For saying herdsmen were justified to bear arms, Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State on Saturday came under heavy criticism, with the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and some senior members of the bar calling on him to withdraw the statement in order not to throw the country into chaos.
NBA President Olumide Akpata, Lagos lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), and former Chairman of the Governing Council of National Human Rights Commission, Professor Chidi Odinkalu, in separate interviews said the governor crossed the line, when he said herdsmen bore arms to defend themselves from cattle rustlers.
Special Adviser, Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Benue State, Mr. Ken Achabo, also on Saturday described Mohammed’s justification of herdsmen carrying arms as an open invitation to anarchy in the country.
They all warned that such a statement should not come from someone holding an executive position as governor of a state.
According to them, allowing herdsmen to bear arms when they have not been issued licence to do so is capable of throwing the country into disorder, as other citizens, too, would be justified to exercise their rights to defend themselves.
Akpata said, “If the governor of Bauchi is saying everyone should carry arms to protect themselves, that flies in the face of the law. The law is clear on who can carry arms and the regulations and control of arms.
“His statement is a clear disregard for the law, which the NBA has been drawing attention to. The law is very clear on who can carry arms and who cannot. When leaders make such statements, they are calling for anarchy. If one group can carry arms, the other group would say, why not me?
“People in authority should be mindful of what they say. They must be careful with what they say, because people are listening. Our people take their cue from their leaders. When they hear or see what their leaders do, they believe it is okay to follow suit. Leaders must be extremely careful. The NBA will not subscribe to allowing people, who are not legally empowered to carry arms, to do so.”
Fálànà called on Mohammed to immediately withdraw his statement, stating that nobody in Nigeria has the power to bear AK47 and other arms and ammunition without a licence issued by the appropriate authorities under the Fire Arms Act.
He said, “Since there is no evidence that the cattle rearers carrying AK-47 rifles are authorised by the president, the statement credited to the governor of Bauchi State, Senator Bala Mohammed, is an invitation to and a justification of criminality. It is tantamount to an executive justification of criminality.”
Fálànà warned that except the members of the ruling class called themselves to order, they could plunge the country into another civil war.
“If cattle rearers are encouraged to bear arms, those who are being attacked with those arms have the right to defend themselves,” he said. “They have the right to acquire their own weapons to defend themselves in exercise of the right to self-defence guaranteed by Section 33 of the Nigerian constitution.”
Fálànà called on the governor to withdraw his statement before other citizens acquired their own weapons to defend themselves and their families. He quoted profusely from the Firearms Act Cap R.11 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, specifically citing Section 3, which provides as follows:
“No person shall have in his possession or under his control any firearm of one of the categories specified in Part I of the Schedule to this Act (in this Act referred to as a ‘prohibited firearm’) except in accordance with a licence granted by the President acting in his discretion.
“4. Personal firearms: No person shall have in his possession or under his control any firearm of one of the categories specified in Part II of the Schedule to this Act (in this Act referred to as a ‘personal firearm’) except in accordance with a licence granted in respect thereof by the Inspector-General of Police, which licence shall be granted or refused in accordance with principles decided upon by the President.”
Odinkalu, on his part, said everything about the governor’s statement was offensive.
According to him, “First, he deliberately lies about the contents of the constitution in order to justify a non-existent right of herdsmen to carry arms and procure more AK-47s.
“Second, he says the government has failed Fulani herdsmen, implicitly suggesting the government has been good to others at their expense, when the reverse is, in fact, the truth.
“Third, he speaks like he is not government, when, indeed, he has embodied and been in government at all levels since 1999. Fourth, he tries to glamorise these so-called forest-worshipping herders like they are modern day saviours. He has not heard of forest reserves, obviously.
“By the way, these are the same herders that the same northern governors at whose forum he was speaking told us four years ago were all foreigners. Everything about what Bala Mohammed did in that clip is venal. He should be ashamed of himself.”
For Achabo, there was no legal and political basis for what the Bauchi State governor said, because, according to him, no provision of the Nigerian constitution allowed private individuals to own and openly carry sophisticated weapons. He decried the wanton destruction of lives and property perpetrated by the arms-bearing herdsmen, especially, in Benue State, accusing them of rape, maiming, killings, and destruction of farmlands and farm produce. He said this had rendered thousands of people homeless and made them internally displaced persons in their own homeland.
Achabo wondered why Mohammed would support herdsmen to carry sophisticated arms but condemn the call on the federal government by Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State for a state of emergency on the security situation in the country.
“By the position of Governor Mohammed of Bauchi State, Dr. Samuel Ortom was right to call for the establishment of state police and for citizens of Nigeria to be allowed to carry firearms for protection,” he said.
Achabo appealed to the people of Benue State to remain calm and not take laws into their hands, as Ortom was not resting on his oars to ensure total security of lives and property of the populace. He appealed to well-meaning Nigerians to support the open grazing prohibition and ranches establishment law to engender peace and social coexistence.
A chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and a former Delta State governorship aspirant, Chief Sunny Onuesoke, also condemned Mohammed for rationalising arms bearing by herders. Onuesoke, however, supported Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai’s position that bandits should not be offered money but eliminated.
Addressing a press conference in Asaba, the state capital, Onuesoke said it was not only shocking but also embarrassing for a governor, who is the chief security officer of a state, to make such statement, especially at this time of widespread insecurity across the country.
Onuesoke also reminded Mohammed of the Nigerian Firearms Act (1990), which provides “that no person shall have in his possession or under his control any firearm or ammunition except such person has a license from the President or from the Inspector General of Police”.
He stated, “If the governor says because of the hazard of their business, then the okada riders, the keke riders, the taxi drivers, farmers, traders and, in short, all Nigerians should carry AK-47, because there is no business without hazard.”
Onuesoke said what was expected of Mohammed was to caution the herdsmen to respect the law and the people on whose land they do business, instead of forcefully occupying their lands, terrorising innocent citizens and molesting their women.
“As long as those in authority in the north continue to make this kind of statements, the herders’ crisis will continue to aggravate and embolden these people to do the kind of criminal activities that they are doing,” Onuesoke said.
Supporting the call by El-Rufai to confront bandits head-on, Onuesoke said, “Members of this group destroy human life, create a severe environment that is not conducive for investment. Farmers are too scared to go for farming, which is impacting negatively on food supplies in our nation.
“These gangs must be removed from the soil of our dear nation. Do we have to wait until our nation gets to the point of no return? Definitely, no! Time to take the fight to them.”
Tobi Soniyi, George Okoh in Makurdi and Sylvester Idowu in Warri