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Dust over Buhari’s Executive Order on arms

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Dust over Buhari’s Executive Order on arms
  • ‘Executive Order, an infringement on citizens’ rights to life, self-defence

 

AKEEM NAFIU writes that there is mounting concern over Executive Order signed by President Muhammadu Buhari, compelling private holders of licensed arms to surrender or risk prosecution

 

Some senior lawyers have called on President Muhammadu Buhari to promptly withdraw an Executive Order reportedly issued by him to revoke firearm or short gun licenses in Nigeria.

 

The lawyers while speaking on the issue with New Telegraph Law at the weekend, faulted the president’s action saying it is capable of infringing on Nigerians’ constitutionally guaranteed rights to life and self-defence.

President Buhari’s action might not be unconnected with his quest to stem the ugly trend of rising insecurity in the country where kidnapping, banditry, cultism and other vices have become a daily occurrence.

Last week’s disclosure by the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, indicating that the Force had recovered 834 arms, 19,009 live ammunition, two rocket launchers and other exhibits in the last two months are a pointer to the deteriorating level of insecurity in the nation.

A statement by the Force Spokesman, DCP Frank Mba, indicated that the police boss made the disclosure while hosting a delegation of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) from Nasarawa State Chapter, led by Alhaji Aminu Muazu Maifata who paid him Salalah visit in his official quarters in Abuja.

 

According to him, aside the arms recovery nationwide, a total of 2,175 suspects have been arrested for kidnapping, armed robbery, murder and cultism since the launch of Operation Puff Adder on 5th April 2019.

 

However, the latest effort by President Buhari at tackling the insecurity problem through the issuance of Executive Order has been dodged by controversies.

 

Members of the House of Representatives have even adopted a motion asking the president to rescind his decision on the Executive Order which they argued could expose citizens to danger.

The motion of urgent public importance sponsored by Hon. Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje (PDP, Bende Federal Constituency, Abia State) is seeking to revoke the “Executive Order to remove, revoke and banish all firearms certificates and licences throughout the federation”.

 

In her contribution, Hon. Elendu-Ukeje noted that the Executive Order recently signed by President Buhari and billed to take effect from 1st June, 2019, violates Section 44(1) of the Constitution.

The lawmaker further noted that despite the need for gun control, withdrawing legal guns would mean “only illegal guns will be in circulation and only criminals will own guns.”

 

“One would have thought that government position will be to domesticate international conventions that have proven to be effective in curbing proliferation of small arms and light weapons,” she said.

 

In his own contribution, Hon. Edward Pwajok (PDP, Plateau) noted that 99.9 per cent of legal owners of guns do not use them for killings or kidnapping.

 

He said: “This issue was reported wildly about the intervention, but there has not been comment from the government. With that, it is safe to assume that the executive order was signed by the President. We should err on the side of caution. My problem is that this policy is of over intelligence; is there research that the killings are done by those licensed to hold gun?

 

“Those who kill are the only ones with illegal weapon, someone with legal weapon will not kill. 99.9 percent of people with legal weapon will not kill. Why would the president ban the ownership of weapon?

 

“Mr. President and security agencies should go after unlicensed gun. A criminal will not apply for licence. This order does not serve any purpose; it further empowers criminals to have a field day.”

 

Hon. Abubakar Chika (APC, Niger) corroborated Hon. Pwajok saying: “Smaller thieves are afraid of going to some houses, thinking they have licensed guns. We should rather have recertification.

 

“I don’t have a gun, and there are people with guns around me. It helps in securing the environment.”

 

Hon. Alexander Adekola from Ekiti State equally believed the Executive Order will make Nigerians vulnerable to attacks.

 

He said: “This Executive Order is to make everybody in Nigeria vulnerable. Are they saying people use them to kidnap or kill? No. It is the kidnappers and armed robbers that are using it without licence”.

 

In his own submissions, Hon. Simon Arabo (Kaduna State) opined that government cannot use Executive Order to override lawful acquisition of arm.

 

“If most of the weapons are being used illegally, it is for the security to go and tackle that; not for people who have theirs legally. I think that Executive Order, if it has been signed, should be overwritten”, the lawmaker said.

However, Hon. Mojeed Alabi (APC, Osun), was in support of the Executive Order. He was of the view that it would sanitise the process of arms acquisition which he claimed has been shrouded in secrecy and fraud.

He said: “The police control the use of guns. The question we must ask is, what is the requirement of issuing gun licence? I have been victim of robbery. I have applied for a gun, and refused. I was asked to offer bribe. Why would some get, some would not.

 

“I will support the breakdown of the process for application as in order climes. I would love to have it decentralised. Why would some people have and some would not? Let us have regulations brought before the House”.

 

The motion was subsequently unanimously adopted after a voice vote.

 

Some members of the inner and outer Bar have also joined the House of Representatives in calling for the immediate withdrawal of the Executive Order saying the action have shown that the president have lost the larger picture of the citizens’ rights to life and self-defence.

In his comments on the issue, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Mike Ozekhome noted that the Order had unwittingly left honest and innocent Nigerians most vulnerable to the unrestrained murderous and blood-letting activities of marauders, herdsmen, terrorists, armed robbers and kidnappers.

He said: “Ordinarily, one would have readily applauded the president for signing an Executive Order banning possession of guns, having regard to the unbridled proliferation and possession of small and medium scale politically motivated and banditorily-induced arms currently in circulation.

“However, Buhari’s sectionalistic perception of governance from the opaque prism of ethnicity and religious nuance do not give one such euphoric comfort of nationalistically induced decisions.

“It seems to me a panicky measure meant to forestall the threats by Niger Delta militants to declare their Republic by 1st of June, and also for the now historic struggle by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) for self-determination.

“Whatever be his reasons, the president and his handlers appeared to have lost the larger picture of the citizens’ rights to life and self defence. Section 33 of the 1999 Constitution provides for the right to life. Section 258 of the Criminal Code which operates in the Southern part of Nigeria and Sections 59-60 of the Penal Code that operates in the North, all guarantee the right to self defence and the defence of one’s property.

“What the Executive Order has unwittingly done is to leave honest and innocent Nigerians most vulnerable to the unrestrained murderous and blood-letting activities of marauders, herdsmen, terrorists, armed robbers and kidnappers.

“People may now decide to possess these arms illegally and under cover as guerrilla tactics, since even a legitimate licence cannot guarantee same, after thorough screening by law enforcement agencies. After all, self-preservation is the first law of nature.

“The Executive Order is also gravely flawed in the sense that those known and notorious to illegally possess these same arms, like herdsmen, were not even named at all.There now appears to be two sets of laws for Nigerians”.

Corroborating Ozekhome’s submissions, Dr. Biodun Layonu (SAN) said government needs to disarm those in illegal possession of arms and ammunition rather than putting the lives of Nigerians licensed to own guns under threat.

“Yes, I agree. The solution to current security challenges is not asking those who legitimately possess arms to drop them but to dispossess those who illegally own arms and ammunitions.

“There are those who are thinking of buying guns to protect themselves and family because of current security challenges. An increased confidence in the capacity of the State to protect according to the constitutional mandate will discourage those now wanting to own arms. Sadly, this is not the situation now hence the inclination of more people to apply for gun licences.

“Ordinary law abiding citizens ought not to be punished. It is criminals and bandits that should. I think the President is being misadvised by relevant authorities”, the silk said.

To a former Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Adekunle Ojo, it is morally inappropriate for government to issue the Executive Order given the current level of insecurity in the country.

He said: “When a license is issued, it means it is legalized. If it is legalized, it means there are conditions upon which those licenses issued were validated. The owners of such guns must have satisfied one condition or the other before they were issued such licenses.

 

“Persons who genuinely owned guns are not the problem of the country but those that are engaged in arms proliferation and illegal importation. In essence, I would have expected that government will do everything within its power to stop those using guns illegally rather than focusing on those that were licensed to use them.

“This is because for as long as an individual has not abused an opportunity granted him, he cannot be said to have flouted or breached any law upon which a revocation can be sustained.

“We must however not forget that government can lawfully issue and revoke license, as holding of gun is not an individual property in line with Section 40 of the Constitution. So, there is no laid down procedure to be followed by government other than the issuance of Executive Order.

“Despite this fact, I don’t think it is morally sound for government to do so given the current level of insecurity in the country. Someone that is licensed to hold gun will always be in a better position to defend his family from any attack than someone unlicensed.

“So, as far as I am concerned, the time is not auspicious for government to withdraw guns from private individuals who are licensed to hold them. There was even no basis for such withdrawal. I am not aware there is any allegation that they are misusing the guns in their possession.

“Another problem I see in all these is that, if the guns are being taken away from those licensed to keep them, and we left out those that were carrying guns without being licensed, more insecurity problems will be created in country. So, government action will be counterproductive”.

A former General Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mazi Afam Osigwe, expressed fears that president’s action will endanger citizens’ lives.

 

“If the news about the Executive Order is true, it may further endanger the lives of citizens. This is because it is a known fact that security agencies have proved incapable of being able to protect lives and property in every part of the country. So, this Executive Order will do nothing but only strip those who are licensed to hold guns naked of their rights to life and self-defence. This will further expose people’s lives to danger.

“It is a pity that government has also failed to realize that the problem of insecurity in this country is not caused by those who have license to hold guns but those in possession of illicit arms. Government should focus more on how to check proliferation of these illicit arms which are being used to carry out nefarious activities across the country.

“So, the Executive Order should be promptly reviewed as it will eventually be counterproductive. Government cannot also be talking about community policing and now be denying people of their rights to life and self-defence.
A Lagos-based lawyer, Ige Asemudara, was also concerned about the timing of the Executive Order.

“It is not a correct order to make at this time when Nigerians are been invaded left, right and centre by gunmen. We cannot be calling on locals to be vigilant, support the army and the nation’s security men and defend themselves in one breath and be making order that people should surrender their licensed guns or firearms in another breath.

 

“How do they defend themselves when marauding herdsmen and other criminal groups come calling? Section 33(2) of the Constitution and other provisions of the law allow Nigerians to defend themselves from unlawful violence or defend their property.

 

“That order lacks credibility. It lacks legitimacy. It lacks conscience as it does not fit into the damming reality on ground. I thought the president would have done so well to make an order directing the violent Fulani herdsmen and other criminal groups to surrender their arms or face the wrath of the state.

“That order is a declaration of war against the law abiding Nigerians who properly obtained licensed guns to provide security for themselves when the state failed to do so. That order intends to lead more Nigerians to the slaughter. If in deed, it has been made, I urge that it should be reversed,” the lawyer said.

 

 

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2 Comments

2 Comments

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