To stem the spread of SALWs, the federal government must upgrade the operational capacity of the security agencies at the ports and land borders… The sophistication in weaponry and handling in the hands of non-state actors are enough to wage a protracted war against the nation. This should concern each one of us and it requires the urgency of now!
Sometimes last year, the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa listed Nigeria as the destination for 70 percent of 500 million illicit small arms and light weapons (SALWs) in West Africa. That estimate yields a minimum of 350 million arms domicilled within Nigeria presently! Yesterday, the Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service, Colonel Hameed Ali announced that its Lagos State Command intercepted a Mack truck carrying 661 illegal pump-action rifles concealed in steel doors and boxes in a 40-foot container along Mile 2-Apapa Road. It is a shame this illegal tranche of arms made it past the checks at the airports. It bears telling that so many other arms must have succeeded in entering our neighbourhood and communities. Unfortunately, the influx of SALWs may not let up at a time that the country is roiled by Boko Haram in the North-East, militancy in the Niger Delta, and the escalating menace of “Fulani herdsmen” in the North-Central.
Unless some sincere and genuine intervention is insitituted, the stockpile of illegal arms of this magnitude is a big threat to Nigeria’s existence. For too long, and with active connivance of the security agencies, Nigeria has been a source and destination of SALWs, and a transit point too. The proliferation and stockpile of SALWS is aided by insecurity, the privatisation of security, electoral violence, political violence, border smuggling, crime, poverty, economic sabotage, religious crisis, communal conflicts, social agitations, ethnonationalism, terrorism, riots, militancy, social interest, economic crisis, mass unemployment and many other factors.
Nigeria has a long history of militarisation, given the length of military rule since independence. The militarist history is an important causal factor in the ubiquity of weapons in the country. The menace of armed robbery, terrorism, militancy and lately, Fulani herdsmen; buoyed by easy access to small arms and light weapons is one of the major security challenges facing Nigeria. Easy accessibility to these weapons fuel communal conflict, political instability and poses a continuous threat to security and sustainable development. The consequential impact of assault rifles, rifle squad automatic weapons, light machine guns, general-purpose machine-guns, medium machine guns and hand grenades is evident in terror attacks, inter-communal violence, bank robberies, kidnapping and militancy.
The security of this country is riddled by corruption, abuse and clearly behind the times. Nigeria needs a revamped and robust security architecture. The executive must fast-track the passage of the remedial legislations languishing in the National Assembly, with a view to developing an efficient and practicable legal framework to tackle the problem.
The federal and state governments needs to deal decisively with arms proliferation because the spate of violence clearly depicts a growing market for SALWs in the country. While the Eighth Senate is busy making a joke of itself, the National Commission against the Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons Bill is gathering dust after passing the second reading. Nigeria is a signatory to the ECOWAS protocols on small arms and light weapons, which recommended the establishment of a National Commission in each member country to track the spread of illegal weapons among its citizens. Nigeria is the only ECOWAS member country without the commission saddled with the responsibility of tracking the spread of SALWs. Also gathering dust in the National Assembly is a bill to amend the archaic 1959 Firearms Act that regulates the use of firearms in the country.
The security of this country is riddled by corruption, abuse and clearly behind the times. Nigeria needs a revamped and robust security architecture. The executive must fast-track the passage of the remedial legislations languishing in the National Assembly, with a view to developing an efficient and practicable legal framework to tackle the problem. Security improved in Lagos State when the state government made it a compelling necessity to upgrade the operational capacity of the police. To stem the spread of SALWs, the federal governmt must upgrade the operational capacity of the security agencies at the ports and land borders. Through the training of its personnel and sponsored public announcements, the government must stress how we all lose by allowing arms to go through the borders after taking a bribe or looking the other way in our neighbourhoods. They must improve the inventory management of the national armoury to make it less prone to abuse. The sophistication in weaponry and handling in the hands of non-state actors are enough to wage a protracted war against the nation. This should concern each one of us and it requires the urgency of now!
Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú a farmer, youth advocate and political analyst writes this weekly column, “Bamidele Upfront” for the PREMIUM TIMES. Follow me on Twitter @olufunmilayo