THUMBS DOWN: Customs Failure to Check Arms Proliferation

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If protecting Nigeria’s borders from illegal movement of weapons is a primary responsibility of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), then the Hammed Ibrahim Ali –led NCS has failed woefully in its duties.

Ali, a retired Army Colonel was appointed on August 27, 2015 as the Comptroller General of the NCS by President Muhammadu Buhari.

Perhaps, the expectation was that Ali would bring his wealth of experience from his career in the Nigerian army in tackling the proliferation of illicit arms, which has become a major setback in government’s efforts to stem crime and insurgency in Nigeria.

But the inability of the customs, under his watch to secure Nigerian borders and stem smuggling activities has become evident in the alarming rate illegal arms and ammunition and other items are smuggled into the country through the now extremely porous borders.

In 2016, the United Nations (UN) raised the alarm over proliferation of illicit small arms and light weapons (SALW) in Nigeria. In fact, the UN stated then that over 350million out of the estimated 500million of such weapons said to be circulating in West Africa (about 70%) were domiciled in Nigeria.

Director of UN Regional Center for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (UNREC), Mr. Anselme Yabouri, who released the startling statistics in Abuja, had expressed concern that Nigeria was being flooded with illicit weapons, which have found their way into unauthorised hands, noting the development was a threat to the existence of the country as well as lives properties.

Last year, the federal government stated that adopting the whistle-blowing policy will curb high degree of arms proliferations in the country, which it noted, contributed majorly to the spate of arm conflicts in various parts of the country, especially the North Central and Middle-Eastern regions of the country. There is nothing on ground to suggest that this has yielded any result.

Worried about the ugly development, the Senate, last week, summoned the Customs helmsman, all service chiefs; Director General of the State Security Service, Lawan Daura and the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno over the worrisome situation.

The upper legislative chamber noted with dismay, the agency’s inability to control the proliferation of firearms into this country; as well as the negligence from the departments of government entrusted with the responsibility to control how individuals, corporate entities can acquire and maintain firearms in Nigeria, particularly the free access by hoodlums to acquire firearms easily.

Thousands of innocent Nigerians are killed on a daily basis in Benue, Kaduna, Kogi, Zamfara and other parts of Nigeria, with no meaningful efforts being made to stem the tide.

The situation has worsened to the extent that Nigerians are now advised to stand up and protect themselves. These prodding at self-defence, the Senate noted, if not checked through action by the government, would certainly get to the extent that firearm would be secured by every household either in the name of protection or for some other purposes, which will not augur well for this country.

Experts therefore posit that beyond the summon, the federal government should henceforth appoint capable hands at the helm of agencies, especially those responsible for securing the Nigerian borders as arms proliferation due to a weak customs service is a major threat to national security.