James Emejo in Abuja
The House of Representatives wednesday unanimously passed for second reading, a bill for an Act to establish the National Commission on small arms and light weapons charged with responsibility to among other things, regulate and prohibit the proliferation of small arms, ammunition and light weapons.
The commission would also sensitise the public on the dangers of small arms and light weapons in order to discourage their production and to combat the problem of the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in Nigeria in line with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Convention on small arms and light weapons and for related matters.
The bill, which was sponsored by House Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, and Hon. Nnenna Elendu Ukeje (PDP, Abia) enjoyed the overwhelming support of members, with no opposing voice.
The proposed commission would be charged with the responsibility of combating illicit trafficking of arms by strengthening laws and regulations, reinforcing operational capacity and improving on the system in tracing arms flow.
It further seeks to promote the removal of arms from the society through collection, storage, destruction, management and stockpiling of small arms and light weapons as well as control the manufacture of such weapons by monitoring and regulating the activities of the local arms manufacturers and registering them to be used in peace keeping operations.
Nnenna, while leading the debate, noted that the bill which she first introduced to the House floor in 2013, was â€œborn out of a desire to hopefully ensure that the conditions of the ECOWAS treaty as prescribed by the United Nations Program of Action UNPoA were fulfilled and hopefully fast track the domestication of the treaty.â€
Moreover, she said: â€œWhat used to be a fringe conversation has become main stream. Conversation about Nigeriaâ€™s insecurity concerns are highlighted on a daily basis as communal conflicts, religious crises, insurrection, terrorism, insurgency, militancy, revolt, electoral violence, robbery, cross border smuggling, kidnapping, sexual violence, domestic violence and all other threats as highlighted in the National Security Strategy has been on the increase in the last couple of years.â€
Quoting UN sources, the lawmaker said West Africa had about 500 million small arms in circulation, of which 70 per cent or 350 million arms reside in Nigeria- a development buoyed by obsolete laws and ineffective stockpile management, which the proposed regulatory commission seeks to address.
She said: â€œThis bill intends to address not only the security issues but also human right issues. There have been allusions to the fact that Nigeria is a country on the brink, some have even stated that Nigeria is a country at war.
â€œSome eminent personalities in this country have out of frustration in the seemingly unending state of violence advocated self-defence. The casualty figures are very high on the side of both state & non state actors and this proliferation of arms if left unabated will ensure mutually assured destruction with women and children the most vulnerable in theatres of violence and the economy taking a large hit.â€
According to her, â€œOn an almost daily basis, since the 2nd quarter of 2017, motions have been brought to the floor of this House about various theatres of violence that had claimed several lives. Statistics from the Office of the Senate president on the timeline of killings in the Middle belt region alone shows that there have been over 80 reported incidences of armed conflict that had claimed over 877 lives between 1st January â€“ 29th April 2018.
â€œA movement (Nigeria Mourns) broke down its national casualty figures from Benue State having the highest number at 534 deaths, Bornu State a close second with 361 deaths, Kaduna 218 deaths to Akwa Ibom the lowest with 16 deaths recorded in 2018. This statistics only represent killings as a result of herdsmen clashes. The numbers for communal clashes, armed robberies domestic violence, criminal homicides are not included.
â€œFurthermore, former Head of State; Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar (rtd) in October 2016 gave grim figures of killings in 4 northern states: Plateau, Nasarawa, Kaduna & Benue. He stated that about 2,500 people were killed, 62,000 people displaced, $13.7 billion lost to clashes and 47 per cent in internally generated revenue (IGR) in the affected states lost.â€
She added:â€It is a common saying that small arms and light weapons have killed more people than weapons of mass destruction. Former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, cannot be more critical of the quantity of small arms and rounds of ammunition in circulation worldwide when he said â€˜with 16 billion military grade ammunition produced annually, there are enough small arms and ammunitions enough to shoot every man, woman and child on the planet twice.â€™
â€œI know that in highlighting these figures, I am preaching to converts because it is you (my dear colleagues) who carry the pain of your constituents and are charged with the responsibility of highlighting their vulnerability in this seemingly loosing mindless battle against SALWâ€™s proliferation.â€