President Muhammadu Buhari recently expressed concerns about proliferation of small arms in the country during a virtual meeting with state governors and security chiefs. Disturbed with the development, the President queried the security and intelligence chiefs on how terrorists and bandits still have access to small weapons to carry out their nefarious activities despite the closure of the nation’s borders for nearly one year.
Against the exponential increase in the number of weapons in circulation, failure of various successive weapon control strategies and spiralling crime rate, no one was taken aback recently when the Federal Government constituted a committee to curb the proliferation of small and light arms with Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, as chairman. We strongly recommend a strategic weapon recovery programme, hinged on weapon buyback as its key method.
This proposed mop up exercise will be a win-win method for both government and weapons owners, because it puts money in the pockets of the latter and reduce the number of such items in circulation and, in the process, criminality as well. Interestingly, the committee did not have to reinvent the wheel, having been mandated by President Buhari to review the Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons (PRESCOM) set up by the administration of former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan in 2013 and factor in the current realities.
It is noteworthy that the committee is calling for the development of clear cut, a specific line of action, to address the serious problems of small arms and light weapons, many of which fuel the insurgency in the North-East and other security challenges in the country and, indeed, the subregion.
Though the presidential committee has as members top security chiefs, serving and retired, among other stakeholders, it has become pertinent to recommend the invitation of papers from private security experts, academics and others with requisite experience in this regard in line with President Buhari’s keen interest to find effective and prompt solutions to the menace. By the last count, a National Assembly committee estimated that out of the eight million small arms and light weapons in circulation in Africa, about 75 per cent, totalling 600 million, are in Nigeria, mostly in private hands like former militants, terrorists and political parties, who could use such arms to truncate democracy. By way of hindsight, one of the spectacular events, which had reportedly fuelled weapon proliferation in Africa, occurred on October 21, 2011, a day after the demise of the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, when about 100 Hilux trucks of Gaddafi loyalists loaded with small and light weapons crossed the Sahara Desert, toward West Africa.
The convoy reportedly dispersed into Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and as far west as Senegal, a development accentuated by the porous borders that exist along the northern periphery of all West African states and into the hands of non-state actors. Nigeria’s 2,777km of largely ungoverned land borderlines with four French speaking countries who depend on us, but care less of our unity and leadership and an 853km long Atlantic coastline, are other factors. It has become vital for PRECOM to examine a Bill for an Act to provide for the Establishment of the National Commission against the Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons, sponsored by Mohammed Monguno, House Chief Whip and member representing Monguno/Marte/Nganzai Federal Constituency of Borno State, which is currently before the National Assembly.
The commission, which the Bill seeks to establish, is expected principally to be responsible for the collection, storage, destruction, management and stockpiling of small arms and light weapons, registration of arms for peace operations and control, as well as manufacture of small arms and light weapons.
The Bill, among others, provides that the national commission shall collect small arms, which are surplus to the national needs or have become obsolete, seized weapons, unmarked light weapons, illicitly held light weapons, small arms collected in the implementation of peace accords or programmes for the voluntary handing in of weapons.
The committee should also look at the Nigeria Firearms Act of 1959 currently being reviewed by National Assembly and address the issue of licensing and control the manufacture of small arms and light weapons within Nigeria, regulate the activities of local small arms and light weapons manufacturers and adopt strategies and policies to the reduction or limitation of the manufacture of small arms and light weapons so as to control the local manufacture as well as their marketing within ECOWAS states.
The proliferation of these weapons, along with Nigeria’s fragile security, local manufacturing and the circulation of illegal guns, grenades and rocket launchers that have ripped communities apart, are fuelling terrorism and communal clashes. At the continental level, African Union and ECOWAS should pay more attention to resolving conflicts among various national groups, which have become regular market for the weapons, even as various Conventions and Protocols on small arms and light weapons in the region should be implemented. We also call for the commitment of Nigeria and other African leaders to the several regional and international treaties like the implementation of United Nations (UN)’s Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, along with other security agencies.