Nigerians live in fear over arms proliferation

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Human lives matter: That is why the recent arrest of individuals and non-state actors with large cache of arms in the country poses serious concerns; ELEOJO IDACHABA writes.

Concerns are being expressed in many quarters about the mounting incidents of arms and high-calibre weapons being purloined into the country by unscrupulous Nigerians.

Recent incidents

Recently, in a space of two weeks, a joint patrol team of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) Team Sector 3 in the North-central comprising Kogi, Kwara, Benue and Niger state seized 550 pump-action gun cartridges at a location called Adikpo in Benue state.

While briefing newsmen in Ilorin, the headquarters of the zone, the patrol coordinator, Olugboyega Peters, said the ammunitions were well packaged in 22 bags concealed in two large black bags popularly known as Bagco sacks in a J5 brand of bus.

Peters said, “Based on intelligence report, the sector intercepted a commercial J5 bus around Adikpo Junction in Benue state, heading for Taraba state after taking off from Onitsha in Anambra state. On searching the vehicle, two black Bagco sacks were found to contain pump-action cartridges suspected to have been smuggled into the country.

“The ammunition, driver and the suspect were arrested immediately and brought to Sector 3 headquarters, Ilorin and after preliminary investigations, as the law of jurisdiction demands; they were all handed over to the Nigeria Police Force in Benue state for further investigation.”

Within the same week also, the Service also made another major arrest, this time at Tin Can Island Command where personnel of the Service intercepted a 1x40ft container with number TRHU8058369, loaded with cartons of guns but was erroneously branded to be carrying plasma television. What caught the curiosity of the Customs men was when they realised the clearing license used to clear the cargo was commercialised which was a misnomer.

The Command’s public relations officer, Uche Ejesieme, confirmed the report, but as of the time the incident became public, he said the Command was yet to brief the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali, and the Zonal Office in charge of Lagos.

Ejisieme said, “The officers intercepted a container loaded with weapons, but as we speak, what we have done as a command is that we have written to the terminal to evacuate the container immediately to the Enforcement Unit for 100 percent examination so that we can actually ascertain the quantity and other relevant information.

“We expect the terminal to evacuate the container to the Enforcement Unit where we intend to strip it and the quantity, names of people involved and other further information would be available.

“Most times, the suspect you see is those freight forwarders and agents coming for examination, but we are more interested in getting to the importer and everyone involved in that criminal importation to nip it in the bud.”


This is not the first time incidences such as this had happened in the country. Prior to the 2015 and 2019 elections, respectively, security agencies had intercepted trucks conveying various brands of ammunitions in the country, but the outcome of such investigations to date have been subsumed in the dustbin.

According to the executive director of OJA Consult, Jide ojo, it is for this type of reasons that we now have incidences of arms proliferation all over the place. “The outcome is the aggressiveness with which unauthorised persons and bandits use arms freely on innocent Nigerians.”

Confirming this, a report from SBM Intelligence indicated that, “The number of small arms in circulation in the hands of civilian non-state actors is estimated at 6,145,000 while the Armed Forces and law enforcement agencies collectively account for 586,600 firearms.”

The report highlighted that arms proliferation has enabled the rise of armed groups and also led to the displacement of several Nigerians even as it noted that the development has had an impact on Nigeria’s internal security which has led to violence and the deaths and injury of thousands of innocent citizens.

Particularly, the report stated that the proliferation of arms in Southern Nigeria, for instance, has heightened the increasing rate of violence in the region, including, communal clashes, cultism, kidnappings, ethnic and religious clashes and militancy in the Niger Delta.

It said the region has 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. It is difficult to estimate the volume of locally-manufactured weapons produced in this region,” it noted.

As for the northern region, the report said the proliferation of small weapons coupled with existing state corruption, large tracts of ungoverned spaces and mass unemployment has largely been responsible for the rising criminalities and violence in that part of the country.


Afolabi Cassandra Adeola, a legal practitioner, is of the view that the uncontrolled proliferation of small arms and light weapons has caused the death and displacement of several citizens and has had devastating consequences on human security. 

Therefore, small arms remain a factor in armed conflict, organised crimes and acts of terrorism, thereby sabotaging reconciliation, safety and security efforts. 

“There is an intricate connection between the proliferation of small arms and light weapons and the prevalence of violent conflict in Nigeria which is fueling insecurity. The increase in criminal herdsmen activities, kidnapping and Boko Haram insurgents are the resultant effects of excessive availability of arms in the country,” she said.

She noted further that in the country, the proliferation of SALW dates back to the civil war. 

“At the end of the war, there was no proper and comprehensive disbandment protocol and demobilisation programme implemented; therefore, the post-civil war era marked the spread of illicit weapons in Nigeria. The civil war was just one of the factors that led to proliferation as locally- fabricated arms, smuggling, theft from security agencies and armories, insurgents, armed militias and dishonest accredited importers also accounted for the widespread circulation of SALW in Nigeria.”

It is estimated that ammunition from at least 21 different nations have been used in the herder-farmer conflicts in North-central Nigeria. Some of these nations include Israel, Poland, Brazil, Iran, USA, Czech Republic, Algeria and Egypt. 

Adeola also noted that, “These herders are nomads migrating from Sahel region as a result of climate change in search of pasture for their flocks. This then led to competition over access to scarce resources like arable land and water resources. The herder versus farmer violence is a perfect example of how availability and accessibility of SALW could escalate the nature of a conflict.”

Abdulsalami’s lamentations

Speaking in the same vein, a former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd.), recently expressed concerns over the proliferation of all calibres of weapons in the country.

He spoke during a dialogue session of the security Committee in Abuja. 

The former Head of State 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.

He said, “The proliferation of all calibres of weapons in Nigeria is worrisome. 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 and suggestions that can inspire more confidence among our people and ensure that our country remains one.” 

According to the Punch editorial, “There have been reports that some security agents aid and abet the illegal arms dealers. Those found culpable should be made to face the music to serve as a deterrent to other would-be collaborators. There is also a need for the country to collaborate with neighbouring countries, including the African Union Commission’s Economic, Social and Cultural Council to combat arms proliferation.

“The country’s ports and waterways are also easy routes to smuggle in arms. They must be well manned and made impenetrable for the influential cartels. Nigeria should reject the attempt to make it a destination country for SALW. The signs are ominous and proactive strategies and intelligence-led operations by able security agents backed by biting legal framework can wholly halt them.”

Govt’s attempts

The government, no doubt, has made moves towards checking arms proliferation in the country, for instance, the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons Bill 2021, an executive bill was introduced in the National Assembly upon resumption from its long recess on Tuesday, September 14. The bill sought to establish a National Centre for the Control of the Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons in Nigeria in line with ECOWAS protocol with the aim of controlling the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, provision of a framework for the coordination, implementation and monitoring of all efforts geared towards the control of small arms and light weapons and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.

The Centre is to be domiciled in the Office of the National Security Adviser which shall co-ordinate all security and enforcement agencies mentioned in the bill including the police and the armed forces for the purpose of enforcing its provisions. Among several functions, the Centre, it was learnt would be responsible for implementing strategies, plans and policies for the eradication of small arms and light weapons, as well as supervise the implementation of same by relevant government bodies. It will also create and maintain small arms and light weapons register and a national database, receive reports on firearms registration from the police and update the database with such information. 

Others include registering, storing and destroying firearms and ammunition received from security agencies, criminals and any person in illegal possession of such items. In addition, it would also maintain a database of registered firearms dealers in Nigeria. 

Furthermore, the Centre would be responsible for updating and transmitting the national database to the United Nations (UN), the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). 

In its relations with these inter-governmental bodies, the Centre would identify legitimate national defence and security needs and obtain the required exemptions from certain international protocols, in order to meet these needs.

The centre is further empowered to carry out public education and awareness at national, state and local levels to involve Nigerians in the efforts to control the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. It may also make regulations and guidelines necessary for the implementation of the bill’s provisions.

Although Nigeria’s legal system does not encourage possession of fire arms by persons other than security operatives and individuals licensed by police authorities, there have been cases of illegal possession of arms in the country. 

To that extent, the Firearms Act of 1959 remains a major framework to deal with the issues of arms proliferation. Although the Act is inadequate to deal with contemporary threats in accordance with global standards, the country has continued to rely on its provisions in dealing with these issues. 

The ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms made a number of recommendations in addressing the challenges posed by arms proliferation in West Africa. One of such recommendations is the establishment of a National Convention on Small Arms for all member states. 

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