A member of the Senate Committee on Police Matters, Ned Nwoko, is proposing a bill that will allow Nigerians to carry firearms for self-defence. In this interview on Arise TV monitored by David Lawani, Senator Nwoko, who represents Delta North in the National Assembly, dismissed the notion that Nigerians are not ripe for self-defence by owning guns, among other sundry issues
Why are you proposing a bill for Nigerians to bear arms for self-defence?
My bill is predicated on the lawlessness that is currently pervading the nation. We have all experienced it or we know somebody who has experienced it. Somebody, who has been kidnapped by some armed robbers and militants, herdsmen and all of them. We have come to a point in this country where we must make honest admissions to ourselves, which is that the security agents cannot protect lives and properties as enshrined in the Constitution. The common man is left to his caprices, if I may use that word. The common man doesn’t get any kind of support from the police. Even the police as a force are ill-equipped and ill-funded. They are not capable of discharging those onerous duties and that is the basic fact. I am in the Senate Committee on Police Matters, and I can tell you that we do not have the number of policemen that we need to secure Nigeria as a country. We do not have, and the military on the other hand, we have been spending billions of naira over the years. We have bought warplanes, different arms, and ammunition in the name of fighting terrorism and other crimes, but they are not able to deal with issues. A lot of money has been spent and a lot of lives have been lost, and we are nowhere near finding a solution. The idea of a bill to enable Nigerians to carry arms and ammunition is borne out of desperation. The fact that people do not have the protection that they need. For example, in the United Kingdom, in terms of emergency, assuming you have an emergency, you pick up your phone and dial 999, 080, or 070 as a number, but just 999. Maybe you summoned your last breath to dial 999, and you didn’t speak to the other person on the other end, what happened is that within five to 10 minutes, you will receive three emergency units from the police, ambulance services, and fire brigade. Because at that time, they would not have known which one you needed. So, the three of them will converge at the place where the phone was located. But in Nigeria, what stops us from having 999? 111 or 888? And it is just one of those things we just need to address. How do you help ordinary people and Nigerians reach out to the security forces for emergency services in the event of trouble? Now, talking about my bill, it is not just about people carrying arms. You don’t just go to a shop and buy arms.
What measures can be put in place in Nigeria to ensure that this is possible?
Some measures have been newly proposed. And they are very strict measures. In America, every citizen has the right to bear arms as enshrined in the Constitution. In Nigeria, it is not so. What I am trying to do specifically is to have a system where people, who are willing to carry arms are allowed to do so. The first condition that must be met is that every local government area must have a gun shooting school, and if you want to have a gun, the first thing to do is to be trained in the use of arms. So, in every local government area, there will be shooting schools run by former military officers. When you have been certified that you have gone through that, and you can use arms, the next step is for you to go to your King, Emir, or Oba, who will give you a letter of certification to confirm that you are from that place. Then the next thing for you to do is to go to two doctors. Those doctors must certify that you are mentally fit to bear arms. Then you go to your local government chairman, who must confirm that you are from that local government. You will now go to the DPO of that locality, who will confirm that you do not have any criminal records and that you are not a wanted person.
How do we check or vet Nigerians in possession of arms when we still see even security agents use arms indiscriminately against innocent citizens? Who will fund these steps and where will the funds come from?
There are very many issues of insecurity in this country. That is why when we resumed on February 6, those were all that we spoke about. It doesn’t matter about implementation and funding, everything will take care of itself when we get there. If you want to have a pistol or AK47, for example, all you need to do is go to shooting school. The shooting school is not free of charge. It is there to make money but to train people. So, anybody who wants to go there should pay for the training. It is what is done all over the place. It should not be a problem at all. The shooting school will be run and licensed by former military guys, who can understand guns and offer training for those who want to use the guns. There is no question about funding or implementation.
But the question of putting guns in the hands of people, who cannot account for it should worry everybody. The indiscriminate use would be a huge challenge. Are you happy with the situation in America?
In America, they don’t have these checks and balances. Anybody, who is a citizen, can walk up to any shop and buy any gun. From machine guns, pistols, or whatever they desire to have. There are different collections. But here, we are left with nothing. The average Nigerian has come to the end of the tethers. What they need is to have the ability to defend themselves. If you don’t trust law-abiding Nigerians to defend themselves then what are you talking about? Already, we have half of the percentage of the population with illegal arms, and it is growing by the day. It is not getting less. The other alternative is not to allow it to continue while denying citizens who are credible and mentally fit to carry guns to defend themselves. In the UK, it is an offense to carry machetes or knives. Or such offensive weapons if seen in the street. People carry bows and arrows in Nigeria. In every household in Nigeria, there is probably a weapon like a machete, cutlass, or some pen knives that is not more than three inches. In the UK, it is an offense to be caught with anything like that, and you will go to prison for it. But in Nigeria, it is not an offense. Do we go about killing ourselves with knives and cutlasses? No. So, we should get to a point where we will be responsible citizens. The majority are responsible citizens. Many doctors, lawyers, presenters, broadcasters, and others have the desire to have some kind of weapons to be able to scare away would-be attackers. If you are licensed to have a gun and those bad guys out there understand that you have a gun, they will likely not come to your house to harass or, rape and kill you. They won’t do it. Even as a deterrent, they won’t do it. Just imagine, a few days ago, some children in Ekiti were kidnapped because they were not protected and because no adult with them was armed. You can’t allow that to continue if there is a gun license and every school is meant to have people who are armed protecting them. You won’t have this kind of story. There are many vigilantes in Nigeria. There are many other security companies in Nigeria. But the fact is that they are not allowed to carry arms. So, you keep making it impossible for those companies’ security to be armed instead of just standing around buildings and offices, or homes without arms. If they are armed those people will be in your first line of defence. What are the points of having them all over the place?
What will be the checks before giving the approvals, and what is the process of getting firearms today in Nigeria?
The first thing is to establish a training school in all the local government areas. The license must go to various places to get some certifications including from the local government chairman, the King, the Emir, and the Oba. Reports from two doctors and confirmation that they are not wanted or in court for any criminal matter, and with all these documents you go back to the same shooting school and present your documentation that you are now able to get those arms. But then it may take up to a month to go back to those bodies and confirm that they issued those documents to you. If that is done, you can go back to them and get your arms. Every shooting school must have a forensic expert. The point for a forensic expert is that, if a gun is licensed to Mr A, and a murder occurs within the vicinity, the forensic expert should be able to through an autopsy and the rest of them get the bullets that were used in the killing of that individual and link it to some bullets that were issued by the licensing school. Because these are things that must be done as a way of checking the usage after the acquisition of those guns. So, if a bullet is used, with forensic experts we should be able to identify where the gun came from through the licensing body.
All these processes you have stated in getting a license for a gun can be done if one is corrupt. It will be easy to pay someone to jump the gun to get the license. Is your bill thinking about the control of guns in the hands of non-state actors?
You seem to have given up on Nigeria. Let us give Nigerians an opportunity. Everybody is not corrupt in the country. The Kings, the Emirs, and the Obas are not. The DPOs are not. The doctors and local government council chairmen are not corrupt. Nobody can go there and just pay money and get certification. No, we must start to lay a foundation for growth in this country. If you don’t want to handle a gun, others want to. There are people out there who want to own a gun so that they can defend themselves. I speak on behalf of those. You know that the police and the military cannot defend you. Why should you stop another person from owning a gun? Out there, there is a proliferation of arms in the hands of kidnappers and armed robbers including bandits. Do you want them to continue? You know also that the other alternative is to keep funding the military, and police but we are not getting anywhere. Before you and me over the years, you know that in this country that system has failed. It has almost collapsed. About three months ago, my SLA (Senior Legislative Aide) in the National Assembly was kidnapped, and up till now, he has not been found, even though we made a report to the police and the DSS. There was just one demand for N10m ransom made to the wife. I gave the police the phone number. But obviously, the police ought to have been able to trace the phone number whether it was switched off or not. This is a system failure. Up till now, nothing has been done. I keep making phone calls to the police. I keep making phone calls to the DSS and nothing has been done. When I move my motion, I also speak about having CCTV across the country, particularly in Abuja. So, nothing had been done. We should just wait to be slaughtered by those who are illegally armed? That is absurd.
The Senate has summoned the service chiefs. Are you convinced that they have new ideas to combat insecurity other than to come and say they are deploying a kinetic and non-kinetic approach? What of the issue of how they are underfunded?
Well, to an extent, you are probably correct. The fact is that we are all concerned. Whether you are a Senator, Reps member, or a Nigerian, everybody is concerned. But what do we do? What we must do is what we are trying to do, which is to raise awareness with the Service Chiefs, the DSS, and the rest of them to make sure that things are stepped up. I don’t have much hope that anything different will come out of it because even if you give them all the money that they are asking for, along the line you are going to hear that some money has been diverted. You are going to hear of some of them being complicit in it. You are going to hear of the officers involved. I am opting for another alternative to allow people to defend themselves because of the failure of the system. So, we are doing what we are doing as a Senate, and we cannot do more than that other than carrying guns to defend Nigerians. All we can do is budget money as requested and sufficiently in the last appropriation proceedings. But as to whether anything new will happen to Nigeria in the next two, three, and four years, I doubt it. We must come to the reality that what we need now is to give the people the opportunity to defend themselves.