Of illegal arms in circulation
No doubt, the proliferation of arms and ammunitions in Nigeria is real and it is a scourge that the Federal Government must fight to pull the country from the precipice of danger. It is good news therefore to see members of the House of Representatives rising up to the issue of small arms and light weapons (SALW) proliferation in Nigeria and initiating a bill, which has passed second reading, to regulate things.
The bill is titled “A Bill for an Act to Establish National Commission on Small Arms and Light Weapons charged with Responsibility to, among other things: Regulate and Prohibit Proliferation of Small Arms, Ammunition and Light Weapons and sensitise the Public to the dangers of Small Arms and Light Weapons in Order to Discourage their Production and to Combat the Problem of the Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons in Nigeria in line with the Economic Community of West African States’ Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons and for Related Matters.”
This bill is long overdue given the quantum of illegal arms believed to be in Nigeria. According to the United Nations, Nigeria accounts for about 350 million of the 500 million illegal small arms circulating in the West African sub-region. What is responsible for the proliferation SALW? There are pull and push factors. Some demand or pull factors fuelling the proliferation of SALW include crime, revolts, subversion, sabotage, religious crisis, communal conflicts, social agitations, micro-nationalism, insurrection, terrorism, insurgency, riots, militancy, electoral violence, political violence, social interest, ethnic tensions, cross- border smuggling, porous borders, local manufacturing, privatisation of security, insecurity, poverty, economic crisis and mass unemployment, among others. While on the supply side or push factors for the proliferation of SALW, are willing sellers, profiteering, and porous borders.
Obviously, 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 in Nigeria. From what was 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.
The spate of armed robbery attacks with incredible violence across the country such as the recent armed robbery operation that threw the ancient town of Offa, Kwara State, into pandemonium for hours and in the process, five bank branches were allegedly raided while about 32 people, including police officers, reportedly lost their lives is a good example of the fall out of arms proliferation.
Again, since 1999, the use of arms especially for fighting elections has become heightened as politicians have become more desperate and many have created private armies to help them win elections by violent means.
Similarly, 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. It has also fuelled communal clashes as well as religious or ethnic crises in Jos, Kaduna and in Taraba State. The farmers-herdsmen conflicts in Benue, Taraba and Nassarawa States, in which hundreds of lives have been lost are largely fuelled by illegal arms.
Indeed illegal arms have led to the rising rate of criminality and citizens are endangered! There have been international and national efforts against SALW proliferation, but they have not yielded the desired results. At the international level, there have been unilateral and multilateral actions against arms proliferations especially around global flashpoints and vulnerable regions in Africa and the Middle East; and nationally, the efforts have been on cross-border security by agencies like the Police, Customs Service and Immigration Services, but the menace is still a bugbear to citizens and governments including Nigeria’s.
Beyond the bill and setting up of the National Commission on Small Arms and Light Weapons, there should be strategic plan for addressing illicit circulation of SALW. Nigeria should be proactive. The law enforcement agencies should be strengthened to enable them check the supply factors, which have worsened the security situation in Nigeria where disbarment strategy has not been successful. As such, security agencies should be more vigilant and politicians should avoid redefining democracy to mean winning elections at all cost, culminating in exacerbated violence.
The security agencies should ensure that whatever arms procured are properly acquired to avoid abuse and 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 do so within a specified period. For the resources needed, the security agencies should get operational vehicles and the necessary equipment such as scanning machines to stem the flow of weapons into the country. Specifically, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) must be serious about border patrol and ensure that the porous borders (air, sea, and land) are well manned by ethical officers. The military services should be sterner in monitoring their men, especially those fighting insurgency, on peacekeeping and various arms bearing operations.
At the international level, Nigeria should enter into appropriate pacts with originating countries on the movement of arms and ammunition with a view to reducing the influx of arms into this country.
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