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Examining the Minister of Defence’s Comment on Armed Banditry

February 20, 2021 | Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes
Written by Tolu Okunade

Nigeria exhausts me.

I know I shouldn’t be saying this, but it does. It saps my mental energy and leaves no room for creativity. Why? The Government. Because each morning, we are awoken to policies, comments and stories emanating from those quarters that breaks our hearts. Each Morning. For a nation so blessed with natural resources and an incredible set of people as citizens, we possess poor leadership — one of the worst in the world. And it breaks me.

I have had a relationship with people in the corridors of power who are determined to do right by the persons who elected them or those who were selected. And I’ve seen that this nation can work. And once it does, it would become one of the most desirable nations to live in the world. It is possible.

But everything rises and falls on leadership because no matter how many individual efforts we take and make, there are things only the government can change. This is not to undermine the brilliant efforts and actions of Individuals, Private Institutions and Civil Societies because, without them, Nigeria would be in a more deplorable state than it is now. But we need to understand that what would require a thousand of these individuals, societies and institutions to fix, one government can fix it with the snap of a finger.

Like millions of Nigerians this week, I was filled with rage. Rage because of the comment of the Minister of Defence of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Maj. Gen. Bashir Magashi (rtd). When in a Live Chat with journalists, he said it was the responsibility of Citizens to keep alert against all forms of insecurity in the nation. This went down well with Nigerians, but his next statement left us shocked to the marrow.

He said people should show that they are not cowards by defending themselves. He said the operations of bandits are sometimes carried out with a few rounds of ammunition to cause fear on the citizenry. In his words,

“It is the responsibility of everybody to keep alert and to find safety when necessary. But we shouldn’t be cowards…At times, the bandits will only come with about three rounds of ammunition, when they fire shots everybody runs…In our younger days, we stand to fight any aggression coming for us…I don’t know why people are running from minor things like that. They should stand and let these people know that even the villagers have the competency and capabilities to defend themselves.”

I promise you, I’m not making this up. I promise you. The video of him making these statements are online for the public to access. While I agree with him that it is the responsibility of every citizen to be alert against insecurity and banditry in the country, I do not agree with the latter part of his statement.

At John F. Kennedy’s iconic Presidential Inaugural address on January 20, 1961, he had spoken the famous words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” This he said as a call to encourage citizens to contribute in some ways to the public good. I’m a strong believer in this because the Government’s policies or strategies would work when people are willing to make them work. Good governance requires the active participation of both parties. And as it relates to the Nigeria security situation and its volatile state, people must be alert against all forms of insecurity and once anyone is spotted, it is their responsibility to report it to the necessary authorities.

But when has it become the responsibility of citizens to defend themselves in a nation where we have a Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces whose responsibility is to safeguard lives and properties? While you may be able to defend yourself and your family from petty thieves, how do you defend yourself against bandits armed to the teeth with sophisticated arms? Stand and fight? With what? Sticks and Stones? How is this even possible? The only weapon that can be used in defence is firearms. And owning firearms is illegal in this country. I do not even advice the government to change its stance on this. And how in the world is banditry minor? Have you seen the stories and photos from these attacks? They would break your heart. They are far from minor. Why are these people still allowed to roam our streets freely? Shouldn’t the focus be on apprehending them?

 To conclude, the call for civil defence is an indirect call for anarchy. Is that what the government wants? We must increase security personnel especially on our highways and small villages. We’re not cowards. The government must do better for its people. And just to add, though Nigeria exhausts me, I’ve vowed it would get better in my lifetime. By God. I refuse to hand this over to my children this way. By God.

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