By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
In the light of vicious attacks on communities across Nigeria, resulting in loss of thousands of lives, and the apparent helplessness of State governors, it is necessary to examine the powers which the governors possess (if any) to protect the people who elected them in office. If we consider the primary function of government to be protection of life and property, then we must know that we are in a serious situation if government can no longer secure its citizens.
Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project reports that in Nigeria ‘more than 2600 civilians’ were killed in 2021, an increase of over 250% from 2020. The situation has gotten worse. Nigeria Security Tracker (NST) reports that 2968 people were killed and 1484 abducted in Nigeria between January and March 2022. These are human beings, loved ones to people, fellow Nigerians who are currently dealing with trauma and near hopelessness. They were domiciled in states that were and are under the administration of elected governors.
This leads us to ask questions. What can state governors do when their people are massacred daily without adequate response from the federal government? Are the state governors Chief Security Officers in word, in deed, and constitutionally? Do they have any security force or outfit totally at their disposal that they can deploy at short or long notice? What are the implications of this anomaly for the development of the state? Does this not suggest that we urgently need to restructure the country and enable State Police in the Constitution?
Three reactions to insecurity by three state Governors of the constituent parts of the federation provide for us an entry into the vexatious question of federal government ambivalence to dealing with the massive loss of lives to bandits, terrorists, and kidnappers in the country.
In 2020, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State called on the federal government to ‘grant licenses to responsible citizens to carry sophisticated weapons such as AK47 to deter criminals from attacking innocent and helpless Nigerians. In March this year, Ortom, while lamenting how Fulani herdsmen had carried coordinated attacks in some local government of the state, ‘reiterated his call on the people of the state to defend themselves over their land. Nigerian Tribune of April 12 reports that while ‘reacting to the killing of 25 people by herders in some parts of the state on Monday night’, directed ‘the people of the state to rise and defend themselves!
A few weeks ago, Governor Matawalle of Zamfara State said that in order to empower his people to defend themselves against terrorism and banditry, the state government ‘has directed the state Commissioner of Police to issue license to all those who are qualified and are wishing to obtain guns to defend themselves’. Explaining further, Zamfara Commissioner for Information, Ibrahim Dosara said that ‘the act of terrorism has been a source of worry and concern to the people and government of Zamfara state and in order to deal decisively with the situation in most of the communities, government has no option than to allow people to buy guns and defend themselves’.
There is a video in circulation of Governor Emmanuel Udom decrying the presence and arrest of some eighteen armed men in fake army uniforms in Akwa Ibom State. In the video, he says the Commissioner of Police asked that the arrested men be released with their guns. He says that they have the videos and pictures of the men. The matter has been reported to all arms of security agencies and nothing has been done. He simply alerted the world about the incident and called on the federal authorities to remove the CP. ‘We’ve called on the powers that be international community that this is a war that has been declared against the Akwa Ibom people… whatever happens in this state is caused by the police’.
In addition to this are the experiences of Uwheru and Okpanam communities in Delta State. The bushes of Uwheru community have been violently taken over by armed herdsmen who sometimes as villagers to pay a toll before getting to their farms. In 2020, some eleven community youths were slaughtered by some Fulani herdsmen who are permanently embedded in the bush. Abraka community also reports that herdsmen are permanently lodged in their bushes, attacking, `and killing indigenes at will. In the case of Okpanam, according to Vanguard Newspaper of 5th July, ‘no fewer than 300 Fulani indigenes, mostly herders, have taken over a section of Okpanam community. Following the incursion it is reported, there has been an increase in killings, kidnappings and maiming of residents’. Whereas the community leaders have ordered the herders to leave the community, the state government through its Commissioner for Information, Charles Aniagwu, has said that ‘government was not aware of invasion of part of Okpanam by herdsmen’.
The reactions of these governors bring to the fore the challenges of securing the territories which are supposedly under the control of Chief Executive of the State. Section 176 (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states this clearly. However, the Constitution does not place the Police under the governor. He can only depend on the goodwill of the CP who is posted to his state. The CP takes direct orders from the Inspector General. Thus, if the order of the State Governor contravenes that of the IG, the CP would rather obey the IG. Which is an anomaly. But it is a strait jacket which we have boxed ourselves into. It need not be!
A solution can be found through a political arrangement. Across party lines, the governors must see themselves as one, whether PDP or APC. They must come together and stress communal defence as a way out of the current state of anomie we have found ourselves. This way, communities should acquire arms and ammunitions for the men who have been assigned to defend communities.
Matawalle gave the correct response, not minding the cries of illegality from the federal government. Nothing will happen to him. What is good for Zamfara is good for Benue, good for Delta, good for Edo and Anambra. If criminals can have access to arms and ammunitions in the scale we currently witness, it will not be wrong for the federal government to empower the constituent parts of the federation to organize defence committees.
Finally, a caring and responsible federal government ought to by now seek ways to end the massacres and kidnappings going on in the country. A conventional approach will not work. That is the subtext of Matawalle’s courageous directive. It is the way to go. If the state fails, let the people rise to defend themselves. That the federal government asked citizens to surrender their licensed arms early in the Buhari administration has given room for some insinuations. Were we asked to surrender our arms so that we would be vulnerable to attacks from federal government backed anarchists?
Former Chief of Army Staff retired General Theophilus Danjuma had called on citizens to defend themselves. The State governors do not have the Constitutional power to equip a defence force. However, they have the political power. It is this power that we call on them to invoke to save the citizens who entrusted power to them.
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