Arms proliferation: Nigerians alarmed as insecurity heightens




…It’s a threat to nation’s corporate existence – CDS

‘…6,145,000 illegal arms with civilian non-state actors’

…Increases insecurity, deaths – Ex-head of state

…Drives increasing violence rate in Nigeria – Oxfam

…Land borders, maritime routes poorly manned – Experts

Despite the efforts being made by security agencies to tackle the myriads of security challenges confronting the country, insecurity is on the increase and experts have attributed it to the proliferation of weapons. BENJAMIN SAMSON in this report takes a second look at the issues amidst citizens’ growing concerns. 

The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Gen. Lucky Irabor, recently decried the proliferation of illegal arms in Nigeria, saying it was a threat to the country’s corporate existence.

Irabor stated this in Asaba, the Delta state capital, while addressing journalists after a courtesy visit to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, adding that the presidential directive to shoot-on-sight anyone illegally bearing an AK-47 rifle was very clear and must be enforced. While saying Nigeria as a country forbade illegal bearing of arms, he warned that anyone found with such weapons was an enemy of the state and would be treated as such.

He said, “The mandate of the president for dealing with everyone holding AK-47 illegally is a mandate that must be enforced because we are a state that does not condone illegal bearing of arms.

“The armed forces and other security agencies are the only institutions that are mandated to carry arms in the course of their duties. So, anyone who is carrying an AK-47 or any other weapon, for that matter, is considered a threat to the existence of the state.”

Statistics

According This Day Newspapers, a March 2017 research report by Oxfam estimated that Nigeria had two million small and light arms in the hands of non-state actors. Also, in October 2020, an Africa-focused geo-political 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, 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 Nigeria’s 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.

Abdulsalami’s alarm

Similarly, Nigeria’s former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd.), recently expressed concerns over the proliferation of all calibres 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 calibres 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,” Abubakar, who is also the chairman of the National Peace Committee (NPC), said.

Porous borders

Experts who spoke with Blueprint noted that the increase in cases of banditry, kidnapping, ethnic conflicts, cult clashes, among others, is as a result of Nigeria’s porous borders.

Also, the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), in 2014, through its then comptroller-general, David Parradang, revealed that although the country had 84 approved borders, there were over 1,400 illegal routes.

Parradang, who made the disclosure while addressing the National Conference Committee on Immigration, cited the examples of Ogun and Adamawa states, with 83 and 80 illegal posts, respectively.

A security expert, Dr. Don Belema, in his view, blamed it on the lack of harmonious relationships among security agencies in arms proliferation and poor border management.

 He stressed that the federal government should ensure it builds intelligence gathering for the security apparatus in order to tackle the menace.

 He said, “Most of the arms that filtered into the country came in through most of our neighbouring countries that have suffered some kind of armed conflict in the form of insurgency, rebellion, civil war, and so on. Places like Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Libya, worsen the situation.

 “Now, we should begin to ask ourselves: What has been the problem with Nigeria’s security architecture? If we are talking about the security architecture in Nigeria, we should learn to incorporate our entire sister agencies, other than the armed forces and the police. Then we talk about roles, responsibilities and the porous areas, from where these arms come into the country.

 “We have had Customs confiscate rifles that were shipped into the country. We have had them impound 12 cartridges. But those in the security sector will tell you that the problem of the Nigerian security is not such arms like compaction rifles and the double barrels and single barrels because they are firing gauge 12 cartridges, and by law, actually are not prohibited arms. However, they are supposed to be licensable.”

 Isa Alkali, a security analyst, said Nigeria’s land borders, particularly in the northern regions, and maritime routes were being poorly manned by those responsible for the tasks. He charged the federal government to revisit the firearms regulations and make it effective.

He said: “We have porous borders, where many weapons are being brought illegally. There are people hiding arms and ammunition and smuggling into the country. The government needs to look again at the firearms regulations in this country. The law is old; it is a colonial law. We need to look at it and see how to move regulations that could control small arms in the country.

“There is a committee of federal government bodies that are in charge of small arms proliferation and prevention. The agency should be able to be well-funded in order to do their jobs.”

Border security

A security/international relations expert and chief executive officer of X-Ray Systems, Mr. Abraham Etukudo, in a chat with this reporter, called on the government to re-strategise and come up with innovative approaches on how to tackle the porous nature of our border.

He said, “A country is rated by the way it protects its borders from intruders. Nigeria is perennially at the mercy of gunrunning syndicates, smugglers and pastoral herdsmen. The Buhari regime needs to re-strategise quickly on the issue of security in border communities.

“A holistic, innovative approach to achieving operational control of the border is sorely needed now. It is time to re-jig our national patrol strategy. With just a workforce of 22,300 in 2014, the NIS staff strength might need to be re-examined.

“The allocation of resources, manpower and material, should be based on detailed threats and risk assessments of the borders. Rapid border intervention teams, surveillance systems, radar, satellite and helicopters should be deployed. In the United States, electronic sensors are placed at strategic locations along the nearly 6,000 miles of Mexican and Canadian international land borders and over 2,000 miles of coastal waters surrounding the Florida Peninsula and the island of Puerto Rico to detect people or vehicles entering the country illegally. Video monitors and night vision scopes are also used to detect illegal entries.

“The federal government must strive to maximise the available resources and apply appropriate prosecutorial pressure and punishment in order to discourage illegal entry into the country.”

Insecurity

In his view, Dr. Belema said it has posed security and development challenges and resulted in the deaths of thousands of people every year.

“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

“Arms proliferation is enabling the bandits to defy a long list of militancy operations aimed at dislodging them. The bandits have continued to intensify their terrorist operations with recent high profile mass abduction events in Kankara, Katsina state, Jangebe Niger state, Zamfara state, Afaka, Kaduna state and more tragically Greenfield University Kaduna state where five students were executed.

“Secession rhetoric is becoming violent in the South-east and South-west. The Indigenous People of Biafra (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.

“Killer 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.”

FG’s action, battles

 In a bid to tackle the challenges posed by arms proliferation, President Muhammadu Buhari recently established the National Centre for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (NCCSALW) and appointed Maj.-Gen. A.M. Dikko (retd.) as its pioneer coordinator.

The NCCSALW is domiciled in the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) and replaces the defunct Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons (PCSALW). It will serve as the institutional mechanism for policy guidance, research and monitoring of all aspects of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) in Nigeria and forms part of the ongoing restructuring of the nation’s security architecture.

Among others, it is expected to help address emerging threats and strengthen the regional mechanism for the control, prevention and regulation of SALW.

In a statement, the ONSA while announcing the centre, said it was one of the measures to help tackle the general insecurity in the country as it would “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 Ministries, Departments, Agencies (MDAs) 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.”

Beyond the centre

Reacting on the creation of the centre, Etukudo said it was just the beginning of the battle against arms proliferation, adding that what Nigerians want to see is results.

“Although we are averse to the creation of new agencies, which often than not do not add much value to the country as it rather increases the cost of governance, I support anything that will help to address the insecurity situation in the country.

 “However, it must be noted that the creation of the centre is just the beginning of the battle.  It must be made to work so that Nigerians can see results. The centre should hit the ground running; working in synergy with the police, military, Department of State Services (DSS), National Intelligence Agency (NIA), immigration and other paramilitary groups towards meeting set goals.

“Stakeholders, especially those that man the borders – land, air and water – must not allow pecuniary benefits to continue to put Nigeria at risk. They should reduce the volume of the corrupt practices within their ranks that allows the inflow of SALW into the country in the first place.

“They should work and share intelligence not only with relevant national security agencies, but also neighbouring countries and regional organs like ECOWAS. The centre is coming on board at a very critical time in the nation’s history and it should ensure that it makes the necessary impact,” he said.

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