Arms Cache And The Reign of Impunity

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The federal government should be more decisive in curbing arms build-up in the country

Violence recently returned to the plateau when no fewer than 20 persons were felled in Ancha Village in the Miango District by herdsmen said to be on a revenge mission over the killing of a Fulani boy by suspected cultists. As the Plateau State authorities moved to forestall a further escalation of the violence, President Muhammadu Buhari was on hand to express his displeasure with the disruption of peace and normalcy that had until then prevailed in the state.

However, not a few Nigerians were disappointed that, as usual, no arrest has been made even as government and its security agencies go through the familiar ritual of sermonising over the need for citizens, including the aggressed, to keep the peace. Yet, as this newspaper has pointed out on several occasions, there is an organic linkage between the failure of the authorities to secure the lives and property of citizens and the geometric rise in the inclination towards self-help. In the instant case of Ancha Village, it was the unresolved murder of one person that led to the killing of 20 others as well as the maiming of many people by sophisticated gun-wielding non-state actors.

If the federal government and its security agencies are in doubt about the enormity of the horrific consequence of their serious dereliction of duty and the concomitant rise in the privatisation of violence, that doubt ought to have been cleared by the obvious massive arms build-up in the country. By now, Nigerians have become familiar with watching on television open display of arms reportedly intercepted by agencies of government.

A fortnight ago, the Nigeria Customs Service gleefully displayed the cache of arms it claimed to have intercepted at the Tin Can Island Port of Apapa in Lagos. Carefully concealed in a 20-footer container as wash hand basins were 1,100 pump action riffles imported from Turkey. That find was the fourth this year and is being traced to Turkey, just like the first time in January when 661 deadly AK 47 riffles were discovered in 49 containers at the same port. The second haul of 440 pump action guns was intercepted in May at Oshodi, a Lagos suburb, by the Special Operations Unit of the Customs Service. That one reportedly originated from China. There was yet another haul last week.

On all these occasions, the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd.), said the service would investigate the occurrences and bring the culprits to book. To date, nobody is on trial for any of these serious national security threats.

Therefore, as the public awaits the outcome of the investigations, we think that the interception of 2,671 imported illicit arms within a period of nine months is an indication of a systemic arms build-up. That requires a more urgent and concrete response from the federal government, particularly when account is taken of the ominous statistics on the existing illegal Small and Light Weapons (SALWs) in the country. Indeed, a recent report by the UN Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament and the Presidential Committee on SALWs showed that 7.5 per cent of Africa’s 100 million arms are illegal, and of the 70 per cent of the West African sub-region’s SALWs, 90 per cent are in the hands of non-state actors in the country.

What these figures revealed is that the country sits atop a keg of gunpowder, a ticking bomb waiting to explode. It is, therefore, no longer convenient for us to sit by and watch government and its security agencies issue assurances that all would be well, when the evidence staring us in the face is that they are slacking hugely in their responsibilities.

With the body count mounting and provoking further violence that threatens to rock the ship of our state, our charge to the federal government is that it should rise up to the occasion, fish out the entrepreneurs of violence and bring them to justice without further delay.

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We think that the interception of 2,671 imported illicit arms within a period of nine months is an indication of a systemic arms build-up. That requires a more urgent and concrete response from the federal government