By Dennis Amachree, MON, December 1, 2019, commentary/news.
LAGOS-It was on the 21st of October 2011, a day after the death of the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi that intelligence sources picked up the movement of about 100 Hilux trucks of Gaddafi loyalists crossing the Sahara Desert, toward West Africa. These trucks were reportedly loaded with small arms and light weapons, stolen from the private stockpile in the presidential palace of the former Libyan leader.
At that time, it was observed that because there was no joint international military cooperation among the West African States, no government made any attempt to intercept the long convoys approaching the region. The convoy dispersed into Cameroun, Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and as far west as Senegal. This situation was not helped by the porous borders that exist along the northern periphery of all West African States.
A sizeable quantity of the small arms and light weapons were bought by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an Algerian who is sometimes referred to as “The One-Eyed Nelson” or the “Uncatchable.” He was a major weapons dealer and later assumed the leadership of Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb.
Other recipients of these Libyan weapons were Iyad Ag Ghaly, the Tuareg militant leader from Mali and Abu Mohammed al-Shekau, a Kanuri and leader of Boko Haram. These weapons became the game changer in the war against terrorism and insurgency in West Africa. Boko Haram became more daring.
The cause of Proliferation in Nigeria
Being the largest populated country in Africa, comes with a myriad of problems. Especially with divers ethnic groups, surrounded by 2,777km of ungoverned land borderlines with four French speaking countries who depends on us, but cares less of our unity and leadership; and an 853km long Atlantic coastline, you can see the root cause of the Nigerian problem. Consequent on this, we have Boko Haram insurgency in the north-east, armed banditry and kidnappings in the north-west, Biafra separatists in the south-east, Delta militants and kidnappings in the south-south, ritual killings, kidnappings and urban crimes in the south-west and cultism in universities across the country. All these security threats are fueled by the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.
What are small arms & light weapons?
The 1997 Report of the United Nations Panel of Government Experts on Small Arms defined small arms as weapons for personal use. These category of small arms includes: revolvers and self-loading pistols, rifles and carbines, assault rifles, sub-machine guns and light machine guns.
Light weapons on the other hand, are designed for attack or defense in combat or hunting. These include light machine guns, hand-held under-barrel and mounted grenade launchers, portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns, recoilless rifles, portable launchers of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles and mortars of calibers less than 100mm.
Why proliferation of salw is Attractive
The use of small arms and light weapons, has been a problem for sovereign countries the world over. In the United States of America, the citizens see ownership of small arms as a right of citizenship. The advantage is that general ownership of arms also gives a sense of security to the general public. Armed robbers will think twice, before they write to neighborhoods that they are coming to rob a whole street, at a go. On the flip side, many countries banned the ownership and use of small arms, including Nigeria. In the United States, there is a legal proliferation of arms and the society is not particularly safe, as evidenced by the series of active shootings in that country. The hot debate in the United States now is Gun Control. In Nigeria, small arms are banned but the black market is booming; fueling the various conflicts, armed robbery, banditry and insurgency in the country. However, the following factors have been identified as making proliferation of arms very profitable.
Besides the imported small arms, local weapons manufacturers are smiling to the bank, producing the traditional double or single barrel pistols, that use cartridges. A double barrel gun costs between 50 – 65K, while the local pistol goes for 3 – 7k
Public safety in Nigeria is an issue and unguaranteed. Under such circumstances, self-help becomes a norm. Many citizens own or want to own small arms, as a means of self-defense. Because there is a ban on possession, the black market booms. Possession of illegal arms is punishable by 4 years in prison or a fine of 100k or both. This punishment by the law has not served as a deterrent.
Between 1990 – 1999, 12000 persons were arrested for unlawful possession of weapons. Of this total only 500 persons were taken to court. People are generally encouraged by this statistic of only less than 2% being prosecuted. This encourages traffickers to continue their unlawful activities. Friday night specials are also common in Nigeria now. One can purchase firearms in most night clubs in Nigeria, if you know the right person to ask.
In the eastern and western regions of the country, professional hunters carry their double and single barreled shot guns to aid their traditional occupation. It will be very difficult for the Police to disarm these ones. All these factors encourage proliferation and in some States, they are actually encouraged. Some State governments have been known to deploy Vigilante Groups who are generally armed from the local arsenals.
From current news, we are also hearing of the just past governor of Ogun State, asking the Commissioner of Police to come and take possession of the balance of arms in the Government House arsenal. When questioned by pressmen how he came about such a large cache arms and ammunitions, he agreed to have ordered them for the Police to maintain security in Ogun State.
Just over the weekend, governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State has called on the just past governor Abdulaziz Yari, to account for the 1000 AK47, he the former governor allegedly purchased with the State’s funds in 2013. From the two fore-going cases, we can see that some governors were also purchasing SALW and arming non-state actors to change the outcome of our democratic process.
Fighting the threats of Salw
The proliferation of small arms and light weapons has raised concerns internationally. The United Nations for one, adopted the Protocol on the Manufacture and Illicit Trade in Firearms in 2001. In 2002, the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 was adopted, which looked into the role of women in peacekeeping and the use of children in armed conflict. The idea being that children can operate light weapons and not the military grade artilleries.
Regionally, ECOWAS also established the Protocol Relating to the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peacekeeping and Security in 1999. The Commission went ahead to promulgate the Convention on small arms and light weapons in the region, as well as to consolidate the gains of the Declaration of the Moratorium on importation, exportation and manufacture of SALW.
Despite the Conventions and Protocols, the West African sub-region has been active with one kind of conflict or the other. Liberia, Cote I’Voire, Mali, Nigeria and the Central African Republic have different ongoing conflicts. As the conflicts progress, so are the new inflows of SALW into the pockets of instability.
Extrapolating from the figures of 2016, the number of SALW in West Africa has increased to about 800 million, of which 75% or 600 million are in Nigeria. These arms are illegally in the hands of former militants, communities that have gone through recent conflicts, criminals and some university students; who belong to one campus cult or the other.
Although these Conventions and Protocol were designed to control and regulate the trafficking and manufacture of SALW in the region, it has not been effective across the sub-region. The region lacks the ability of timely response to threats posed by bandits and religious insurgents. Individual States have found it too expensive and inoperable. What is needed is a robust, combat-ready, sub-regional force, capable of operating across borders.
Boko Haram later pledged allegiance to ISIS, thereby increasing the flow of more small arms and weapons, including some military grade weaponry. In other arena, there is a recycling of the arms used in one theatre and transferred to another conflict zone. Arms recovery have not been able to achieve a total mop up. Any time there is a resurgence, new arms flow into the market.
The Amnesty Program & Salw
It has also been observed that during the surrender of arms at the Amnesty Program, only obsolete arms were surrendered. The militants, cleverly hid away their new weaponry because the weapons were expensive and they were skeptical, if the government will keep to its promises of cleaning up and developing the Niger Delta.
How about the recovered arms? What happened to them? Were they destroyed as promised? The military and Police recovered some of the surrendered weapons earlier stolen by or sold to the militants. This actually opened up a threat avenue, indicating that there is a lot of corruption and leakages of military and Police amouries in the country.
High level corruption in the military has thrown up incidents where soldiers have been caught, selling ammunitions to Boko Haram elements, while Police amourers have been caught selling or hiring SALW to criminals. Findings after investigation revealed a chain of events, feeding the corruption circle. Amouries are maintained by poorly paid soldiers/policemen……..the economy is not helping issues…..schools and healthcare for children are inadequate…..criminals approach amoury keepers with huge sums and they succumb!!
Proliferation Of Salw – Threat to democracy
Proliferation of Small Arms is a veritable threat to democracy and democratically elected governments. There are many scenarios to this: they include ; illegal possession of small arms could engineer the outbreak of conflicts to make the country or State ungovernable, activities by a ruling party, in a bid to hold on to power, could use state-owned arms to threaten and sometimes kill members of the opposition.
Elements in an opposition party could use illegal arms to overthrow a government, no matter the dangers. Even in non-democratic governments, the series of military coups in Nigeria are an example.
Top government officials, including the president could be assassinated to effect a change in the government. Situations like this have played out in countries like the USA and Nigeria.
The whole shenanigans of politicians and non-state actors in their quest for power have inadvertently encouraged the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. Elections have become a battlefield in Nigeria today, with all the major political parties breathing and threatening fire and brimstones.
We are familiar with political phrases as “Do or Die Affair,” “On election day, we are ready for them.” “Monkeys and Baboons will be Soaked in Blood.” Etc. These threats are characterized by tension and fear in which such pronouncements create sensational headlines by the media, enhancing insecurity in the populace. Some citizens will decide never to go out to vote. The multinational companies will always send their families and non-essential staff overseas, before any general elections in Nigeria. Political thugs and non-state actors, fully armed with SALW take over the election day.
Recent gubernatorial elections in Nigeria, could not be said to be democratic as SALW were used freely by political thugs. The inability of citizens to come out and cast their votes, reinforces the fact that we are far from operating a democracy.
Combating proliferation can only be successful if there is a sincerity of purpose by the government in power, leading the citizenry towards a democratic governance. All hands need to be on deck and inputs should be championed from the following:
There is an urgent need to ratify the ECOWAS Convention on small arms and light weapons. This will commit the member States in controlling the unabated flow of these arms into the region. There are divergent local legislatures existing among countries that share the same borders. To be on the same page, there is need for the countries to speak the same language and be on the same page, as to what the legislation means. Authorization also differs from country to country – in English speaking countries, a Commissioner of Police can approve small arms license; but in French speaking countries, it is the Chief Inspector of Police.
The media as the fourth estate of the realm in a democracy, have to own up, rather than pointing fingers. Although most media houses are privately owned, they need to maintain a patriotic, stable and balanced editorial opinion for democracy to thrive. The question to ask here is; has the media been fair, objective and neutral in reporting electoral activities. Has the media backed down from a politician who is being hunted by the EFCC and emerges as a ministerial appointee? Is the media pushing enough to right the wrongs in society? Are Investigative Journalists following up on seized arms to know who ordered them and if the law took its stand against such illegal importers?
Do political parties have and adhere to a code of ethics? Are elections meant to be won by all means possible? Are political parties still having the mentality of winner takes all and loser can go to hell? Why are the non-violence agreements signed by leading contenders of the major parties, do not sip down to the grassroots? During the last elections, there was a chieftain of a political party who was caught on tape, arranging how many AK47s his “boy” will need during the elections. Another politician was threatening fire and brimestones on an opposition party, during a rally. No one of these politicians was cautioned for this act against democracy. Rather, one of them was actually supported with small arms and light weapons by State actors during the elections.
Nigeria has been invaded with unquantifiable number of small arms and light weapons that it could be classified as the BIGGEST Threat to Nigeria’s national security and nationhood. The problem is so huge that our continued existence as a nation and lives of millions of Nigerians across all the States are at risk.
Cultists in our higher institutions and political thugs which are a mainstay in our electoral process, have created a veritable threat to the largest democracy in Africa. The threat is so real that proffering a solution must be an agreement in unison of all the stakeholders in Nigeria.
Meanwhile, it is my recommendation that the government and people of this country, follow these steps of amelioration with all seriousness:
Make it a policy priority that places stricter controls on importation of small arms and light weapons. Nigeria needs to work with conventional arms manufacturers and exporters to strictly control their exports against illegal diversion. As difficult as this may be, government need to pay more attention to border security. Illegal route will always exist, but good border control is imperative.
Legislate tougher laws against illegal possession of SALW. Carry out a nation-wide mop-up of SALW. Weapons could be traded for cash, as added incentive.
Finally, we, as Nigerians should strive to achieve national security from the perspective of human security. If the individual is safe from small arms, the country’s democracy is also secured.
This was a lecture Mr. Amachree delivered at the Crime Fighters Award/Lecture last week.
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