Port Harcourt — Nigerians would be allowed to carry AK-47 to defend themselves from the rising tide of violence and insecurity, if Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State has his way. In what many will agree is one of the most revolutionary suggestions of our time, the Governor, in comments widely quoted by the media, said the Federal Government should grant licences “to responsible citizens to carry sophisticated weapons such as AK-47 as part of measures to curb the rise in insecurity in the country.” The policy “should be backed by a strict legal framework to prevent illegal possession of arms by the citizenry without exception.” The Governor was speaking at a virtual meeting convened by the Centre for Values in Leadership, in collaboration with Nigeria Governors’ Forum. I held my breath when I read the Governor’s suggestions and envisioned myself and others welding AK-47s as part of our daily routine. Perhaps, I day dreamed, some Nigerians would take it around – while driving, to weddings and burials and possibly to mosques and churches! And why not, for who can predict when and where incidents of insecurity and violence can occur?
But seriously, Governor Ortom deserves every understanding and sympathy on why he is fed up with the spate of violence and insecurity which have resulted in kidnappings and murders on a scale reminiscent of the norm in banana republics. Benue State has had its fair share of violence, as have the states in the North East region. When you see daily reports of the high and low being taken down and out, you become desperate in the search for solutions, and this is what is driving Governor Ortom. Governors of the North East met the other day on the security situation in the region, and suggested that the police should be allowed to use artillery and other heavy weapons in the fight against crime and terrorism. When people face the challenge of insecurity, their natural reaction is to reach for more weapons.
Governor Ortom’s weapon of choice – the AK-& – is lethal. Invented in 1947 by a Soviet military mechanic Mikhail Kalashnikov, the AK-47, an assault rifle, has earned a reputation as “the deadliest weapon of the 20th century.” It sits well in the hands of government soldiers, drug dealers, terrorists and kidnappers anywhere in the world. Is this what His Excellency really wants us to carry in Nigeria! He tries to limit the ownership by restricting it to “responsible” people. But who is a responsible person? Often, we cannot tell what someone is capable of until they do it, so there is some fluidity on the concept of responsibility. A responsible man or woman may be irresponsible when circumstances or events dictate. For example, how will His Excellency ensure that I do not use my AK-47 (if I am considered responsible enough to own one) on an annoying neighbour or an errant driver or a chronic debtor? If you think I am raising a false alarm, consider the case of the Untied States, the most advanced country on earth, where it is easier to buy guns than a new iPhone. Statistics show more than 100 Americans are killed with guns and 200 more are shot and wounded every day in homes and on the streets. We risk the same grim statistics if His Excellency should have his way.
So how do we deal with the violence and insecurity we are seeing in Nigeria. For one thing, we are strangers to asymmetric warfare, in which the enemy uses unconventional and unconscionable means such as terrorism to wear the opponent down. The enemy does not wear uniforms and does not subscribe to any rule of engagement. Where a conventional army will mobilise in large numbers using normal logistics, this enemy is fast, nimble and ubiquitous. He thrives on speed and surprise and can raid a village or a facility in just hours mobilising men and materials in just three or four pick-up vehicles. He does not attack in that sense of the word, he hits and runs, looking for remote population settlements. Everyone is a target and everything is a weapon. He has nothing to lose; death is a duty and reward, so there is no deterrence. Ironically, the workings of the modern newsroom mean the smallest noise he makes is given the widest publicity, frightening the civilian populace and the fighting force and yet motivating him to say he is doing well. The strongest army in the world will find it difficult to match these tactics. The way out is intelligence. A terrorist who slips through the security architecture has already succeeded. Modern armies, besides acquiring weapons, set up sophisticated means of obtaining intelligence through humans and machines. This is a holistic fight and involves everyone – the market woman, the civil servant, traditional rulers, students and of course the soldier. If we stop them before they reach us, we cut off their supply lines, blunt their raids and harass and pursue them in offensive actions. This way, we put them on the defense and on the run perpetually, and deny them the freedom to roam and raid. Here, the AK-47, for all its hard-earned reputation, will be woefully inadequate.