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SELF-DEFENSE

A Nigerian state told farmers to get guns for self-defense

Police officers in Nigeria stand close to a road on which a car is passing
Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde
A Police force stretched for resources
  • Alexander Onukwue
By Alexander Onukwue

West Africa correspondent

Published Last updated

Zamfara in northwest Nigeria is encouraging its residents, especially farmers, to apply for licenses that will allow them to carry guns and other weapons, for self-defense against worsening insecurity in the state.

The state’s plan is to start with 500 gun licenses in each of the state’s 19 emirates, to be issued by the police. That means nearly 10,000 guns will soon be in private hands in the state but it is not clear what the criteria for issuing licenses are, including what kinds of guns are permissible.

The move seems to be because local alternatives to formal state security outfits—the Nigeria Police, and Army, both seemingly stretched for resources—are also under attack. For example, in April, a gang killed seven members of a vigilante group that provides some security in Mada community.

Banditry is on the rise in northern Nigeria

State governor Bello Matawalle took the decision following new attacks in Mada, one of many communities in parts of northern Nigeria where notorious gun-wielding gangs abduct or kill residents, and burn homes. The banditry menace has become as deadly as the decades-old Boko Haram terrorist insurgency, displacing people from their homes and disrupting economic activities in Nigeria.

“This act of terrorism has been a source of worry to the people and government of the state,” Mattawalle’s commissioner for information said, announcing the decision.

Private gun ownership policies are increasing in northern Nigeria

A state of more than 5 million people, Zamfara follows Katsina in resorting to a policy of increasing private gun ownership as the response to insecurity due to banditry. Katsina, the home state of Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari, told its residents to get guns for self-defense last December.

“It’s Islamically allowed for one to defend himself against attack,” Bello Masari, governor of Katsina, said. “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.”

Guns bought legitimately from state stocks can be diverted to the black market for dangerous use. “Criminals seem to be able to get what they need from the local security forces, buying or renting weapons from corrupt elements in the police and military,” a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime brief on firearms trafficking in west Africa says (pdf).

To control the flow of illicit arms and explosives in Nigeria, president Buhari sent bills to the Nigerian National Assembly last year; none of which have been passed. When the president issued an executive order revoking all licenses for private gun ownership in Nigeria in 2019, some lawmakers asked him to rescind it, citing citizens’ need for self-defense in the face of insecurity. The order remains in effect and may now clash with the intention of state governments like Zamfara.

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