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Civilians own more arms than security officials in Nigeria

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Although arms proliferation is a global issue, available data on Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) show that out of the 640 million circulating globally…

In Nigeria civilians are in possession of more arms than security officials, a report from SBM Intelligence said.

The report details how the proliferation of small arms in Africa’s largest economy is fueling insecurity in the country.

“The number of small arms in circulation in Nigeria, in the hands of civilian non-state actors is estimated at 6,145,000, while the armed forces and law enforcement collectively account for 586,600 firearms,” the report said.

SBM said the trend of arms proliferation in Nigeria has an impact on the country’s internal security which has led to violence, deaths and injury of citizens.

Already, Nigeria is battling rising insecurity: the northeast region of the country is in the throes of a decade-long Boko Haram insurgency that has left tens of thousand dead and more than a million displaced. In recent months, the northwest region is a hotbed of wanton killings, banditry and kidnappings.

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A government spokesperson Garba Shehu last week acknowledged that the criminal gangs that carry out kidnappings in the region are being supplied weapons through small aircraft.

The north central region sees intermittent ethnic clashes and the threat posed by the secessionist group the Independent People of Biafra and its military arm the Eastern Security Network are a clear danger.

According to a Global Terrrorism Index 2020 report, Nigeria was ranked the 3rd most terrorised country in the world due to insecurity.

The effects of arms proliferation by regions

In the South South proliferation of arms has driven the increasing rate of violence in the region.

This includes communal clashes, killings, cultism kidnappings, ethnic and religious clashes

For the Niger Delta region, proliferation of small arms has had an impact on violent agitations by the various armed groups in the region demanding for greater control of the resources of the region. It is also one of the reasons violent crimes by criminal gangs are showing no sign of whittling in oil-rich Rivers State.

“An amnesty programme initiated in 2009 by the late President Umaru Yar’adua aimed to deal with these agitations. It largely succeeded in restoring oil production levels, but the underlying economic injustices that drove the agitation in the Niger Delta are yet to be resolved.”

“A toxic mix of small arms proliferation, youth under/unemployment and general disaffection is likely to drive future agitation.”

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Non-state actors, the report said, have established a local arms manufacturing sector and there is also significant importation/smuggling from international sources.

“Illegal weapons factories have also been discovered in towns such as Enugu and Calabar.”

SBM noted that it is difficult to estimate the volume of locally manufactured weapons produced in this region.

“East European and Asian nations are the major sources of illegal arms in Southern Nigeria.”

Meanwhile in the Nothern region, SBM’s stated that the proliferation of small weapons alongside “existing state corruption, large tracts of ungoverned spaces, and mass unemployment has largely been responsible for the rising criminality and violence in Northern Nigeria.”

SBM referenced the clashes between the farmers and herders enabled with ammunition from at least 21 different nations. These countries are Israel, Poland, Brazil, Iran, USA, Czech Republic, Algeria and Egypt. Istanbul, Turkey was named major source for illegal weapons in Nigeria.

According to the report, Small arms proliferation and related violence in North Eastern Nigeria is significantly different from what obtains in the North-Central and North Western zones. The primary driver of violence are radical Islamic groups attempting to carve a sphere of influence or an Islamic caliphate. The Boko Haram terrorist group operates within this axis.

The Northern Central region has witnessed clashes between “sedentary farmers and nomadic Fulani herders”, the North Central zone is rife with ethnic militias, making it a hotbed for violent ethnic and religious clashes facilitated using small arms.

“Small arms proliferation and related violence in North-Eastern Nigeria is significantly different from what obtains in the North Central and North Western zones,” SBM said.

The report also stated that the primary driver of violence are “radical Islamist groups attempting to carve a sphere of influence or an Islamic Caliphate. The Boko Haram terrorist group operates within this axis.”

“In Benue and Plateau states, both in the North Central region, locally made weapons are estimated to be used in over 50% of crimes committed – 62% for Benue State, and 69% for Plateau State. In Adamawa State in the North East, it is 32%,” SBM said.

Points of Importation and Supply

SBM highlighted lengthy and porous borders as one of the hindrances to identifying the internal hubs such as storage locations and transhipment points.

Nigerian Customs’ boss Hameed Ali, whose agency is supposed to prevent the entry of illicit weapons into the country, recently admitted to the porosity of the borders before a House of Representatives committee.

The three most notorious arms smuggling frontiers in Nigeria are in the south-west (Idi-Iroko in Ogun state and Seme in Lagos state), the south (the port city of Warri in Delta state), and at the north-east border with Niger and Cameroon (Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states).”

“Hazen and Homer, citing Nigeria Customs seizure data between 1999 and 2006, point to the Southern Nigeria locations of Lagos, Port Harcourt, Seme/Badagry, Ogele/Sagamu, Lekki-Ajah beach, Ijebu Ode, Idiroko, Osun, Oyo, and Owerri, as major distribution points,” the reports said.

While in the South-East and South-West, weapons coming into the Niger Delta are mostly gotten directly from ships berthing offshore.

The report noted that transactions are usually in cash, or by directly bartering illegally obtained crude oil for weapons.

Transhipment points of these weapons are mostly in Benin Republic, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Libya, Mali, and Niger, in addition to more distant locations like Bulgaria, China, Kosovo, Serbia, South Africa, Turkey, and Ukraine

“Weapons transhipped from Burkina Faso are usually hidden in sacks of dried animal skin and transported in lorries. Weapons from Benin Republic are usually transhipped in yam flour and rice sacks and transported via trucks – as these are often the least-inspected goods.”

“Weapons meant for the markets of South-Eastern Nigeria, are usually concealed in large bundles of imported used clothes popularly known as okrika”

The intelligence organisation said during the cause of research a potential supplier of locally made weapons in Yala, Cross River State, told its researcher that he could deliver weapons to him anywhere in Nigeria in a bag of garri, a locally-made derivative of cassava.

Possibilities of regulation

In order to safeguard the country’s security and reduce the chain of arms supply, the Nigerian government might need to firm up on border search and efficiency of custom officers.

Border closure might not outrightly be the solution as attempt to this has initially failed.

As noted in the report, the major source of importation of arms are mostly the Nigerian land borders.

These land bordes have facilitated smuggling, illegal arms importation. But during the period the borders were closed there are indications that smuggling of these illicit arms and activities across the land borders still went on.

But with a comprehensive overhaul and reform of the concerned agencies to truly do their assigned jobs efficiently, the chain of supply might eventually be broken.


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