BeyondtheBeat CHIKA AMANZE-NWACHUKU Tel: 08033294157, 08057161321 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Public concern about unrestrained proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALWs) in Nigeria has increased tremendously in recent years.
But with the 2019 general election fast approaching, concerns have heightened about the impending danger lurking for our dear country owing to this ugly development.
The extremely porous nature of the Nigeria’s borders, trigger transnational crimes such as drug trafficking, money laundering, arms and human trafficking, all of which are combining with several other factors to undermine the nation’s security.
For too long, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has failed to take appropriate actions to stem the influx of small arms and light weapons into Nigeria from other countries.
These ‘merchants of death’ often bribe officials to smuggle their wares into the country through the borders and the ports. Due to corruption and institutional laxity, Nigeria has become the dumping ground for illicit weapons and substandard goods.
In August 2015, Hameed Ibrahim Ali, a retired Nigerian Army Colonel was appointed the Comptroller General of NCS by President Muhammadu Buhari. The expectation was that he 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.
However, despite the leadership change, the rot in the customs service has continued unabated even as smuggling business has become a commonplace in Nigeria.
The inability of the customs, under Ali’s watch to secure Nigerian borders and stem smuggling activities has become evident in the alarming rate illegal weapons and other illicit items are smuggled into the country.
Besides, after his more than three years at the helm, nothing has changed as regards the bureaucracy and corruption in customs clearance processes, which have long posed significant challenges to the trading community in Nigeria.
In 2016, the United Nations (UN) raised the alarm that over 350million SALWs (about 70%) out of the estimated 500million of such weapons said to be circulating in West Africa 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 and properties.
But as the 2019 general election draws nearer, eminent Nigerians have renewed their call on the leadership of the Nigeria Customs and other agencies that man the borders and ports to take very urgent steps to address the problem.
Speaking on the issue recently, a senator representing APC, Kaduna Central, Shehu Sani alleged that Nigerian politicians were behind the illegal firearms proliferation in the country.
The Senator noted that the scale of arms in the country has the capability to bring an end to the nation as a Republic.
He expressed sadness that the hitherto peaceful Nigeria “is fast becoming an AK-47 nation”. “People are killed every day and our country is becoming a failed state. It is a concern to every Nigerian today that the state is failing. People in rural areas and isolated places are being killed and all we can do is condole, condemn, deliberate, discuss and offer one-minute-silence and the silence continues,” he said during a deliberation on arms proliferation.
Sani noted: “Hardly, in this country, will you find a politician who does not have a reserve of arms which he deploys during congresses, primary and general elections.
“Until we have a new national reorientation where people should not see politics as a do or die affair but as an opportunity to serve, this problem may not end. We have seen violence in the North-east, North-central and it is about the proliferation of arms. We have seen theories, conjectures, and hypotheses saying all these arms come from Libya. What happened to our border guards, customs, military and immigration? What happened to the billions of naira spent on protecting our borders?
He expressed regret that politicians are adopting the act of violence to retain their offices and/or assume office.
Concerned about the ugly development, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara stated recently that the influx of small arms and light weapons will get worse if it was not checked before the elections.
Dogara explained that it was in an effort to protect our democracy that he sponsored a bill in the House, seeking to eliminate the proliferation of SALWs.
The Speaker noted that “small arms and light weapons fuel conflicts, which in turn impale our societies, truncates development in any society and when introduced in politics, sets the nation back.”
He said if the bill “is quickly translated into Law, as we are running into the 2019 general elections; if we are able to set up this Commission, we will combat this illicit dealing in weapons of war, we will be able to provide a very conducive environment for the 2019 elections to take place.”
The bill, which had scaled a second reading at the House of Representatives, is a consolidation of two bills sponsored by Dogara and Nnenna Ukeje, from Abia state.
It seeks to create the National Commission against Proliferation of Small and Light Weapons. The bill also promotes the removal of arms from the society, through the collection, storage, destruction, management and stockpiling of small arms.
But as Nigerians await the passage of the bill into law, beefing up security at the ports as well as the land borders, which serve as the routes for the influx of these illicit weapons, has become very essential. Also, practical measures should be put in place by the customs service to promote integrity and curb corruption, which has been the bane of its performance.
Last year, the Senate had summoned the customs helmsman, all the service chiefs, the then Director General of the State Security Service, Lawan Daura and the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, over the worrisome development.
The upper legislative chamber had condemned in strong terms, the agency’s inability to control the proliferation of illicit firearms into the 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.
It observed that thousands of innocent Nigerians had been killed in Benue, Kaduna, Kogi, Zamfara and other parts of Nigeria, with no meaningful efforts being made to stem the tide.
The lawmakers warned that if the trend was not addressed and very fast through action by the government, it would certainly get to the extent that firearms 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.
But beyond the summons and blame game, experts reason that the federal government should take the bull by the horn and 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.
To them, only a tested and proactive leader can provide the kind of leadership needed to win the war against SAWLs.