Nigeria under the threat of illegal weapons
When the United Nations raised the alarm that Nigeria accounts for about 350 million of the 500 million illegal small arms circulating in the West African sub-region, that spectacle of operatives of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) intercepting a consignment of pump action rifles along the Mile 2 – Apapa Road, Lagos, would seem to have buttressed that UN assertion. The seized consignment contained 661 smuggled dangerous weapons.
No doubt, the proliferation of arms and ammunitions in Nigeria is real and it is a scourge which the Federal Government of Nigeria must fight to pull the country from the precipice of danger.
Since 1999, the use of arms especially for fighting elections became heighted as politicians became more and more desperate and created private armies to help them win elections by violent means. This has led to a lot of killings and a re-definition of the ideal of democracy. Also, it has fuelled sundry violent criminal activities as the thugs have had to continue their trade in other forms after the elections have been won and lost.
Some time ago, the Foundation for Ethnic Harmony in Nigeria cried out against the volume of illegal arms in the hands of Nigerians and the National Task Force to Combat Illegal Importation of Goods, Small Arms, Ammunition and Light Weapons (NATFORCE), which was inaugurated in June, 2009 to check the menace stated that there were over eight million illegal weapons in West Africa, with more than 70 per cent of these arms in Nigeria. The State Security Service (SSS), Enugu State Command, the other day, discovered an illegal arms factory in Agbada, Nenwe in Aninri Local Government Area of Enugu State and four persons were arrested. In addition, the secret service also once intercepted 13 containers filled with rocket launchers, grenades and other explosives and ammunitions. The cargo was said to be on its way to The Gambia and had begun its journey from a port in Iran. Gambia reacted by severing all diplomatic ties with Iran, a strong ally, and demanded that all Iranian diplomats leave the country within 48 hours. Also, sometime ago, security operatives impounded a Ukrainian plane, fully loaded with guns and ammunitions when it made a technical landing at Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport. And the question remains: Why is Nigeria the destination or transit camp for these weapons?
From what is often recovered from the Niger-Delta militants as a result of the amnesty programme, from the sophisticated weapons in the hands of armed robbers, terrorists and kidnappers, there is no doubt that the nation is, indeed, under the gun. In fact, kidnapping, using the most sophisticated weapons, has become such a menace to the extent that some state governments have passed laws to impose death sentence on perpetrators. The magnitude of the influx of illegal arms into the country is so frightening and certainly explains the on-going insecurity of lives and property Nigeria.
The spate of armed robberies with incredible violence across the country; thugs following politicians with high-end weapons to protect them, which have occasioned pre- and post-election violence, the Boko Haram terrorists using explosives to blow up places and using sophisticated weapons to kill innocent Nigerians in a war against the Nigerian state, with its attendant social dislocation and threat to peace, are all products of this unbridled in-flow of arms into the country. The unresolved murder of high profile citizens like Chief Bola Ige, Funsho Wiliams, A K Dikibo, Marshal Harry and many others has its root in this jungle-like life in which Nigerians live. It has also fuelled communal clashes, religious and ethnic crises in Jos, Kaduna and Taraba as well as farmers-nomads conflicts in Benue and Nassarawa States, in which hundreds of lives have been lost.
Indeed illegal arms have led to the rising rate of criminality and Nigerians are all endangered. What a brand Nigeria has become in the comity of nations, especially in Africa, as a result of this!
Apart from the open declaration by the Police and other security agencies to fight back, government should find lasting solutions and go beyond the routine to stamp out illegal arms in the country. Nigeria should enter into appropriate pacts with other countries while security agencies should be more vigilant. Also, government must be serious about border patrol and ensure that the nation’s porous borders (air, sea, and land) are well manned by patriotic, conscientious and ethical officers. The legal dealers should be tracked to ensure that arms do not get into the wrong hands.
Also, government should audit licensed gun holders and encourage those who are possessing unregistered arms to declare them within a specified period. The military should be sterner in monitoring their men, especially those fighting insurgency and on peace-keeping operations in order to ensure full compliance with military ethics.
The influx of arms into the country must be kept in check if Nigeria would not be held to ransom by some unscrupulous elements with weapons in their hands.