Influx of small and light weapons into the country

Small and light weapons (SALWs) in the hand of miscreants and infidels have never done any country any good. It has multiple consequences with serious collateral damage. Nations that have made light of how these weapons find their way into the country have paid dearly for it- a’ la Boko Haram onslaught and Niger Delta militancy.

SHIPS&PORTS DAILY investigations showed that out of the 857 million SALWs in the world, 500 million are illegal with 100 million found in sub- Saharan Africa. About 7.5 per cent of that is in Nigeria. This horrifying figure was confirmed by findings at a National workshop on Physical Security and Stockpile Management in Abuja. Organised by the UN Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament and the Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons, it was found that 350 million of the 500 million SALWs in West Africa are in Nigeria.

For some time, Nigeria has remained under siege by armed men and so many lives lost. Although the government has given Boko Haram serious routing, so much havoc has already been done to lives and property. Even the army is not left out. Among many sad stories, the Nigerian Army lost 11 personnel, including an officer to an attack by some bandits at Kopa, Dagma and Gagaw villages of Bosso Local Government Area of Niger State recently. The troops were on a cordon and search operation to recover suspected cache of weapons and arrest their owners when they were swooped on in an ambush by the criminal elements.

Although there have been calls for the authorities to address the menace of arms proliferation that has posed a clear danger to the security of the nation, taking into cognisance the statistics at hand, the response from the government from the past had remained too apathetic to inspire hope that the dare devil gun-running would be effectively tamed soonest.

From research, one of the dominant features of the global community in the 1990s has been the violent breakdown of civil society in dozens of countries throughout the world. From the socialist states of the former Soviet bloc to Africa and Asia, we have witnessed the  outbreak of ethnic, religious, racial, linguistic and other forms of communal strife and the melting away of social norms and government structures that would otherwise contain the violence. Adding to the disorder, in many instances, has been a significant upsurge in armed banditry and criminal violence and the significance of this failed state syndrome in this decade can hardly be overemphasized.

The very nature of conflict has been transformed—from traditional combat between nation-states to inter-communal conflict within states. Such strife typically involves a wide variety of actors, including governments, rebel movements, armed political militias, ethnic and religious groups, tribes and clans, expatriate and diaspora groups, criminal gangs and mercenaries. Common distinguishing characteristics of this type of intra-state conflict include multiple warring parties, unclear lines of conflict, greater involvement of civilians, and the fact that the conflict itself is not fought on traditional battlegrounds but in local communities; indeed, within society itself.  There is also widespread death and suffering resulting not from the major conventional weapons traditionally associated with war—tanks, aircraft and warships, for example—but from small arms and light weapons. The global proliferation of assault rifles, machine guns, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and other man made portable weapons has increased both the frequency and intensity of modern conflict and greatly complicated the task of restoring peace. Such weapons are readily obtainable on international markets, both legal and illegal, and are easily mastered by untrained and unprofessional soldiers, even children.

SHIPS&PORTS DAILY believes that with the level of insurgency in the country, there is a growing market for SALWs and the government must intervene more resolutely to stop the ugly tide. The insurgency in the North-East, the resurgence of militancy in the Niger Delta, the menace of herdsmen around the country and the rising wave of violent crimes, including armed robbery and kidnappings, particularly in the South-East and the South-West of the country are directly linked to the upsurge in SALWs even as they signpost the negative impact on national efforts at integration.

The present government must rise up to this challenge and put the necessary things in place. In spite of the fact that Nigeria is a signatory to the ECOWAS protocols, the National Assembly is yet to pass the Bill on the National Commission against the Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons. Nigeria is the only West African country that does not have the commission that is saddled with the responsibility of tracking the spread of SALWs. Also the Bill to amend the archaic 1959 Firearms Act that regulates the use of firearms in the country is yet to be given serious attention. Our take is that the executive needs to fast track the passage of these legislations to provide a more practicable legal framework to address the problem.

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