021

Columnist: Adewale Kupoluyi

Toxic advocacy for self-defence

The Minister of Defence, Major General Bashir Magashi (retd.), has continued to face a barrage of criticisms over his proclamation that Nigerians should defend themselves against bandits while reacting to the kidnap of students in Kagara, Niger State. The minister’s statement can literarily be interpreted to be a call on the people to carry firearms and weapons to defend themselves and an official endorsement of self-defence.

No doubt, the weighty proclamation has many implications and could be disturbing to the diplomatic world, foreign investors and an assessment of the government’s drive at tackling insecurity. The right to self-defence is the authority to prevent being a victim of force through the use of a sufficient level of counteracting violence. It is an inherent right to use force in response to an armed attack. The Nigerian constitution entrusts the government with the obligation of providing welfare and security for the citizens. This responsibility functions as a form of social contract whereby individuals have consented either explicitly or tacitly to surrender some of their freedoms by submitting to a central authority in exchange for the protection of their rights for the maintenance of social order.

The English philosopher and political theorists, John Locke, in his “Two Treatises of Government”, argues that the failure of social contract manifests when a government fails to discharge its basic duty of protecting and securing lives, property and the right to govern. Succinctly put, the inability of successive governments in Nigeria to address the issues of security and welfare as they ought to have done is seen as a failure in the maintenance of social order. To situate Locke’s theory within the unfolding proclamation by the defence minister is a clear demonstration of a default as the country has surrendered to the superior power of insurgency that is fast threatening our corporate existence.

We need answers to these questions for a better appreciation of the debacle we have found ourselves in: Is the minister accepting that our security operatives have been completely overwhelmed by bandits? Is he advocating individual arms for defenceless Nigerians, who are being killed daily? Is he encouraging our untrained and unarmed citizens to embark on a suicidal mission with heavily-armed terrorists? Is the minister justifying the failure of the state, through the government, to perform its contractual and statutory duties to the citizens? Whichever way we may want to look at the questions, what can easily be inferred is that of hopelessness on the part of the government based on the minister’s admission.

Leaders worth their onions are not allowed to give excuses for inaction in the face of inescapable challenges of governance because they are in office to solve problems and not to explain their failure in doing so. Based on this logic, if the minister now calls on the people to rise up and defend themselves for the inability of the state to live up to expectations, it means that being an integral part of the government, he is throwing up his hands in despair that the state is either no longer interested, or incapable of protecting the people. The defence minister’s utterance could be taken to imply that anybody whoever wants to live should find other means of protecting themselves in a country where it is largely restricted to purchase and carry firearms.

The twist of words by many public officials have increasingly become worrisome and a pointer to the fact that those in government may actually be part of the problem, but prefer to look the other way round. For instance, Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, was furious when he was challenged having earlier admitted to paying killer herdsmen to stop killings in Southern Kaduna, but later recanted that he would never negotiate with the bandits. The Bauchi State governor, Bala Mohammed, had encouraged herders to protect themselves by bearing AK-47 guns but later claimed that he was quoted out of context, just as the Plateau State governor, Simon Lalong maintained that a number of farmers too bear arms for self-help, to give the impression that farmers and herders are both guilty of arms-bearing.

The positions of Magashi, el-Rufai and Mohammed and other advocates – who surreptitiously appear to be shielding herders – are completely different from those canvassed by the likes of former Chief of Army Staff and Minister of Defence, Lieutenant-General, Theophilus Danjuma (retd) – who had called for self-defence against herders’ attacks having accused the armed forces of compromising their integrity and colluding with herdsmen.

A country with a manifestation of divided military and security forces is certainly heading towards implosion if something radical is not done to abate the drift. The call for self-help is diversionary, misplaced and defeatist. The way forward is to embrace state, and community policing as well as empower neighbourhood watch outfits that would strengthen intelligence-gathering and boost grassroots security, as obtainable in other climes whereby their security architecture is not unduly centralised like ours that operates under a dysfunctional federal system.

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