The police high command appears incensed. It appears scandalised by the reign of guns. Everywhere in the country, gun-boom has become commonplace. The police, whose duty it is to maintain law and order in the country, appear overwhelmed by all this. Law and order have virtually taken flight because small arms and light weapons are unleashed with reckless abandon. The embarrassment associated with this has become too telling to be ignored. It was probably in the light of this that the Inspector-General of Police Ibrahim Idris has ordered the police zonal commands to mop up arms illegally being held by Nigerians, wherever they can find them. Consequently, Nigerians in possession of guns have been ordered to voluntarily return them to the police. We are waiting to see how much success government can record in this regard. As we do that, the point must be made that gun control is a worldwide phenomenon. It is usually applied in situations where guns, which have gone into wrong hands, are deployed to cause mayhem. Countries like Germany, China, Turkey, Uganda and Guatemala, among others, have had to apply it at one time or another to stem the tidal wave of gun-related crimes. In the United States, where the use of guns is legalised, occasions have arisen when the authorities considered reviewing the gun laws in America. In recent years, some crazy folks have had curious reasons to open fire on innocent schoolchildren and their teachers, resulting in loss of lives.
The Nigerian situation is a familiar one. The country is almost on its knees on account of uncontrolled deployment of arms. Criminal activities have become a daily fare in the land owing to illegal possession of firearms. The Nigerian condition is only comparable to what used to obtain in South Africa before the first all-race elections that took place in the country in 1994. Before then, South Africa had the notoriety of being the most violent country in the world. Then, everybody was angry with everybody because the white minority was ruling over the black majority. The apartheid regimes bruised the psyche of the South African to the extent that the people hated themselves fiercely. Life was of little meaning to many. The people freely and routinely vented their anger on one another. The apartheid regime in South Africa has since been dismantled. But the country has remained a violent one because old habits, as we know, die hard. With little or no reason to train their guns on their fellow citizens, the average South African who is accustomed to guns has turned his attention elsewhere. He has become xenophobic. Their fellow blacks from foreign lands are now their main targets of attack. The South African authorities have not done much to deal with this ugly trend.
Back home in Nigeria, our anger is of a different variety. Until recently, the only expression of anger that attracted the attention of the authorities was that of Niger Delta militants. They operated in the creeks from where they bombed oil installations, particularly the pipelines. Their grouse was clear. They were not happy about what they saw as the neglect of the region that produces the oil from which Nigeria feeds fat. They wanted something substantial for the goose that lays the golden egg. But when it seemed that the authorities were not sufficiently perturbed by the attacks on oil installations, the militants went a step further. They began to hold expatriates that worked with the oil majors ransom. Most often, release was procured for the hostages through payment of ransom. The militants hardly killed, except in rare circumstances. This remained the situation until Umaru Yar’Adua stepped in as President. And, in a rare act of magnanimity, he granted amnesty to the militants. Thousands of them surrendered their guns in exchange for a life of meaning and purpose.
But the situation has changed. The Muhammadu Buhari presidency was heralded by a different brand of armed men. In the past three years or so, the country has been held by the jugular by a band of armed men that has come to be known and called Fulani herdsmen. They are all over the country, killing and maiming. Their dare-devilry is unprecedented. They are itinerant, gun-totting marauders who dare communities and even states in their own territories. They operate under the umbrella of an organization called Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association. Unlike the Niger Delta militant who hid in the creeks and operated clandestinely from there, the Fulani herdsman operates in the open. He does not hide his identity. Given his mode of operation and the sardonic pleasure that he brings to bear on bloodletting, there is no day that passes without the herdsman taking a couple of lives. For him, bloodletting is a way of life. In fact, the armed Fulani herdsman is the biggest threat to peace and security in Nigeria today.
But no one seems to know what drives the herdsman. What does he intend to achieve? Why has his trade become such a murderous venture? Some Nigerians have had to hazard a guess. Many tell us that the herdsman is on a mission, that his agenda borders on jihad. We are told that what the Fulani herdsman is doing amounts to an entry behaviour. That he would step out in full force if his flapping wings are not cut short now. But what can unarmed natives do when they are confronted with armed strangers? Little or nothing. Their most potent response or reaction will be to appeal to government. This they have been doing. But government has not treated the matter with the seriousness it deserves. The situation has become so bad that government itself is being accused of being complicit in this matter.
It is in the face of this that government is talking about mopping up arms. Many are worried about the hypocrisy involved. The impression government creates here is that it knows one thing and presents us with another. Government knows those that harbour the arms but has refused to call a spade by its proper name. The herdsman is armed to the teeth. Yet government has not deemed it fit to go after him or seek to disarm him. Why? This is the question on the lips of many Nigerians.
How then do we proceed from here? Government has a responsibility to rise to the occasion. The menace of the Fulani herdsman has become a national crisis. Every part of Nigeria is under the onslaught of the armed terrorists. Strangely and surprisingly, government has not taken decisive steps to rein in the killer herdsmen. It has been treating them with kid gloves. That explains the effrontery and audaciousness that oozes forth from Miyetti Allah. Government papers over the issue and sometimes explains away the murderous dimension that cattle-rearing has come to assume in the country. A government that has not frontally tackled the menace of the herdsman has so much to worry about. Government should deal with the matter by disarming the herdsmen. Having done that, it can then sit back and talk about mopping up arms from a few others who may be in possession of small arms and light weapons. It would amount to putting the cart before the horse if government turns a blind eye to where the arms are and decides to look for them in places where they are not likely to be found. We should not play politics with gun control.