Sometime in September 2012, at the UN Headquarters in New York, Nigeria was once again at the centre stage of multilateral diplomacy. The occasion was the Second UN Conference to review the progress made in the implementation of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat, and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALWs).
The conference ended on a cheerful note when 193 countries agreed to the adoption of a new UN Programme of Action on illicit small arms. Notably, in the process leading up to the conference and its final days, our very own Permanent Representative to the UN, Professor Joy Ogwu, a world renowned disarmament expert, was at the helms of affairs as the president of the review conference; and she made us proud!
In plain language and stripped of those occasionally bewildering diplomatic language, on the evening of Friday September 7, 2012, after several failed attempts spanning 10 years, the international community took concrete steps to confront the crisis of over 850 million illegal firearms in circulation around the world.
It was a day the world once again said Yes to “Gun Control” and “No” to illicit arms in the hand of robbers, warlords, terrorists and deranged people who wreak havoc across the world. Imagine the heart rending tragedy in an elementary school in New Town, Connecticut where most innocent children were massacred at a period the world was singing joy to the world! Imagine the unacceptable terrorist activities of Boko Haram against people who are worshipping their God in their churches or mosques.
Somehow, the epoch making event in New York did not attract much media attention. Perhaps because New York is far away and out of the radar of ordinary people preoccupied with the stress of daily living. The event also did not attract much attention due perhaps to the fact that beyond disarmament experts few people can connect a UN disarmament programme to a good night sleep and their personal safety on a daily basis.
And then that misperception that the UN and its array of agencies are mere talking shops. What with civil war raging in Syria and veto being whipped up now and then in the Security Council! So of what use is another “piece of paper” from the UN? one can hear people asking. Of course, the UN works. It works for us all, as a forum to proffer solutions to every conceivable issue from the depth of the ocean to outer-space. Think of child care, women’s development, climate change, poverty eradication, peaceful use of outer space, etc.
So when the world gathered in New York in September 2012, to try its hand again at ridding our world of illegal firearms and emerged with an outcome document it deserves close attention of all. Really it should also be of interest to every man and woman on the street in all corners of our world which has become unacceptably violent and certainly need re-inventing. Today most people sleep with only one eye closed due to the activities of robbers, kidnappers, marauders and terrorists. Before our very eyes, Mali with an enviable history and a hitherto shining example of democracy in West Africa has been balkanized by a terrorist group armed to the teeth with lethal weapons; a development threatening to roll-back the democratic gains of immediate past decade in our sub-region.
Certainly, the successful outcome of the Small Arms and Light Weapons Conference could be adjudged as one of the major events of 2012 in the field of disarmament for one simple reason. It has implication for the common quest to reduce violence, for a more peaceful world and security at national and personal levels. The document reminds us that Illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects continues to sustain conflicts, exacerbate armed violence, undermine respect for international humanitarian law, aid terrorism and illegal armed group and facilitate increasing levels of transnational organised crime as well as trafficking in human beings and drugs. There is therefore need for a bold initiative to confront the problem through gun control.
At national and international level the Programme of Action called for adequate laws, regulations and administrative procedures to prevent circulation of illegal arms and tighten access to guns. There are recommendations for improved intelligence work and appropriate national institutions. International arms transfers are expected to come under tighter control. Customs, INTERPOL, security agencies, NGOs and ordinary people are also expected to report suspicious characters and activities. Implicitly, we all have roles to play to combat illicit trafficking of arms.
States are of course expected to lead the crusade. They have the primary responsibility of preventing, combating and eradicating small arms trafficking. This is a crucial aspect of the gathering in New York in the concerted effort to wrest guns from the hand of criminals and terrorists.
As delegates rose up on that fateful evening, there was a feeling of satisfaction that the world has finally taken a bold step to come to grips with what has come to be accepted as the new weapon of mass destruction. It was a watershed in a long and difficult history of curbing illegal arms and weapons.
This particular conference was certainly another fitting tribute to Nigeria’s diplomacy and foreign policy posture. Coming not too long after a brilliant performance as a member of the UN Security Council, the outcome of the conference was another good outing for the Nigerian Mission to the UN in New York and our team of diplomats who worked tirelessly for and must have put in sleepless nights for the success of the conference. Equally significant was the performance of our Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Ogwu, who demonstrated uncommon and admirable diplomatic skill to secure the endorsement of over 193 countries.
It was also of course a proud moment for the leadership of our Foreign Ministry led by Foreign Minister Olugbenga Ashiru and the supporting team of officials from the headquarters in Abuja. It is a testimony that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its activities impact positively on the lives of Nigerians at home and abroad and this has been so for over 50 decade when the ministry came into existence.
We must also not forget that the successful conclusion of the Small Arms Conference tallies with the commendable commitment of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration to tackle the security challenges at home and its foreign policy posture for enduring peace and security in the ECOWAS region which recently received the support of the Security Council in form of the approval of ECOWAS initiatives to tackle the challenge in Mali including through an intervention force.
Certainly the Programme of Action on Small Arms is another evident that the UN remains the common home of humanity and can serve us well. Now that we have a road map in our hands to prevent guns from falling into the hands of robbers and terrorists, we must all rise to the challenge. That is the “heart of the matter”, which must also be a “matter of the heart” for us all for that good night sleep we all deserve; and rest of mind to us as we faithfully worship our God in our various churches or mosques.
Ambassador Olukanni is Nigeria’s High Commissioner to Australia