Wednesday, 27th September 2023

Insecurity: How Nigeria can curb inflow of illicit arms

By Onyedika Agbedo
08 May 2021   |   4:30 am
As Nigeria contends with escalating insecurity, it has become obvious that unless the country mops up illicit arms circulating in its territory, citizens’ hope of sleeping with their two eyes closed might remain elusive.

As Nigeria contends with escalating insecurity, it has become obvious that unless the country mops up illicit arms circulating in its territory, citizens’ hope of sleeping with their two eyes closed might remain elusive. Last Sunday, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) disclosed that its officials in Ebonyi State intercepted about 753 live ammunition meant for General-Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG). The police spokesperson, Frank Mba, a Commissioner of Police (CP), who made the disclosure in a statement, said the weapons were concealed in a sack being transported in a commercial vehicle from Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, to Umuahia in Abia State.

“The intelligence-driven covert operation, which led to the interception and recovery of the deadly ammunition, is part of efforts by the Force to identify and crack down on criminal networks and supply chains for weapons and ammunition in and around the country. Comprehensive investigations aimed at bringing to book all persons linked to the crime are ongoing,” Mba added.

The development, which came as anxiety continued to mount in the Southeast geo-political zone over unprovoked but relentless attacks on security personnel and facilities, underscored the fact that Nigeria faces serious security challenges indeed.

In a March 2017 research report titled, ‘The Human Cost of Uncontrolled Arms in Africa’, Oxfam had estimated that Nigeria had two million small and light arms in the hands on non-state actors. In October 2020, an Africa-focused geopolitical research firm, SBM Intelligence, also raised the alarm that the proliferation of small arms and ammunition was driving the increasing rate of violence in Nigeria.

In the report tagged, ‘Small Arms, Mass Atrocities and Migration in Nigeria’, the firm noted that “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.”

According to the report, the trend of arms proliferation in Nigeria has had an impact on her internal security, which has led to violence and the deaths and injury of thousands of innocent citizens.

A further testament to the harm arms proliferation was doing to Nigeria was the Global Terrorism Index 2020 report, which ranked it the third most terrorised country in the world due to insecurity. And truly, no region of the country can rightly be adjudged as safe currently.

Nowadays, if bandits are not attacking communities and kidnapping helpless residents, including students, Boko Haram terrorists or ‘unknown gunmen’, usually armed to the teeth, will be attacking security personnel and facilities, carting away every weapon they can lay their hands on in the process.

Miffed by the development, Nigeria’s former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd), recently expressed concern over the proliferation of all calibre of weapons in the country.

Abubakar, who spoke during a dialogue session of the committee with stakeholders in Abuja, lamented the state of affairs in the country, acknowledging that the proliferation of weapons has heightened insecurity and led to over 80,000 deaths and close to three million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) across the country.

“The proliferation of all calibre of weapons in Nigeria is worrying. It is estimated that there are over six million of such weapons in circulation in the country. This certainly exacerbated the insecurity that led to over 80,000 deaths and close to three million internally displaced persons.

“We believe Nigeria must find a way out of these problems. Our hope is that perhaps among us, by listening to your different perspectives, we can begin to build up confidence among our people so that we can hold together. So, our hope is that we shall not only share our collective lamentations about the current situation, but propose some concrete suggestions that can point the way forward, suggestions that can inspire more confidence among our people and ensure that our country remains one,” said Abubakar, who is also the Chairman of the National Peace Committee (NPC).

Also as part efforts to curb the proliferation of illicit arms in the country, President Muhammadu Buhari, last Monday, approved the establishment of the National Centre for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (NCCSALW) and appointed Maj. Gen. A.M. Dikko (rtd) as its pioneer coordinator.

The agency, domiciled in the Office of the National Security Adviser, replaced the defunct Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons and would serve as the institutional mechanism for policy guidance, research and monitoring of all aspects of SALW in Nigeria.

This decision, the Presidency said, was part of the ongoing restructuring of Nigeria’s security architecture to address emerging threats and strengthen the regional mechanism for the control, prevention and regulation of SALW.

“The impact of the proliferation of SALW across national borders in Africa and the Sahel region has resulted in terrorism, human trafficking, organised crime and insurrections in West Africa and Nigeria.

“Therefore, as one of the measures in tackling this threat, the new centre will be fulfilling the requirements of the ECOWAS Moratorium on Import, Export and Manufacture of Light Weapons as well as the UN Plan of Action to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade in SALW.

“The NCCSALW will serve as the National Focal Point on SALW in Nigeria and lead a multi-stakeholder process involving Government Ministries, Departments, Agencies and the Civil Society in implementing all national, UN and ECOWAS Plans of Action on the control of SALW.

“The Centre will maintain international cooperation and also operate zonal offices in the six geopolitical zones to ensure quick response and effective mobilisation of resources,” the Presidency said.

As the centre settles down for business, The Guardian spoke with a number of security experts in the country, who analysed the situation and pointed at the way forward. Their views are as follows:


‘Ours Borders Must Be Virtually Manned By Utilisation Of Geo-Surveillance Options’
Security expert, Col. Umar Aliyu, in this interview with GODWIN IJEDIOGOR speaks on how Nigeria’s vast land and sea borders could be manned/policed and how illegal arms in circulation could be effectively mopped up.

What is your take on the huge number of small arms and light weapons in circulation in the country?
SMALL arms proliferation, over the past decade in our nation, in my opinion, is fallout of events within the West African sub-region, particularly Nigeria.

Given our peculiarity (strategic, geographical, economic, political, etc), Nigeria is very visible to our friends and enemies. What transpires in the sub-region, and here home, is thus exploited, or taken advantage of, by our friends and foes alike.

Arms proliferation at the alarming rate we see today is thus a symbiosis of sorts, between renegade groups and enemies of our dear nation, within and outside Nigeria.

Unfortunately, our institutions do not appear to appraise these facts and effect the required safety measures abinitio, as is rife with us. We tend to wait and respond after the act, as opposed to preventive or preemptive measure, before the act. Call it “fire-brigade” approach.

Today, we are faced with a problem that was largely avoidable, as it were, if only a bit of proactivity was utilised. The indicators have always been there; all we need do way past was think ahead. Don’t forget, there are other countries in West Africa… hence why is Nigeria a preferred market for small arms?

How are these arms compounding insecurity?
The arms and the ends or means they are put to erode whatever is left of peaceful coexistence and security across board in our land. The compounding effect being the spiraling and collateral outcomes (immediate and mid-term) of these various criminal acts as they occur on our people citizens and nation.

How could these arms have come in undetected? 
In one word: BORDERS! Nigeria has over 4,000 kilometres of land and sea borders, most of which are contiguous in nature. These borders cannot be “manually” policed, as we tend to.

Ours are borders that must be virtually manned by effective utilisation of available geo-surveillance options. Alas!

What can/should be done to mop up these arms? How can the new committee set up by the President go about its mandate and what advice to bearers of these arms?
Mopping up these arms has to be deliberate, decisive and highly sophisticated. The idea of encouraging the swapping of illegally obtained weapons for legal tender (money), as was done by a certain governor, is ill informed and retroactive.

You don’t disarm your adversary on the one hand and then empower him/her on the other to buy more.

Clear-cut and effective solutions for eradication of illegal arms abound, the mode and specifications of which are rather too sensitive for extrapolation here.

I would advice the committee, as set up by the Presidency, to look inward and reach out for these solutions. Put another way, the solution almost always lies within the problem.

I can only hope the committee understands this and reaches out for these solutions, the nature of which, as I said, are way too sensitive for sharing here.

‘Local Arms Manufacturers Should Be Engaged To Supply Arms To Security Agencies’
Tanwa is the founder of Bulwark Intelligence, an information services company that delivers high quality security, intelligence and threat assessments to governments and private companies. She is a U.S. Air Force veteran with over 14 years of experience in Intelligence Analysis, working in the U.S. Department of Defence (DoD) and the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). In this interview with ONYEDIKA AGBEDO, she looks into the problem of proliferation of illicit arms in the country, submitting that the Federal Government needs to send a strong message that smuggling weapons into the country will carry grave consequences.

As the country battles insecurity, it has become obvious that there are lots of illicit arms in circulation. What is responsible for this development?
The sources of illicit arms vary across the country. However, the main causes of the increase in illicit arms across Nigeria are: One, poor border control; two, poor regulation of the arms industry.

Some illicit arms are produced by local arms manufacturers, who typically operate from makeshift factories without legal permits or proper government oversight; while other illicit arms are smuggled illegally through our poorly secured borders.

In southern Nigeria, these illicit arms come predominantly from Eastern European and Asian sources, while in northern Nigeria, these illicit arms originate from Libya. Increased communal clashes/unrest and overall insecurity across the country has increased the demand (and resultant supply) of illicit weapons.

How can these arms be mopped up?
Based on above, it is obvious that stopping the flow of illegal arms into Nigeria has to be a multi-pronged approach.

Firstly, let’s examine this short story: A farmer gets upset that wandering herdsmen destroy his crops. He seeks justice legally through law enforcement personnel and the courts. He gets no response. He decides to look for arms (illegally) to protect himself and his farmland. The next time the herdsman comes close to his farm, he shoots. The herdsman tries to get justice legally through law enforcement personnel and the courts. He gets no response. He decides to look for arms (illegally) to protect himself and his moving herd.

This cycle of attacks and reprisal attacks persist because of poor judicial system or at the very least, the lack of a conflict resolution structure. More effort needs to be put into conflict resolution. Ethnic and communal clashes, which are major sources of conflict, need to be properly attended to.

Secondly, the Nigerian government needs to send a strong message that smuggling weapons into the country will carry grave consequences but must also match that message with laser focus actions. Border security needs to be strengthened. Intelligence agencies need to do their part in studying the network, routes and finances used to smuggle illicit weapons into the country. Once these are identified and detected, ground interdiction forces must be able to conduct operations to catch perpetrators in the act.

Thirdly, tackling local arms manufacturers must be approached with a bit more tact. Weapons are going to be needed by the country’s military and law enforcement personnel. Local arms manufacturers could be positioned to fill in this supply gap, which will reduce the amount of money the country spends on procuring weapons from overseas. Legitimising some local weapons manufacturers will also assist the government in properly tracking weapons in circulation through serial numbers, and their owners.

To be honest, I know this third point is a bit farfetched for now, especially since the government already has challenges regulating industries and keeping track of data. But it is better to have a plan than none at all; especially since we know that weapons will find their way into the country, one way or the other. It is better to have plans to regulate this.

Last Tuesday, the President set up the National Centre for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons. What do you think this agency needs to succeed? Also, what advise do you have for them?
The newly commissioned centre must prioritise data. You cannot fix a problem you do not know. They must set out to understand in-depth the causes, sources and statistics surrounding SALW. Knowing this will help them in providing phased effective solutions.

The second advise I will give is that the centre must prioritise action. They should not get caught up in “paperwork” and “office/admin” level activities.

They must have action plans that directly confront the problem on the ground.

Do you have any word of advise for the bearers of these arms?
Well, I think more effort needs to be put into unifying Nigerians. The sooner we begin to see each other as one, the sooner we will stop taking up arms against ourselves. I understand why people resort to bearing arms. They are not getting basic security from the government and responses from the law enforcement agencies are not encouraging.

But all we can do for now, as a democratic nation, is make our voices heard during elections and ensure we are voting people who will make it their life’s mission to ensure Nigeria realises her vision of being a country full of peace, unity and justice for all.

‘FG Should Offer Cash Incentive For People To Surrender Illicit Weapons’
Renowned security expert and the Chairman of Trans-World Security Systems Ltd, Dr. Ona Ekhomu, in this interview with GODWIN IJEDIOGOR, says the Federal Government should offer cash incentive for people to surrender illicit weapons, among other solutions.

What is your take on the alarming rate of proliferation of small arms and light weapons in the country?
The problem of proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW) has been around in Nigeria since the end of the Nigerian civil war in 1970. However, not much progress has been made to curb it. The government’s inability to stop the influx and proliferation of SALW has resulted in the unfortunate situation where several non-state actors now contest its claim of sovereignty. The Nigerian government no longer has monopoly of coercive force in society. So, Boko

Haram terrorists, armed bandits, armed herders, Niger Delta militants, secessionists, anarchists are intent on dismembering the country into enclaves, fiefdoms and caliphates.

During the recent Boko Haram attack on Geidam, Yobe State, the deadly sect distributed flyers claiming that it means no harm, to the populace, but they want them to become members of the caliphate and adherents of their salafi wahabi doctrine.

We now have an unfortunate situation where non-state actors like the bandits in Kaduna kidnap university students and execute them in cold blood to refute the no ransom payment policy of Governor Nasir El Rufai.

On May 5, 2021, the captors of the students of Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, Kaduna State released 27 students after ransom had been paid by the parents. The students spent 59 days in the custody of the bandits.

Clearly, fear of government security agencies (GSAs) is no longer a deterrent to insurgents, terrorists, cultists and sundry criminals. The apparent ineffectiveness of the GSAs has emboldened many non-state actors who feel they have immunity from punishment by virtue of the fact that they are bearing arms and can enforce their will on a largely unarmed populace.

The security situation in Nigeria is critical as non-state actors now feel confident enough of their capability – rightly or wrongly to confront GSAs. The ready availability of small arms and light weapons in the black market is the root cause of this audacity. Obviously, this perceived incapacity of GSAs to detect and punish those committing armed violence will continue to embolden the aggressors. Using the illicit arms to extort money, obtain ransom revenue or commit violent robberies will yield more income that can be used to buy more arms and pay fighters. This enhanced capability means that violent crimes and insecurity in Nigeria are bound to be prolonged. Things may get worse before they can get better.

My fear is that Nigeria is fast becoming a failed state. A situation where small arms and light weapons are proliferated unchecked into the country would result in total breakdown of law and order and a turn to life in the Hobbesian State of nature.

In Lagos, we experienced the Hobbesian reality on October 21, 2020, in the aftermath of the Lekki shootings. There was no law or order for days. Police Stations were attacked and torched. Police personnel were lynched and the heinous acts were videotaped. Homes and shops were looted and torched. Banks, court houses, local council secretariat buildings were looted and set ablaze. The palace of the Oba of Lagos was breached and his staff of office removed.

It was hell on earth. However, the mass action had resulted in the seizure of guns from the police agency and the hoodlums once armed were ready to confront the authorities. They did stare down the police personnel and ruled the streets for almost three weeks before police presence was reestablished. The #ENDSARS protests should show us the horrific impact of SALW on the hands of violent anarchists, secessionists, terrorists, cultists, bandits, kidnappers, herder militias, etc.

So, what effect would you say proliferation of arms has had on insecurity in the country?
The threat formula is that threat (T) is a function of Intention (I), Motivation (M) and Capability (C). We say T = f (I, M, C). Intention relates to the overt act of the threat. Motivation relates to what is propelling the aggressors (such as ideology, greed, injustice, political interests, cruelty, jealousy, etc.). The third variable – Capability relates to the means of delivering violence, one of which is small arms and light weapons.

In Nigeria, SALW have led to the rise of armed groups, destruction of over 1,000,000 lives in the last 12 years, massive destruction of assets throughout the country and displacement of people resulting in the establishment of IDP camps throughout Nigeria.

Arms proliferation has also resulted in the death of law enforcement officers. It has fueled communal clashes, cultism, kidnappings, ethnic and religious violence and militancy in the Niger Delta and beyond.

Arms proliferation is enabling the Northwest bandits to defy a long list of militancy operations (Operation Sahel Sanity, Operation Hadarin Daji, etc.) aimed at dislodging them. The bandits have continued to intensify their terrorist operations with recent high profile mass abduction events in Kankara, Katsina State; Kagara Niger State; Jangebe, Zamfara State (over 300 girls); Afaka, Kaduna State (39 students) and more tragically Greenfield University Kaduna State (five students executed, one student released and 17 students and teachers still in custody). Another complication of the Greenfield University abduction is that it appears to be an Ansaru job. Ansaru is a splinter group of Boko Haram. It appears to be a hybrid bandit/insurgent group.

Arms proliferation has resulted in new variants of the Boko Haram threat. We now have Boko Central led by Abubakar Shekau, ISWAP, Ansaru, Darul Salam.

Secession rhetoric is becoming seductive as groups in the Southeast, Southwest and the Middle Belt have expressed desire to dismember the country. The IPOB recently attacked the Owerri Prison, freed over 1,800 persons and torched the facility. It also attacked Police Headquarters in Owerri. Many police personnel have been shot dead in the East, and their service weapon seized, further proliferating weapons.

Militant Fulani herdsmen who have been declared the fourth most deadly terrorist group in the world have also been able to take over whole communities in the Middle Belt and the Southwest by the force of arms ejecting the inhabitants from their ancestral land.

How did these arms get into the country?
Arms are proliferated into Nigeria in a multiplicity of ways. The illicit arms trade is very lucrative around the world. Arms are proliferated into Nigeria from several countries but the bulk of illicit arms arrive from Turkey, Russia, Ukraine and Brazil. The insurgency in the Northeast has received weapons from Libya, Mali, Sahelian arms trade, Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, etc.

At the height of the Niger Delta Militancy (2006-2008), stolen crude oil was bartered for arms.

Factors responsible for the unending flows into Nigeria include corrupt government officials, porous land and littoral borders, arms piling by politicians and incapacity of Nigeria’s intelligence agencies to detect and interrupt arms smuggling into the country.

What do you think should be done to address the problem?
Arms proliferation is an existential threat to the survival of Nigeria. Today, the biggest problem in the land is insecurity, which is also stoking secessionist agitations. It behooves the government to take aggressive actions to reduce the gravity of the threat.

I will suggest four solutions – (a) Arms buy back. The Federal Government should offer cash incentive for people to surrender illicit weapons. (b) Whistleblower programme. Citizens should be encouraged to report people possessing proliferated weapons such as AK47, AK49, FN rifles, etc. The whistle blowers should be rewarded. The government should establish a fund for this programme. (c) Border security. A lot of weapons come in through Nigeria’s extensive and unnamed land borders. The nation cannot fight arms proliferation if the borders are porous. The bad guys must be deterred, detected or denied.

The Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) must revert to its historical role as a security agency and be returned to the Interior Ministry to bolster the security of the nation. It is unwise for NCS to make all the money, which will then be used in rebuilding assets lost to insecurity enabled by illicit arms that came across the border. Rather than raiding Dugbe Market for smuggled rice, NCS should be seizing truckload of illicit weapons trafficked into Nigeria from the Sahel. Small arms constitute a clear and present danger to Nigeria. (d) Military tribunals. Persons arrested for arms proliferation should face a military tribunal for swift justice. And if a proliferated weapon is used in committing homicide, the suspect upon conviction should be sentenced to death. Desperate ailments demand desperate remedy.
What are your thoughts on the recent establishment of the National Centre for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons by the President?

The ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms has as one of its recommendations to deal with the problem – the establishment of a National Commission on Small Arms. The Federal Government of Nigeria has not set up such a commission but has instead operated Presidential Committees. The new small arms centre headed by Major General Dikko does not reach the level of a commission recommended by ECOWAS. The current action is tantamount to placing a bandage on an ulcer. The wound will continue to fester…unfortunately.