There are strong indications that moves by some governors to secure licences for their respective volunteer corps to carry assault rifles and combat the raging insecurity in their domain may continue to hit a brick wall.
This is because the embargo on the issuance of fresh firearms licences imposed on the police since 2013 have yet to be lifted, repeatedly bringing to naught efforts by some states to arm their security outfits and defend residents in their domain.
Sources in the police told Saturday PUNCH that there was no plan to lift the embargo due to the insecurity across the country. They ruled out the possibility of lifting the embargo anytime soon, saying plans by the governors to write the President may not yield any result.
The latest to declare his intention to request for the licence was the Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, who said on Thursday after inaugurating the state’s Community Volunteer Guards, that he would legally procure Ak-47, Ak-49 and other sophisticated weapons for the guards.
He lamented that the Federal Government had consistently failed to disarm terrorists rampaging through the streets, killing people, abducting innocent persons and destroying people’s property, as he noted that no fewer than 5,000 persons had been killed in the state since 2015.
“The issue of AK-47, AK-49 and other weapons are the prerogative of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. That is why in my inauguration speech today, I said we will seek, and by tomorrow, I’m submitting a letter to the president to grant a licence for AK-47, AK49 to our community volunteer guards,” he said in an interview on Arise TV on Thursday night.
While the Firearms Act allows the president to exercise his powers to grant licence through the Inspector-General of Police, successive IGPs prior to the emergence of Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) as the President in 2015 had retained the licensing embargo.
Prior to Ortom’s statement on Thursday, governors Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State and Aminu Masari of Katsina State had asked the residents of their respective states to defend themselves, owing to the worsening insecurity across the country. Despite the opposition by the Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor, Matawalle insisted that residents of the state must carry guns.
Similarly, governors in the South-West had while establishing the Amotekun Corps expressed their desire to arm the members of the vigilance group. They had written to the Inspector-General of Police to secure a licence for the Amotekun Corps, but the request, according to findings, has yet to be approved.
The then Force spokesperson, Frank Mba, had said the police would follow laid-down rules in considering the request.
Meanwhile, an aide to Ortom confirmed to Saturday PUNCH on Friday that the governor had yet to write the letter as promised, but that he would do so next week.
Some top commanders of the Amotekun Corps also told The PUNCH on Thursday that they were still making efforts to secure the licence.
Police keep mum
When contacted on Friday to comment on whether or not the embargo would be lifted on account of renewed requests by governors, the Force Public Relations Officer, SP Muyiwa Adejobi, could not be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, as of the time of filing this report, top sources in the police told Saturday PUNCH that there were no plans to lift the embargo, given the current level of arms proliferation in the country. Some of the sources lamented that in spite of the embargo, the insecurity in the nation had spiked significantly, wondering what would happen if fresh licences were issued.
“It was because of the level of arms proliferation that the then Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, imposed the embargo, and since then it has not been lifted. Now that insecurity is worse and the illegal arms in circulation has increased, it may be suicidal to start issuing fresh licences,” a top source said.
When told that the governors had vowed to go ahead, another source said it would be unlawful but that in the current circumstances, the insecurity had reached a level where they could be stopped. The source added, “People are doing whatever they like and you know these governors are very powerful, especially with their closeness to the President, but I don’t think the embargo will be lifted anytime soon. Will the governors go ahead? I wouldn’t know. Is it illegal, yes, it is. We are a country guided by laws. But it’s unfortunate we find ourselves in this situation.”
Submit weapons – Police
The police have asked Nigerians with expired firearms licence to submit their weapons to the nearest police station, saying it’s illegal to keep holding such weapons when the licence has expired.
When asked about the number of requests pending before the police for fresh licence or renewal, Adejobi in an interview with one of our correspondents on Thursday evening said, “There is an embargo on gun licensing. We are not issuing licences because there is an embargo on it, so I wouldn’t even know the number of requests.
“I know that before now people have been making moves to get a licence but what we have been telling them is not to go through any backdoor to get a gun or licence.
“The best thing to do if you cannot renew your licence is to go and drop it at the public armoury and they will keep it for you. If you have a gun and your licence is expired, it is dangerous and criminal to keep holding that weapon.
“When you have an expired licence, it is as good as if you don’t have a licence. The normal thing to do is that if they can’t renew the licence for you, take it to the public armoury or you hand it over to the police.”
When reminded that the insecurity in the country was getting worse and that asking people to submit their weapons could expose them to more danger, Adejobi said there was no way a law enforcement agency like the police would be promoting the proliferation of arms or tolerate finding arms in the wrong hands.
He added, “In fact, if you come to our office that you want to renew your licence and we see that you can’t renew, the best thing for the armourer in charge is to collect it from you. The best thing, like I said, is to submit it to the police and it will be kept safely. When the time comes for the government to renew such weapons, it is still your property. You can still follow due process. But for now that they can’t renew it for you, go and keep it with the police.”
The Force PRO frowned at instances where people used their guns to threaten others, adding that it was unacceptable for people to misuse the opportunity to bear weapons.
Arms recovered nationwide
On the number of arms recovered nationwide, Adejobi noted that over 2,000 sophisticated arms and tens of thousands of ammunition had been recovered.
He said, “From April 2021 till date, 2,921 sophisticated arms and 58,431 ammunition have been recovered.” I don’t want to call it seizure of arms; I would say recovery, because anytime the police go out for operations, we recover arms, and we don’t give them back to the owner.”
Three months killings
At least 1,833 deaths were recorded from violent incidents including attacks from Boko Haram, militia herdsmen and gang clashes between April and June 2022.
The figures are mainly cases of killings reported by various media outfits in the country within the period which was collated by SBM intelligence.
Out of these were 1,154 civilians; 71 security agents; 288 terrorists; 160 bandits; 40 cultists; 43 kidnappers and 19 members of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra.
Of the 71 security agents killed, 37 were policemen; 31 vigilantes; 31 soldiers; three personnel of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps and three officials of the Federal Road Safety Corps.
According to the report, 432 deaths were recorded within the period in the North-West; 526 in the North-East; North-Central, 478; South-West, 107; South-East, 132; and South-South, 158.
The breakdown according to states indicated that 495 deaths were recorded in Borno; Plateau, 173; Zamfara, 168; Niger, 138; Kaduna, 125; Benue, 101; Ondo, 63; Anambra, 62; Rivers, 41; Kebbi, 40; Katsina, 39; Cross River, 35; Taraba, 34; Imo, 31; Kogi, 24; Lagos, 22; Sokoto, 21; Akwa Ibom, 16; Ebonyi, 15; Bayelsa, 14; Kano, 14; Kwara, 14; Adamawa, 12 ; Abia, 10; Bauchi, 10; Oyo, 10; Yobe, eight; Ogun, six; Osun, six; Nasarawa, three; Gombe, one; and one in Jigawa State.
When contacted on measures being put in place by the President to stop the wanton killings in the country, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, declined commenting on the issue.
A member of the International Security Association, Switzerland, Jackson Ojo, however accused the Federal Government of not doing enough to end the insecurity witnessed in many parts of the country.
He warned that more Nigerians might be killed before the end of this regime if the government continued to pay lip service to the ravaging insecurity.
Ojo said, “During the civil war, casualty figures were not as high as we are having now. We are having this because the major cause of this is because of the bad governance we have in place. If half of the killings we have in the country happen in some other countries, the leaders would have taken decisive actions that would prevent occurrence of such. But that has not been the case in our country.
“We will record more because of the attitude of our government; otherwise, I see no reason while the service chiefs are still keeping their jobs.”