VIEWPOINT: Let’s Have A Nation First Before Having Firearms

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By Greg Odogwu
The word on the street is that the people of Nigeria want to be armed in order to be able to defend themselves against bandits, terrorists, kidnappers and sundry criminals that plague our lives daily. We want to be able to counter terror with terror, since the Nigerian government is not able to serve its true purpose which is to guarantee ‘the security and welfare of the people’. The State is not able to protect its citizens’ life and property as enshrined in the Constitution.

To be sure, this is not a rumour, and it did not start today. There are many big names from pretty important places that had demanded same. More than two years ago, then governor of Katsina State, Aminu Masari, called on residents of the state to arm themselves and confront bandits because security officials were not able to tackle the burgeoning insecurity in the state. Two years before that, then serving senator representing Zamfara Central, Kabiru Marafa, told his colleagues at the National Assembly to work towards liberalizing gun control in the country, as a way of curbing escalating insecurity.

There were others, from former governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, who argued that it would serve as a formidable deterrent to marauding bandits; to former Director of the DSS, Mike Ejiofor, who said a culture of resistance in the face of mindless attacks should be encouraged.

It is also instructive to note that in such a weighty and complicated issue which touches on sensitive elements of our being like conscience and cultural orientation, there are a number of philosophies behind this demand for weapons. Senator Marafa had argued at the Red Chamber that it made commonsense that when one is accosted by an armed criminal with cruel intentions, one should be able to defend oneself. “Let everybody own a gun so that when you are coming to my house, you will know that I have my gun while you are coming with yours.”

For Masari, it was from a religious point of view: “It’s Islamically allowed for one to defend himself against attack. One must rise to defend himself, his family and assets. If you die while trying to defend yourself, you’ll be considered a martyr. It’s surprising how a bandit would own a gun while a good man trying to defend himself and his family doesn’t have one. We’ll support those who come with the initiative to procure arms because residents need to also complement the efforts of security agencies.”

Some other citizens point towards the United States for us to adopt their gun culture. Both highly placed individuals and ordinary Nigerians have made the case that Nigeria should emulate the US where the right to bear firearms is constitutionally guaranteed under the Second Amendment. It is in this spirit that Senator Ned Nwoko, who represents Delta North, recently introduced a bill that would allow civilians to own and carry firearms. The bill on self-defense and firearms ownership regulation, has been listed and currently awaits its first reading at the Upper Chambers of the National Assembly.

The Second Amendment (Amendment II) to the US Constitution protects the right to keep and bear arms. It was ratified on December 15, 1791, along with nine other articles of the Bill of Rights. It was later affirmed in 2008 (by the Supreme Court) that the right belongs to individuals, for self-defense in the home, while also including that the right is not unlimited and does not preclude the existence of certain long-standing prohibitions such as those forbidding ‘the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill’ or restrictions on ‘the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.’

The Second Amendment stated: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Today, the US tops the chart in civilian gun ownership. According to a 2018 study of global firearm ownership, Americans made up four percent of the world’s population but owned about 46% of the entire global stock of 857 million civilian firearms; US civilians owned 397 million guns. American civilians own nearly 100 times as many firearms as the US military and nearly 400 times as many as law enforcement. According to a report in The Washington Free Beacon filed by Stephen Gutowski in June 21, 2018, Americans bought more than 2 million guns in May 2018, more than twice the total number of arms possessed by law enforcement agencies in the US combined.

But before we get carried away by the exciting American gun culture, let us take a minute to interrogate how that country has gotten to the number one spot in global gun ownership; and then ask ourselves whether we have what it takes, historically and patriotically, to toe the same path.

American attitudes on gun ownership date back to the American Revolutionary War when the country fought the British in 1776. The militia spirit derives from an early American dependence on arms to protect themselves from foreign armies and hostile Native Americans. Survival depended upon everyone being capable of using a weapon, and the armed citizen-soldier carried the responsibility. Closely related to the militia tradition are the frontier tradition with the citizens living at the frontiers needing self-protection; and the agricultural lifestyle where hunting was a profession for some, an auxiliary source of food for some settlers, and also a deterrence to animal predators.

However, in the Nigerian experience, exposure to gun ownership was in fighting ourselves – whether as Biafrans, Oduduwans, Arewans or as Islamic terrorists and assorted insurrectionists. We have never fought shoulder to shoulder as Nigerians against a common enemy – neither a colonial master nor a foreign belligerent. What we may never appreciate is the psychological bond that enmeshed Americans as citizens, simply because they have shed blood for one another. Perhaps, this is why former American president Theodore Roosevelt was famously quoted as saying, “Americanism is a question of spirit, conviction, and purpose, not of creed or birthplace.”

Can we say the same about Nigerianism, if there is anything like that? Of course, there is Biafranism, Oduduwanism, Arewanism (or is it Fulanism), among others, but never any higher universal conviction – a fundamental set of values and cultural style imbued with political meaning, which unites us as a people with a single destiny under one flag, and commands our patriotism. Without any iota of doubt, I am convinced that if we proceed on this gun ownership route without first deciding and safeguarding our common destiny as a Nigerian nation-state, then we are on a highway to Armageddon.

The problem with Nigeria, both the rulers and the ruled, is that we are masters at self-deception. Most citizens’ loyalty is not to the Nigerian State; it is to our tribe and/or religion, but we may never openly acknowledge this truth. Well, there are some moments of Freudian slips when the contents of the heart leak out, like some years ago when a serving Nigerian president in addressing the issues relating to an interethnic bloodbath, said “they killed my people too.” Therefore, when we legally acquire personal firearms, we may set our eyes on defending our tribe and religion.

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