By Editorial Board
Although arms proliferation is a global issue, available data on Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) show that out of the 640 million circulating globally, it is estimated that 100 million are found in Africa, about 30 million in sub-Saharan Africa and eight million in West Africa, alone.
The majority of these SALW about 59% are in the hands of civilians, 38% are owned by government armed forces, 2.8 % by police and 0.2% by armed groups.
This has implications as African countries have experienced direct, indirect and consequential impacts of weapons proliferation: thousands of people, both civilians and military, are killed or injured every year on the continent.
Even when death or injury is avoided, SALW proliferation and misuse can impact a community, country or region’s landscape. Indeed illegal arms have led to the rising rate of criminality and citizens are endangered. Also, the threat and use of SALW prevent the delivery of humanitarian and economic aid and contribute to refugee and internally displaced persons (IDP). The phenomenon is indeed an impediment to the socio-economic development of countries in Africa.
So, it is obvious that despite the efforts of security agencies, borders of African countries are porous, allowing illicit arms trafficking. This has resulted in the proliferation of SALW.
Events in the last years show that Nigeria is a source/origin, transit point and destination of trafficked SALW. The interception of a consignment of pump action rifles alleged to have originated from China through Turkey, along the Mile 2 – Apapa Road, Lagos by the operatives of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS); and the discovery of an illegal arms factory in Agbada, Nenwe in Aninri Local Government Area of Enugu State during the first quarter of 2011 by the State Security Service (SSS), Enugu State Command, are examples of how endangered Nigeria is.
In addition, Nigeria’s secret service in October 2010 intercepted the shipment of 13 containers filled with rocket launchers, grenades and other explosives and ammunitions.
The cargo was said to be on its way to Gambia and had begun its journey from a port in Iran. Also, sometime in June 2009, there were several media reports that security operatives impounded a Ukrainian plane, fully loaded with guns and ammunitions when it made a technical landing at Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport at about 2:00.a.m on Wednesday 17th June.
The unresolved murders of high profile citizens like Chief Bola Ige, Funsho Williams, A.K. Dikibo, Marshal Harry and many others seemed to have had their roots in this jungle-like life in which Nigerians live. They have also fuelled communal clashes, religious and ethnic crises in Ife, Jos, Kaduna and Taraba, as well as farmers-herdsmen conflicts in Benue and Nasarwa states, in which hundreds of lives have been lost.
Similarly, the number of recovered arms from robbers; not to mention the lingering militancy, terrorism, herdsmen and farmers’ conflict and kidnapping further expose the magnitude of the influx of illegal arms in the country. This situation is frightening and raises serious questions about the security of lives and property in the country.
Therefore, it is heart-warming that the Federal Government has risen up to the occasion by setting up a committee to transform the Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons (PRESCOM) into a National Commission (NATCOM). This decision is meant to fast-track the process of fighting against proliferation of arms not only in Nigeria but also in member-countries of the Economic Community of West African States, particularly because of the regional dimension of the problem of Boko Haram.
Within Nigeria, security agencies should be more vigilant. They should ensure that whatever arms procured are properly acquired to avoid abuse and the legal dealers should be tracked to ensure that arms do not get into the wrong hands.
Furthermore, government should audit licensed gun-holders and encourage those who are possessing unregistered arms to do so within a specified period.
The relevant agencies should get operational vehicles and the necessary equipment such as scanning machines to stem the inflow of weapons into the country.
While government must be serious about the border patrol unit and ensure that the porous borders (air, sea and land) are well-manned by patriotic, conscientious and ethically-minded officers, the military should be sterner in monitoring their men, especially those fighting insurgency or on peace-keeping operations.
At the regional and international levels, Nigeria should enter into appropriate pacts with other countries on the movement of arms and ammunition. Committees in such international pacts should have strategic plan for addressing illicit circulation of small arms and light weapons within the region.