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Nigeria, America and the gun control debate

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Nigeria, America and the gun control debate

by Abigail Anaba

Since the Florida school shooting that left seventeen persons dead, the gun debate has reclaimed center stage in American debate. Democrats have called for stricter laws and gun control, while Republicans have held the constitution closer to their chests while chanting second amendment.

President Trump has come up with his own solutions. While he is not ready to mess with the human rights, he feels guns should be kept away from people with mental health issues. In addition, he thinks that naming schools ‘gun free zones’ is an open invitation to anyone who feels like it to go on a shooting spree. He wants some teachers armed to serve as a deterrent to shooters who will not be able to tell who will shoot back. Though, he got some backlash for his suggestions, the President has created room for debate and is pulling more people – democrats and republicans – to take a fresh look on their stand on guns.

10,000Km away, Nigeria is facing her own gun problems not on a Florida scale with a lone shooter who can be easily over-powered. An entire community of herdsmen are armed and in plain sight and have shown again and again that they are willing to kill. For a country with strict gun control laws, it is ironic that herdsmen have remained on the rampage. To make things worse, there appears to be no action on the part of the authorities to stop them.

Government’s immediate reaction was to call for cattle colonies. They earmarked 370,000 hectares of land to be handed out to herdsmen across the 36 states of the federation. There have been push-backs against the suggestion with at least seven states saying ‘no’ to cattle colonies but it bears saying that the Nigerian government’s reaction to the nation’s gun problem has nothing to do with guns at all. There were no debates calling to question the legality of herdsmen bearing arms. Nor any talks about disarming them if they are not licensed to carry fire arms. Instead, the solution put forward by government spoke more to protecting criminality.

However, two months later, on Tuesday, President Buhari said any herdsman caught with AK47s should be prosecuted. This directive comes on the heels of a 2017 call by the presidency saying that states should tackle insecurity in their territories through gun control. But the nonexistence of any framework to facilitate this control makes the declarations sound like all bark and no bite.

True, America and Nigeria are two different societies and sovereigns faced with two different situations. But their problem stems from the same source – guns. A person who wields a rifle will potentially shoot it and might aim to kill. While it would be extreme to call for the banning of guns, as the Democrats in America are asking for, a more centrist ideology will be restricting access. Some out of the box solutions may also be sought. As many have pointed out, declaring schools gun-free zones amounts to waving a red flag in front of a raging bull. One thing is sure, the current climate cannot be allowed to continue.

For Nigeria, this will mean being on the alert to spot how guns are making their way into the country. There is a need for reforms on how our borders are policed. It is no news that Nigeria’s borders are porous. The United States Institute of Peace reports of the 500 million illegal arms in West Africa, 350 million are domiciled in Nigeria. It will also involve more proactive measure like giving gun trotters an incentive to surrender their arms.

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