THE FIREARMS CONTROL ACT NO. 32 OF 1959 CAP. F28 LAWS OF THE FEDERATION OF NIGERIA, 2004.
This Act has been responsible for the control of firearms in Nigeria for the last sixty-seven years. The Act provides that no person shall have in his possession or under his control, any firearm or ammunition except such person has a license from the President or the Inspector General of Police.
It states further that no license or permit to carry firearms should be granted to the following people;
- Applicants under the age of seventeen;
- Persons who are of unsound mind;
- Persons not fit to have possession of the firearm in question on account of defective eyesight; and
- Persons of intemperate habits or anyone who has been convicted of an offence involving violence or the threat of violence during the previous five years.
Except for licensed firearm dealers, it is unlawful for anyone to buy or sell firearms or ammunition. The same goes for firearm manufacturing, only the Inspector–General of police can grant a license to make and repair firearms in Nigeria. However, such persons must be duly documented and registered.
Anyone who has in their possession unlicensed firearms; who imports or exports firearms or ammunition other than through prescribed ports or who manufactures, assembles, or repairs firearms and ammunition unlawfully shall be liable to a minimum sentence of ten years imprisonment.
Personal firearms are also prohibited including shotguns other than automatic and semi-automatic shotguns; shotguns provided with any kind of mechanical reloading device; sporting rifles, air guns, air rifles or air pistols, and humane killers of the captive bolt type. Dane guns, flint-lock guns, and cap guns are also included in the list.
One of the most important responsibilities of government is the safeguarding of lives and properties, provided under Section 14 (2) (b) of the 1999 Constitution as amended. So paramount is this responsibility that the entire economic, social and political progress of any society depends on it. Furthermore, the Constitution guarantees every citizen the right to life under Section 33 (1). It can be validly argued that beneath the right to life is the right to protect your life from harm or unlawful attack with reasonable force. Therefore Section 33 (2) (a) gives private citizens the authority to use reasonable force to defend themselves from unlawful violence or for the defence of property. This is the right to self-defence.
With the rise in insurgency all over the globe, citizens have begun to raise questions and disagree with the Firearm Act prohibition on individuals carrying firearms as a means of personal security, and in situations where self-defence is necessary.
Considering the illegality of firearms amongst unlicensed individuals in the society, Nigeria still accounts for 70% of illegal guns in West Africa according to United Nations report on August 3rd, 2016. This can be assumed to be one of the major causes and triggers of insecurity in these times. The question remains: “Should citizens bear firearms to protect their lives and properties?”
In South Africa, the case of In Ex parte Minister of Justice: In RE S v Van Wykis very instructive. The defendant had tried numerous methods of ending hoodlums from burgling his shop. With the knowledge of the South African police, he rigged up a shotgun, which would be triggered by any hoodlum entering the shop through one of his windows or tampering with his groceries in the shop. The gun was fixated in such a way that it would aim at the legs of the intruder only, and he had also placed a notice on his shop door warning of the trap. In spite of this step, a man broke into the shop and was fatally shot. At his trial, the defendant successfully pleaded private defence and was acquitted.
The Court decided that killing in defence of property can be justified in circumstances where no other less dangerous or effective method is available to protect property. According to the Court, the test is whether the means of defending the property were reasonable by having regard to all the circumstances, such as the nature and extent of the danger, the value of the property, and the time and place of the occurrence. The value of the property seems an important factor in determining the reasonableness of the defence.
Considering the level of insecurity in Nigeria, the Firearms Act and its ancillary regulations do not foster nor enable citizens to protect themselves when security agencies fall short of their duties. The Act ought to be amended or supported with policies that are liberal as well as more favourable to the principle enunciated under section 33(2) (a) of the 1999 Constitution, which is the right to kill in defence of oneself or in defence of one’s family or property.