There is urgent need to contain the flow of arms through the country’s porous borders
That Nigeria accounts for at least 70 per cent of the illegal small arms and light weapons (SALW) circulating within the West African sub-region should be of serious concern to all Nigerians, especially to those charged with keeping us secure. The revelation came from the Chief of Army Standards and Evaluation, Major-General Shehu Abdulkadir at the 7th Annual Ramadan lecture of Muslim Media Practitioners of Nigeria in Abuja.
In his paper titled, “The challenges of internal security and implications for national development,” Abdulkadir said: “out of approximately 500 million illicit weapons in circulation worldwide in 2004, it was estimated that about 100 million are in sub-Saharan Africa, with eight to 10 million concentrated in the West African sub-region. Regrettably, more than half of these Small Arms and Light Weapons are in the hands of non-state actors and criminal groups.”
The army chief went on to disclose that Nigeria “is both a producer and consumer of SALW in the West African sub-region.” He noted further thatwhile it was difficult to determine the exact quantity of illegal SALW circulating within or coming into the country, “it is estimated that over 70 per cent of eight to 10 million illegal weapons in West Africa are in Nigeria.”
This grim revelation does not bode well especially at this critical time when the nation is experiencing serious security challenges. It stands to reason that with access to abundant illegal weapons the rogue elements in our midst have become more fortified and hence less amenable to entreaties to make peace.Yet it was such easy access to SALWs by some unscrupulous elements thatresulted in total breakdown of law and order in some of the failed states in Africa of which Somalia is a prime example.
The danger in the proliferation of these weapons is that when they fall into the hands of non-state actors such as Boko Haram insurgents (or even the former Niger Delta militants before they were disarmed), they become objects of terror by people who have no regard for international laws and conventions. Such proliferation equally leads to difficulties in conflict resolution as was the case not long ago in Liberia and Sierra Leone, sometimes with dire consequences for even children.
According to United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), which have done extensive studies on the dangers posed by SAWL, “the uncontrolled trade in small arms and light weapons is a matter of life and death to people around the world.” But of greater concern to UNICEF is the fact that it is easy for children to be easily taught how to handle these weapons, which are lethal but light and easy to use yet once exposed to them, what follows is “a vicious cycle of crime and violence.”
Given the foregoing, Nigeria cannot afford to take the issue lightly and that is why the concerns that we have repeatedly expressed on this page about our porous borders require urgent and much more serious attention by the relevant authorities.
It is, however, comforting that in the same paper under reference, General Abdulkadir described Nigeria as strong and resilient, irrespective of the apprehension in several quarters on the possible outcome of our current security challenges and the proliferation of SALWs. We feel encouraged by such vote of confidence coming from someone who should know the likely consequences of endless internal strife.
We only hope his is a correct prognosis. Even at that, we enjoin all the relevant authorities to recognise the danger posed by the influx of small arms into our country and act very quickly to tackle the menace before it is too late.