ARMING CIVIL DEFENCE OPERATIVES
The declaration by the authorities of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) that approval has been given to its personnel to carry arms and light weapons may turn out to be a very delicate issue that could lead to unintended consequences in future.
Already, about 1,100 of the personnel to be used as the nucleus of its supposed new role have completed a training programme for that purpose on August 5, while another batch, comprising 500 staff, are currently undergoing a three-month training at the Prisons Armed Squad College, Owerri, Imo State.
Commandant General of the NSCDC, Dr. Ade Abolurin, who made the disclosure in Abuja when he received the Interior Minister, Mr. Patrick Abba Moro, said the decision to equip its staff with arms followed a presidential approval for the agency in accordance with amended Act of 2007, empowering the agency to carry arms.
While defending the mandate to carry arms, the NSCDC boss said it was a practical step to enhance the capacity of the corps and capabilities of the personnel to carry out their duties more efficiently and effectively. Besides, he stressed that the current security challenges in the country have placed a huge responsibly on the agency.
Until now, the Act establishing the NSCDC as a paramilitary body does not require its officers to bear arms. Essentially, its role is restricted to rescue operations in emergency situations and the protection of civilians. In some cases, its assignment includes providing a back-up security for the safeguard of essential facilities such as pipelines against vandals.
We are not against reforms that will help any agency of government perform better in its statutory duties. However, while we endorse any far-reaching measures that will improve service delivery by any government security agency, giving the NSCDC the authority to equip its staff with arms could be counter-productive. It could lead to abuse of the objectives for which the corps was established. Our major concern in this new responsibility is the psychological factor, which our citizens harbor about agencies that bear arms. Indeed, arms have a negative way of affecting the psyche of the people, and more often than not, the officers privileged to bear arms flagrantly abuse them.
It is therefore imperative that should the personnel of NSCDC be given this new role, utmost care must be taken in streamlining their roles to avoid an unnecessary collision with the duties and responsibilities of the Nigeria Police and other paramilitary bodies that now bear arms.
No doubt, we need to maintain the highest level of vigilance against those who are out to compromise the security of our country.
However, government should not encourage an arrangement that is capable of posing a fresh security challenge to the country. Rather than a full-scale arming of NSCDC personnel, the sensible and more tolerable thing to do will be to create a special unit within the agency that can safeguard critical social infrastructure like vital government buildings and oil pipelines and equip such personnel with light weapons.
This may be allowed because such areas have become so volatile that the officers manning them need to be protected from avoidable harm. We acknowledge the fact that NSCDC has done fairly well in the performance of its functions under the Act setting it up, nonetheless, arming them may not be expedient, at least for now. At best, those duties that expose the staff of the NSCDC to risk should be expunged from the Act and be assigned to the Police.