Senator (Dr) Bukola Saraki
The Senate President
Of The Federal Republic of Nigeria
National Assembly Complex
Three Arms Zone
Dear Senate President,
DSS INVITATION OF APOSTLE JOHNSON SULEIMAN IS NEEDLESS, PROVOCATIVE AND CALCULATED TO HUMILIATE NIGERIAN CHRISTIANS AND, INCITE RELIGIOUS TENSIONS IN NIGERIA:
THE LEGITIMACY OF SELF-DEFENCE AND THE NEED FOR A HOME GROWN COMMUNITY POLICING IN NIGERIA.
On Wednesday 25th of January, 2017, officials of the State Security Services (DSS) were reported to have laid siege on the hotel accommodating a popular Nigerian cleric, Apostle Johnson Suleiman who had gone to Ekiti State for a Christian revival meeting.
Earlier, the fiery Apostle while under the influence of his preaching function, during a church service had called upon his followers to kill any Fulani Herdsmen that come near his church because he claimed the herdsmen had issued a threat to attack him.
The menace of Fulani Herdsmen in Nigeria in recent times has been intractable and has been responsible for the death of thousands of Nigerian citizens in the last one year alone, in places like Enugu, Agatu and Southern Kaduna.
The Christian community in Nigeria has been silently living in palpable fear owing to a sense of helplessness and defencelessness in the wake of the killings by a group of people who seems to have a genocidal and take over agenda.
The Nigerian Christians have become more afraid because they are dealing with a group with ties in over 12 African countries, having strong cultural and religious ties with a historical mastery in the art of violent conquest. The Fulani Herdsmen are masters in the use of sophisticated weapons like AK-47 rifles.
The victims of the murderous herdsmen have always been taken unawares, especially in the nightly attacks against christian villagers who had never contemplated self-defence to the extent of setting up properly armed vigilante groups.
It is a fundamental christian tenet to respect all lawful authorities whether they are headed by secularists, Muslims, Christians, pagans or seemly perverse or despotic elements. And retaliation is not seen as a virtue to be coveted by Christians.
Also, taking up arms in self defence is frowned at by traditional christian theology but it is legal and legitimate under Nigerian law to procure arms for private self defence.
Section 33 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which guarantees the right to life also makes the exception that in order to protect human life and property, the life of a violent attacker can be legitimately taken in self defence.
Thus, the Fire Arms Act in its entirety makes provision for the legal acquisition of ammunition by private Nigerian citizens either for the purpose of self defence or gaming. Under the said Act, the President or the Inspector General of Police can grant licences to any Nigerian who meets certain criteria, the right to own and carry ammunition.
For a long time in Nigeria, in practice, there has been a moratorium in the grant of gun licences to law abiding citizens who wish to legally own guns. This is likely as a result of the peculiar recent security crises we have had as a country with the emergence of Boko Haram, militancy in the Niger-Delta and increased spate of kidnappings.
However, the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (UNREC) stated recently that Nigeria hosts 350 million or 70 per cent of the 500 million illegal arms in West Africa. The UNREC’s director, Ms Olatokunbo Ige, said that these Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) are in the hands of non-state actors who use the weapons to threaten lives and property of their compatriots.
In such an atmosphere of insecurity, it is only wise and discreet for citizens to resort to legitimate self defence in the face of overwhelmed government security forces that are still dealing with the intractability of Boko Haram, Fulani Herdsmen, militancy and kidnapping rings.
Whereas, the call by the Apostle Johnson Suleiman to his followers to kill Fulani Herdsmen who would come to attack his church may be viewed as extremist, his call was made as a result of the growing palpable fear of insecurity in the country and the seeming helplessness of christian communities in Nigeria, in the event of attacks by genocidal Fulani Herdsmen.
It is clear that the invitation of the Apostle by the DSS is to detain him with the aim of psychologically humiliating and intimidating him and other Nigerian Christians in general, in order to make them see self defence as unlawful. This motive is clear from the report of how the DSS had intended to unleash the power of the State to arrest and whisk away the Apostle from his Ekiti hotel accommodation but for the intervention of Governor Ayodele Fayose and the throng of the Apostle’s followers.
It was needless for the DSS to have attempted to have arrested the cleric when it could have merely invited him as it has now done. However, it is the view of the Citizens Advocacy for Social & Economic Rights ( CASER ) that the said present invitation to the Apostle is needless given the growing misinterpretation and apprehensions among Nigerian Christians who have suffered the loss of many lives without adequate and commensurate response of state agencies like the DSS.
This move by the DSS is clearly seen as provocative with the intention of setting a section of the Christian faith against the Nigerian state whereas, a direct warning to the Apostle would have been sufficient. Such a warning would have achieved greater assurance to all citizens that the agents of the State are still in control of situation while dispelling the notion of bias against Christians who believe the government had not been so swift in its response to the marauding herdsmen.
Your Excellency, we must reiterate that self-defence is a legitimate right of any individual or group of persons in Nigeria. Therefore, we expect the Nigerian Police together with the Nigerian Security & Civil Defence Corps to quickly explore ways of developing our own home grown style of community policing by managing the formation of individual members of Nigerian communities into providing self defence against marauding herdsmen, terrorists, militants and other criminals like kidnappers. This is possible within the precincts of existing laws but requires the exercise of the will of government in its sincere response to the intractability of the herdsmen crisis and other security problems.
The application process for licences to own ammunition should be more transparent and accessible to all citizens, especially high profile citizens like religious leaders, political figures, business persons and community leaders who are high targets of crimes. Their attendants, assistants and vigilante group members should also be legally allowed to carry arms.
Psychologically, where potential attackers are conscious that their victims are equally armed, they would most likely be dissuaded from initiating an attack. Such is the social reality of the present day Nigeria which we must acknowledge both as leadership and as a people.
We therefore hope that you would give due considerations to the issues we have raised in this writing and consequently exercise the powers of your office to draw the attention of the Nigerian government to swiftly adopt realistic measures in addressing these social problems rather than exacerbating them.
Thank you, Your Excellency.
With utmost regards.
FOR: CITIZENS ADVOCACY FOR SOCIAL & ECONOMIC RIGHTS ( CASER )
Executive Director, CASER