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Ile-Ife, small arms and light weapons

By Saheed Ahmad Rufai
20 March 2017   |   3:55 am
An unpleasant exchange between a Hausa man and a Yoruba woman recently culminated in armed conflict in Ile-Ife. Several human lives and property of inestimable worth have since been destroyed.

An unpleasant exchange between a Hausa man and a Yoruba woman recently culminated in armed conflict in Ile-Ife. Several human lives and property of inestimable worth have since been destroyed. Daily Post of March 8, 2017 quoted an eye-witness, Mr. Fatai Kamaru, as saying that the crisis started “when a Yoruba man accused a Hausa man of taking advantage of his wife.” THISDAY edition of March 9, reported that the Hausa man in question “was accused to have slept with the wife of an Ife man who reportedly went berserk when he discovered that his wife had been sexually exploited.” The allegedly despicable love-making took place on Tuesday March 7, 2017 and within 24 hours, as reported by THISDAY, the crisis “snowballed into an orgy of violence…when dangerous weapons like daggers, guns, clubs, arrows, cutlasses and swords were freely used in a free-for-all fierce battle between the two tribes.

At the battle ground in Sabo area of the town, the Hausa people were said to have made use of daggers, arrows and bows to confront the Yoruba people who were said to be armed with Dane guns, cutlasses and charms.”

The above scenario is not without implications for national peace and security and, therefore, calls for concern. The concern is not about the belligerent nature of both the Yoruba and the Hausa who were involved in the violent exchange. It is even not about the high degree of bellicosity demonstrated by the two opposing parties in their handling of the situation. In fact, the concern is not about the incredible militancy displayed by both the Yoruba and Hausa youth and some of their elders, in their prompt responses to the case involved. Alas, it is rather about the instantaneous nature of their blood-thirsty reactions and their blissfully trigger-happy dispositions which offer a clear portrayal of most multi-ethnic geographical settlements in Nigeria as volatile and somewhat inhabitable. This concern is occasioned by the unrestricted access of the “warriors” from among both the indigenes and the settlers, to arms and ammunition. The Hausa used daggers, arrows, and bows, in Ile-Ife while the Yoruba used Dane guns, cutlasses and charms! Are innocent and armless Nigerians really safe and secure in the face of all these!

I recently argued in some of my contributions in notable Nigerian dailies that the unrestricted access in Nigeria to small arms and light weapons posed a great threat to peace and security in the country. I alerted the country’s security operatives that the proliferation of militant groups in the country can only be portentous of an unfavourable security situation in near future. When the Niger Delta avengers were asked to surrender their weapons for amnesty, what percentage of such weapons was surrendered by them? By the time the Boko Haram insurgents disperse from Sambisa Forest, what percentage of their weapons will be dropped or retrieved? When the herdsmen are eventually persuaded to embrace peace, how are we handling the disarmament aspect of the conflict resolution? And now that we have seen daggers, arrows, and bows alongside guns, cutlasses, and charms in flying between the Hausa and the Yoruba in Ile-Ife, can we ever dispossess the warring groups of all their arms and ammunition. The bitter truth is that small arms and weapons proliferation is not an exclusive preserve of a particular region or sub-region in Nigeria. The Ile-Ife crisis is just one of the numerous sides of strategic violence that I already discussed in my recent security related interventions in Nigerian dailies. Such violent engagements are often precipitated by access to weapons which often deafens and blinds the parties involved from exhausting all peace initiatives before resorting to warfare and

It may sound unpalatable that there now are weapons everywhere in Nigeria! Yet it is just the reality. Such an unfavourable security threat is characteristically a precursor to massacre, genocide, civil wars, wholesale militancy, pervasive violence, large-scale armed conflict, and incessant communal clashes. The political class and ruling elites are the main culprits in this connection. After all, they have successfully impoverished the masses in order to access cheap and ready labour for political thuggery and electoral violence through the instrumentality of which they perpetuate themselves in power and eminence. The masses should rise to appeal to that oppressive class to kindly facilitate without delay the withdrawal from circulation of all the “weapons of mass destruction” that their thugs were once equipped with, in order to make Nigeria a safe and secure place for the common man to live in. But that shall be subject of another article.

There is a free flow of arms into Nigeria owing partly to the porous nature of its borders which are vast and undermanned. There are pedestrians’ access routes at virtually every border town in Nigeria. This is coupled with the fact that virtually all the border towns are bounded by conflict zones. More critical than all that is that animals such as donkeys are used to transport firearms into the country. Another method that has become common knowledge is the concealment of firearms in cargo flown, ferried or transported into the country through other means as livestock trucks, too, are used to convey these goods to urban settings for sale. There have been several embarrassing revelations over border security breaches in Nigeria, in recent times, and the authorities and security operatives in the country seem yet unabashed.

It is common knowledge that free access to small arms anywhere in the world leads to the prevalence of violence which spreads fast in affected setting like wild fire. In the Nigerian context, the proliferation of arms has undermined security, contributed to social disintegration and made easy the resort to violence, on slight provocation. The manifestation of the effect of weapons proliferation in Nigeria has taken such forms as escalation and extension of conflicts, strengthened criminals and criminal organizations, increased crimes against women and children, political thuggery and electoral violence, militarization of youths, and in fact, pervasive insecurity.

Small arms proliferation and light weapons that seem currently dominant and ubiquitous in Nigeria are a security threat that must not be trivialised by any segment of the leadership and the citizenry. It is more or less a mantra on the lips of security experts that the rate of access of civilians or citizens to small arms and light weapons determines the level of insecurity in the state. Once left unchecked by appropriate state authorities, fire arms and light weapons are acquired for use at an alarming rate.

One of the factors aiding such acquisition and proliferation in the Nigerian context is that such weapons are cheap for acquisition by even the poorest of criminal-minded individuals and groups. Another factor is that they are lightweight and can be easily concealed for transportation or smuggling out for operations. Yet another factor is that most small arms and light weapons are user friendly as they are cheap to use and maintain without any requisite technical knowledge by the user. These indeed are where lies the danger in Nigeria!

I am not oblivious of the line of argument advanced by Mulinzi and Kurantin who a couple of months ago rationalised that arms acquisition is not always a product of criminal tendencies, in view of the fact that gun, for instance, has somewhat become a substitute for other status symbols like the cell phone, gold chains, glamorous woman which some associate with a means of displaying a man’s status and power. I am equally not oblivious of the fact that many adults or private individuals acquire weapons legitimately. Yet I strongly maintain that there is a bold line of demarcation between an adolescents’ unauthorised possession of arms and an adults’ illegitimate ownership of weapons in the Nigerian context, on one hand and their authorised and licensed acquisition for defence purposes in other climes, on the other. There, of course, is ample evidence in literature that there is a close relationship between insecurity and desire for firearms ownership, anywhere in the world. One wonders whether the situation is not too alarming in Nigeria where insecurity now flourishes unabated.

The Federal Government should be decisive in addressing security concerns in order to prevent a replication of some African national calamities in Nigeria.
Rufai is Ag. Dean, Faculty of Education, Sokoto State University

For instance, Chris Ngang revealed in his “The Role of Small Arms and Light Weapons in Conflict and Security in Sub-Saharan Africa” (2007) how free access to small arms and light weapons fuelled the Rwandan genocide.

Assault rifles, mortars and grenades were said to have been freely distributed in Rwanda in the 1990s and early in the new millennium, as militia leaders received AK-47 assault rifles. Within a short period, 85 tonnes of ammunition was possessed by civilians and guns and other weapons had become ubiquitous towards the close of 2003. According to Ngang, the proliferation of weapons became so worrisome that a Bishop from Rwanda had to ask the government why the security threat was not arrested. The Rwandan experience may not be exactly of the same orientation as the Nigerian, as our own leaders have not made bold to openly distribute arms and ammunition among the populace, preparatory to a genocide. Yet the commonality lies in the Nigerian government’s attitude to the proliferation of small arms and light weapons among the civilians whose reactions to casual, domestic issues may ultimately be guided by their sense of arms ownership!

Who, like the Rwandan Bishop, is ready to ask the Nigerian government why it has chosen to be indifferent in the face of civilians’ free access to arms and ammunition. Both the Hausa and Yoruba who went militant in Ile-Ife claimed to have done so in self-defence! May I ask the Nigerian authorities if the veiled and unannounced militarisation of both the urban and rural populations in Nigeria was not really intended to prepare a fertile ground for another civil war which, we have been told by a veteran soldier, no nation survives twice, and which, unless appropriate steps are taken, may break out in Nigeria on account of any minor rift between two individuals. Why must there be weapons everywhere? And why must arms be so easily accessible?

The destructive effect of small arms proliferation also played out in Kenya where politicians exploited ethnic divisions for their own selfish interest. Drawing on an existing relationship of hostility and ethnic hatred, some members of the ruling elite incited Kenyans against one another and mobilised supporters to carry out what has been widely described as “acts of targeted violence with complete impunity.”

There is no gainsaying that two factors are central to both the Rwandan genocide and Kenyan massacre. The two are arms proliferation in the face of ethnic divisions. Like Jos, like Lagos, like Ogun, like Oyo, like Southern Kaduna, and now, like Ile-Ife!

Rufai is Ag. Dean, Faculty of Education, Sokoto State University