GUN LICENSING: WHAT ORTOM SAW BUT SOME DIDN’T SEE…

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By Andrew Yakubu

The former Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom said many significant things, some of which were viewed by other people as controversial. But Ortom, a man known for calling injustice by its name while upholding truth, justice and fairness remained steadfast throughout his 8 years as governor. He indeed ran into trouble on several occasions with the Muhammadu Buhari government, particularly on issues of security.

Those who hate to hear truth no doubt hated and still hate Ortom’s guts in no small measure. But there is another quality of his that even his fiercest adversaries cannot diminish.

Samuel Ortom sees the future and tells it with near perfection. For some years, Ortom has been commenting on national issues with the courage of a trojan, and the things he warned that if steps were not taken to avert would happen indeed have come to pass.

One of the things Ortom advocated strongly when he was governor was the call on the Federal Government to grant licenses to responsible citizens to carry sophisticated weapons such as AK47 rifles to defend themselves against terrorists, bandits and other criminals who have been attacking innocent people.

Ortom’s call in 2020 was premised on the need to face insecurity headlong to prevent incessant loss of lives through the activities of criminal elements bearing dangerous weapons illegally.

“I heard people complaining that Ortom called for Nigerians to be allowed to carry sophisticated weapons and that it would bring about anarchy. What about the herdsmen who are carrying AK-47 and kidnapping innocent Nigerians, raping our women and destroying our villages and towns and becoming a terror to us? How about them? Why can’t we collect these sophisticated weapons from them? How many of them have been arrested?”, Ortom queried.

As expected, the call generated reactions with majority of individuals and groups across the country supporting the call, describing it as timely and laudable.

On August 4, 2022, the day he inaugurated the state-owned security outfit known as Community Volunteer Guards in Makurdi, Governor Ortom hinted that he would send a written application to President Buhari to approve the issuance of licenses to allow the guards to carry weapons, including AK-47 and AK-49 rifles. President Buhari unsurprisingly declined the approval.

Whether or not the Federal Government felt that approving the licensing of arms on the request of Ortom could accord him some national fame, the truth is that today, the reality and the need for Nigerians to defend themselves against criminals is boldly starring us in the face and more people are beginning to see sense in what Ortom saw a long time ago.

Despite Nigeria’s strict gun ownership laws, the country remains the West African region’s largest illicit small arms market, adding to the nation’s dire security crisis. No day passes without reports of attacks and killing of innocent Nigerians in different parts of the country.

The killing of over 160 Nigerians in three LGAs in Plateau state on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day by terrorists shocked the world and once more brought to the fore, the need for citizens to be permitted to own weapons to defend themselves as Ortom and other patriots have repeatedly said. Over 20 villages across Barkin Ladi, Bokkos and Mangu LGAs were attacked in what has become a pattern of a failed or a fast-failing state.

I live in Jos so I have first hand experience of what it means to reside in the areas where these attacks often take place. It is not too much to demand that we law-abiding Nigerians be allowed to acquire arms and defend ourselves against the evil being unleashed on us by merchants of death.

The other day I read the lawmaker representing Delta North Senatorial District, Ned Nwoko, re-echoing what Ortom has often advocated. Senator Nwoko called for the introduction of a bill that allows civilians to own and carry firearms. He stated that the bill was important following the security challenges, particularly the recent Plateau killings.

Last year, the Zamfara State government advised residents to obtain guns to protect themselves against terrorists and bandits.

The number of those who now agree with Ortom that private people have to possess the means of self-defense since the security agencies need help from responsible Nigerians is clearly on the rise.

It is a fact that out of the 195 countries of the world, over 150 have gun licensing laws which allow private citizens to posses certain kinds of arms for self-defense, hunting and sport shooting. Notable among these countries are the United States of America, United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil, Chile, China, India, Cambodia, Israel, Japan, Croatia, Denmark, Czech Republic and El-Salvador.

Even in Africa, countries such as Botswana, Djibouti, Gambia, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Arica and Swaziland have legislations permitting private ownership of firearms.
Incidentally, most of the countries that allow private ownership of firearms are not facing the legion of security threats that Nigeria is currently experiencing.
That makes it imperative for the Federal Government to consider the call by former Governor Ortom.

Like he suggested, the government can regulate the caliber of arms to be owned by private citizens. Whoever wants to own the approved firearms would need community leaders and other relevant authorities as guarantors and must take responsibility in the event of misuse.

Samuel Ortom speaks from the point of view of someone who is genuinely concerned about the unity and progress of this country. He has said a lot that was ignored but has come to pass as the country battles with the grave consequences of its negligence, the negligence of the voice of reason.

Yakubu writes from Bukuru, Jos.