Nigeria’s heightening problem of insecurity, which recently made a devastating landfall in Abuja, the country’s federal capital territory, is pushing Africa’s most populous country down the rough slope to state failure. For more than a decade since 2010, Nigeria has rapidly degenerated into a country at war with itself and by itself, with the deadly Boko Haram insurgency ravaging the North East, marauding killer herdsmen ravaging the North West and North-Central axis and militant Biafra separatist groups laying siege on its southeastern corner.

Characterized by mass killings, displacements, abductions for ransom and wanton destruction of lives and properties, thousands of Nigerians have lost their lives, with millions displaced into camps across the country and beyond. According to data obtained from the Nigeria Security Tracker (NST), a project of the Council on Foreign Relations Africa programme, deaths from Nigeria’s internal wars of mainly ethnic, religious, political and economic motivations, between May 2011 and May 2023, were conservatively estimated to be over 98,000. Of this number, the period between May 2015 and May 2023 recorded the highest deaths at over 63,000, just as over 5,000 deaths recorded since May 2023 is a clear indication that insecurity is heightening in Nigeria as the years go by.

In addition to death and destruction of property, Nigeria has become a thoroughfare of kidnappings and mass abductions for ransom money. In a network of criminal enterprises, which has killer herdsmen as the biggest players, over 17,000 kidnappings took place between 2015 and 2022, with bandits receiving over $18 million in ransom just as the victims of the Abuja-Kaduna train abduction coughed out about $6 billion to regain their freedom. The rising spate of kidnappings and abductions of Nigerians by criminal groups operating across the country has reached an epidemic proportion. Unfortunately, the government of Nigeria appears lost at sea and clueless about the way out of a national security challenge that is increasingly becoming intractable.

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At the root of Nigeria’s national security challenge in the Fourth Republic is acute leadership failure. In the last 24 years since the transition from military to civil democratic rule in 1999, Nigeria’s political process has steadily degenerated into a criminal enterprise of power grab by every means available for the purpose of self-service. The degeneration of Nigeria’s democratic political leadership recruitment process into desperate electoral banditry has consequently installed administrative bandits across the tiers and arms of government whose acute failure of leadership has ensured the presence of bandits all over Nigeria’s forests and highways.

The far-reaching consequences of the failure of Nigeria’s political leadership are made manifest in their inability to fulfil the primary responsibility of providing security and welfare for the Nigerian people. From economic mismanagement, which has created an angry army of millions of unemployed young men and women whose hopeless helplessness is palpable, to the poorly funded, understaffed and ill-equipped state security agencies that have become overwhelmed by the surge in terrorism, insurgency and criminality of armed non-state actors, Nigerians are left vulnerable to the violence of terrorists, insurgents and criminals.

While the long-term solution to Nigeria’s security challenges will be the institutionalization of good democratic governance that is birthed by a credible electoral process devoid of all forms of electoral banditry, the mid-term remedy will be for a comprehensive reform of security agencies to reposition them for effective law enforcement and crime prevention. But to tackle the current insecurity that is characterised by terrorism and banditry in order to save lives and cure the kidnapping epidemic in Nigeria in the short term, the federal government of Nigeria may consider redrawing the national security architecture to accommodate a civil populace-led counter-insurgency strategy through a guided liberalisation of possession of light arms and small weapons by members of the communities worse hit by banditry and terrorism.

Given the grim reality of the inability of conventional security forces to contain Nigeria’s heightening security challenges in a time of war such as this, the Nigerian state cannot continue to tighten control over firearms and maintaining a prohibition on legal possession of light arms and small weapons by law-abiding citizens for the purpose of self-defence. That government is unable to prevent the proliferation of light arms and small weapons in the hands of outlaws, and yet continues to deny law-abiding citizens the right to legally possess arms for the purpose of self-defence is akin to double jeopardy for the Nigerian people whom the state cannot protect and prevents them from protecting themselves.

In implementing Nigeria’s version of America’s Second Amendment, the federal government may limit arms possession to state government-established and funded civilian vigilance groups across the country as a counter-insurgency strategy. For effective management and control of these vigilance groups by the federal government, a volunteer unit should be created in the Civil Defence Corps to incorporate such groups as Amotekun in the South West, Civilian JTF in the North East and the various groups in the North West as well as North Central Nigeria for proper training, monitoring and adequate armament for the task of serving as first responders in times of attacks by bandits. This volunteer unit in the Civil Defence Corps, which will be fully funded by participating state governments, should comprise Nigerians of all ethnic and religious groups as well as cultural occupational groups [farmers, cattle breeders, etc.] resident in the various communities in order to form a strong wall of joint defence of their homes against abductors, highways against kidnappers, farmlands against marauders and cattle against rustlers.

With experienced ex-servicemen and women from these communities forming the core of the operational command of these counter-insurgency groups, communities will have the capabilities of holding up attackers with equal firepower until the arrival of conventional security agencies in difficult-to-reach terrains. And because banditry is primarily motivated by the economics of kidnapping for ransom with the perpetrators not wanting to lose their lives in the process, the presence of properly armed civilian-led counter-insurgency groups will discourage this criminal enterprise and render it too dangerous and no longer profitable for bandits.