Insecurity: Senate Seeks Stiffer Penalties for Illegal Bearers of Firearms
By Deji Elumoye
The Senate on Tuesday canvassed stiffer penalties for anyone caught in possession of firearms not legally procured in Nigeria.
The upper legislative chamber submitted that the security challenges facing the nation would have long been nipped in the bud but for the continued illegal proliferation of firearms in the country.
The President of the Senate, Dr Ahmad Lawan, who stated this in his concluding remarks after the Senate considered a bill seeking to amend the Firearms Act, 2004 declared that the security situation would have been far better, if Nigeria had been able to control the proliferation of firearms in the country.
He said: “I believe that there is no compromise for stiffer penalties for anyone caught with an illegal arm.”
Lawan, while expressing optimism about the readiness of the Executive to address the nation’s security challenges, pledged the willingness of the Legislature to ensure an improved situation for Nigerians.
According to him, Nigeria’s security situation can still be reversed, once the leadership remains focused and committed, adding that: “For us in the National Assembly, it has been a very difficult time, probably the most difficult time, because our people face this daily security challenges, and the question is always, what are you people doing?
“Unfortunately, the Legislature is limited in what it can do. It cannot implement, but it can talk about it, debate and insist on it.”
The Senate President foresees an end to the security challenges facing the nation, saying the Executive has changed its approach to tackling the menace.
“I believe that this Executive is ready to do something to improve the security situation. Now that we are seeing a difference or an improved approach, maybe the end to the insecurity in the country is at sight.
“Recently, of course, we have seen the National Security Adviser working with the Service Chiefs and others in a coordinated manner. We pray that this is sustained, and that for us, we will give them every possible support,” Lawan said.
Earlier in his lead debate, the sponsor of the Firearms Act 2004 (Amendment) Bill, Senator Uba Sani, said the aim of the proposed amendments is to curtail the proliferation of illegal arms and effectively address some of the security challenges currently plaguing Nigeria.
He noted that the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (UNREC) recently reported that proliferation of illicit small arms and light weapons (SALW) in Nigeria has reached an alarming proportion.
The senator also explained that analysts recently estimated that out of the 500 million weapons that may be circulating in West Africa, 350 million, which represents 70% of such weapons, can be found in Nigeria.
Sani added that: “On the 31st of January 2017, the Nigerian Customs Service confirmed the interception and seizure of 661 pump action riffles imported illegally into the country from China. Had such weapons escaped the eagle eyes of our Custom officers and found their way into our communities and are in the grip of murderous elements, we would have had a clearly unmanageable insecurity situation.
“Nigeria is one of the countries experiencing some of the most devastating effects of the proliferation of illegal weapons as a result of spillover effects of the crises in Libya and Mali as well as unresolved internal conflicts in parts of the country such as the North-east, Niger Delta and other regions.
He, therefore, emphasised the need for a legislation that will provide for stringent punishments to deter perpetrators of the illegalities.
According to him, the objectives of the bill include imposing stiffer penalty for offences under the Act to serve as deterrent and strengthen the current effort, geared towards control of illicit firearms influx into the country and in the possession of individuals; to establish a comprehensive and coordinated disarmament and arms destruction ceremony for Nigeria through the Office of the National Security Adviser to ensure that confiscated illegal firearms do not re-enter the society.
Other objectives of the bill are: to provide for a stipulated time within which the destruction of unserviceable firearms must be carried out, except where there is a valid court order to the contrary; to proffer an effective, coordinated and sustained legislative strategy to address the underlying factors encouraging the circulation of arms and concurrently block the outlets through which illicit firearms are proliferated; and to take proactive measures in stopping easy access to and re-circulation of illegal arms in our communities.
Sani assured Nigerians that the Bill, when passed by the National Assembly and assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari would “help in degrading the criminal elements in our communities”, and “deny them of the weapons which serves as the oxygen for their operations”.
The Bill after consideration, which was referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters headed by Senator Opeyemi Bamidele for further legislative work, has four weeks to report back to Senate plenary.