The increasing proliferation of small and light weapons in Nigeria ahead of the 2019 general elections is one issue which continues to drive chilling fever down the spine of many stakeholders in all sectors of the economy in recent time.
Giving unmistakable credence to this illicit inflow of light weapons a couple of months ago, the United Nations Centre for Peace and Disarmament revealed that out of the 500 million illegal weapons in circulation in West Africa, Nigeria accounts for 70 per cent, amounting to 350 million!
The palpable apprehension is further reinforced when the duo of Minister of Interior, Lt.-Gen. Abdurahman Danbanzau (rtd) and the Chairman, House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs, Nnena Elendu-Ukeje, confirmed the figure and the dangers it portends for the nation.
Also, the Nigerian Army and the Nigerian Customs Service regularly intercept humongous quantity of assorted light weapons and ammunition in various parts of the country. Recently, security agencies intercepted 300,000 cartridges that were smuggled into Nigeria through the Benin Republic border. The cartridges were concealed in a false base of three heavy-duty trucks and had successfully gone past borders until they were intercepted at Igbogila-Ilara area of Ogun State.
In another instance, a Nigeria-bound Russian ship allegedly containing arms and explosives concealed in 20 containers was detained in South Africa for carrying illegal arms.
In recent times, security agencies and the Nigeria Customs Service have been intercepting illegal arms and ammunition in large consignments at the nation’s ports. A cache of 21,407 live ammunition was intercepted at the Apapa port in November 2010; 1,100 pump action guns were seized at Tin-Can Port, also in Lagos, in September, 2017.
The fears were palpable because of the nexus between weapons proliferation and violent crimes, and Nigeria has more than a fair share of this. Besides the daily diet of killings by bandits and herdsmen in parts of the country, history has it that election years are characteristically fraught with pre and post-election violence as gun-wielding thugs, driven by blind support for their candidates, periodically engage one another, not only in character assassination, but outright elimination of their opponents. Shocking enough, cultists and common criminals find such weapons very handy for their criminal activities. The prevalence of small arms is believed to be the cause of the violent crimes being perpetrated across the country.
While we commend the recent mop up of such weapons by security agencies, it has also become imperative that such control measures are sustained as a continuous exercise at all police commands throughout the country.
Akin to this and, perhaps, more important, is the imperative of effective patrol of Nigeria’s 10 border posts and address their porosity to thwart importation of these lethal items in the first place. Deliberate efforts along inter-agency/service lines at the ports, border posts and jetties are crucial, more so when jetties are now potent avenue to ship in these deadly items.
Nigerians are impatiently waiting to see more deliberate efforts on the part of the Presidential Committee on the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) in this regard, and in view of the international dimension to this inflow of weapons, a stronger regional coordination and collaboration among ECOWAS member states on this herculean task.
It is for these reasons and more that we support plans by the National Assembly to enact a bill on the establishment of National Commission on Small Arms and Light Weapons to be charged with responsibility of regulating and prohibiting proliferation of small arms, ammunition and light weapons.
Besides prohibiting illegal possession of the weapons, a crime already declared illegal by extant laws, the proposed law should task such commission to be established with the sensitization of the public to the dangers of such weapons with the view to discourage their production and to combat the problem of the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.
Bearing in mind the fact that in the 2015 elections over 70 people were reportedly killed before, during and after the polls and given the fact that previous elections in 2003, 2007, 2011 were characterized by similar level of bloodshed, and in view of danger signals ahead of the 2019 elections, it stands to reason that this current level of weapon proliferations requires formidable strategies to identify the sources, curb supply, mop and destroy these weapons and ensure prosecution of the merchants of death and their patrons and illegal users.
Also, we strongly recommend that the National Orientation Agency (NOA) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should ensure immediate commencement of voter/public education on the need to jettison politics of bitterness, hate and rancour, especially since violence is an ill wind that blows no one any good.
While violence and killings undermine the credibility of any election, it is safe to reason that only free and fair election, which produced a winner on the basis of his clear manifesto and devoid of bloodshed, can be said to represent the will of the people. No election is worth the blood of anyone.
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