Security challenges require military-grade weapons for self-defense, lawyers say
A senior lawyer, Terkura Douglas Pepe, and the Benue state Chief law Officer, Michael Gusa, have said that the prevailing insecurity in the country has made it imperative for Nigeria’s President to licence military-grade weapons to citizens and communities for self-defence.
The lawyers, in separate interviews, justified the recent declaration by Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue state to citizens to apply for licences for AK-47 and AK-49 rifles for the Benue State Community Volunteer Guards, which was launched recently.
They argued that the move was backed by laws, especially under the prevailing circumstances.
The lawyers argued that assault firearms are in the hands of bandits and criminal elements in the country and so it would be appropriate for the President to exercise the discretion of granting licences of military-grade weapons to recognised groups for the defence of communities.
Pepe, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said the laws permit individuals to apply for light weapons for the purpose of self-defence and, with the permission of the President, could get assault firearms as being requested by the Benue state government for use by the Guards.
The SAN said: “Legally, the only person that can give a licence for anyone to own military-grade weapons in Nigeria is the President. That is in accordance with the firearms Act section 33, which empowers the president to grant the licence for military-grade weapons.
“The Governor of Benue state, in establishing the Community Volunteer Guards, is in proper position under the law to apply to the president for such licence. The law says the President, using his discretion, may grant or refuse the application.”
The senior lawyer said though the law did not explicitly give credence to large groups to collectively apply for assault firearms, he argued that the prevalent security situation where arms are in the hand of bandits have made it necessary for such a large group to be licenced to help in dealing with security challenges.
Gusa, the Benue State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, also argued that given the high level of insecurity in the country, it is incumbent on the president to grant licences to the Guard, adding that it was in line with relevant laws.
He argued that with bandits carrying sophisticated weapons everywhere unlicensed, there was an urgent need for communities and individuals to be licensed to use firearms for self-defence.
Gusa explained that despite the spate of killings in Benue state, the governor, who believes in following due process, has taken the path of law by his plan to apply to the President for licences before purchasing firearms.
According to him, it is now appropriate, under the prevailing security challenges, for the President to grant licences for the purchase of firearms for the security outfit.
Gusa explained that Community Volunteer Guards, inaugurated by Governor Ortom was set up by law before the current administration, explaining that the governor revisited the law because of emerging security challenges.
He said there is no community in the state today that has not been affected by the bandits. It would, therefore, be unfair to watch helplessly until bandits exterminate everyone.
The Benue state government has recently amended the Community Volunteer Guards (Establishment) Law, Cap 39, the law of Benue state and subsequently launched the security outfit to complement the efforts of conventional security agencies.