Illegal Arms Threaten Nigeria Survival, Ex-Generals Warn
· Canvass declaration of a state of emergency on illegal arms
· Challenge FG to work on supply side to stop arms inflow
Four retired generals of the Nigerian Army yesterday warned the federal government that Nigeria might cease to exist with over 6.145 million small arms and light weapons (SALW) illegally in circulation nationwide.
The ex-generals, therefore asked the federal government to declare a state of emergency on arms proliferation and try to stop them from coming into the country instead of focusing on the demand side only.
In separate interviews with THISDAY, the ex-generals warned that the growing trend of arms proliferation “portends grave threat to national peace and security if the federal government does not address it decisively.”
They are a former Commandant, Training and Doctrine Command, Nigerian Army, Maj.-Gen. Ishola Williams; a one-time Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Defence, Maj.-Gen. Oluyemi Bajowa; and a retired General Officer Commanding, 1st Division, Maj.-Gen. Abiodun Role and an erstwhile Chief of Staff, Nigerian Army Infantry Corps Centre, Brig.-Gen Saleh Bala.
The Small Arms Survey, a publication of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland, had put the number of small arms in the hands of civilian non-state actors nationwide at 6,145,000.
Another report by SMB Intelligence and Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) revealed that the armed forces and law enforcement agencies “collectively account for 586,600 firearms, representing about 8.71% of the total small arms and firearms in circulation.”
A former Head of State, Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar, at a meeting of the National Peace Committee (NPC) in Abuja on April 8, stated that there were over six million weapons in the country.
Expressing grave concern about arms proliferation in the country, Bajowa warned that Nigeria might cease to exist if strategic measures were not adopted to address the challenge.
He observed that such a statement coming from a retired army general, a former Head of State and current Chairman of Nigeria Peace Committee portrayed the security situation in Nigeria, serious, scary, and worrisome.
In an asymmetric warfare situation, Bajowa revealed that six million are enough “to arm 6,000 battalions with each unit having a strength of about 1000 fighting men, or about one thousand five hundred (1,500) Brigades of four Battalions each or at worst three hundred and seventy-five (375) Divisions of 4 Brigades each.
“Such an illegal force, if properly organised and well commanded, can easily overrun a federation of 36 states. This is a situation Nigeria can ill afford, particularly, in the face of the unguarded statements by some governors and high-profile individuals in respect of encouraging the arming of the citizenry for self-defence and protection of livestock.”
He, therefore, said it was a matter of national urgency “to rejig the security and intelligence architecture of the nation, by issuing a presidential directive, supported by the National Assembly, to declare a “national state of emergency.”
He, equally, recommended, a special operation for the Nigeria Armed Forces (NAF), Nigeria Police, and other security services, “to retrieve all weapons illegally imported or smuggled into Nigeria through our porous borders. Otherwise, we stand a risk of losing Nigeria, as a failed state.”
However, Williams, founder of Pan African Strategic and Policy Research Group, disputed the report that put the number of small arms in circulation at 6.145 million.
“If we have one million illegal arms in Nigeria, we will not sleep. It means it will outnumber the number of arms in the hand of the military and security agencies. With the situation that we have, it means that we are not working on the supply side of where the arms are coming from.”
He challenged the federal government “to work on the supply side, the arms will continue to come in. When arms come in and there is a ready market for them, it means it is a matter of demand and supply. What is the demand for? How well do military and security agencies protect the arms they carry?
“Aside, are those arms so cheap that anybody can afford to buy them when they come in? What are our intelligence systems doing either at the border or within the country? For instance, who authorised Fulani herdsmen to carry arms.
“Who gave them the arms? Who employed these Fulani herdsmen and gave them arms to protect their cattle? These are basic questions we need to ask,” which the ex-general asked rhetorically while responding to THISDAY’s inquiries.
At the level of governments, Williams lamented that African states “are not working on the supply side of these arms. They got millions of dollars or Euros from donors to fight the demand side, but not the supply side.
“The government set up two committees on the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs set up one while the Ministry of Defence set up another. What are they doing? The government must start looking at the supply side. Where are these arms coming from?
“The customs have managed to stop some of these arms coming in. How do they do that? If they can do it at the seaports, why can’t they do it at the land borders? What technology can they use to be able track illegal arms at the land borders? They keep saying these arms are coming from Libya.
“If you know where they are coming from, why don’t you stop it? Why don’t you talk to Libya? Why don’t you find the route from Libya to Nigeria or Libya to West Africa? And West African people together stop them? Why are they not doing that? These people are not serious about stopping illegal from coming in.”
Williams, therefore, said the implications of arms proliferation “are obvious across all states of the federation. There are many people who are in possession of arms without record because they want to protect themselves.
“If people are being kidnapped by gunmen, if police headquarters and stations are being attacked and burnt down, if there are bandits everywhere with guns, if people are dying everyday, what implications are we looking for again?
“These threats have been there for some time now. But unfortunately, we are not serious about stopping them. We are not reforming our security agencies to address these challenges,” the ex-general said.
Concerned about the implication of illegal arms nationwide, Bala said that the trend “has exacerbated the current spiraling violent criminality, sectarian violence, separatist agitations and insurgencies we are having. This situation can be aptly described as a pandemic.”
Like Bajowa’s recommendation, Bala, also Chief Executive Officer of White Ink Institute for Strategy Education and Research (WISER), said a state of emergency of illegal arms and small weapons must be declared.
He suggested that the Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons (PRESCOM) should be an independent force under the leadership of a Corp Marshal that would report directly to the President.
He, also, recommended the need for the federal government “to increase the number of legal arms in the hands of state agents, which means we need more personal, arms and equipment raised and organized to deal with the problem.”
Bala urged the federal government to evolve a robust operationable border security strategy, deployable immediately, devoid of the current toxic political characterization of everything going on in our national lives, and as a fact ignoring it.
As a people, Bala observed that all Nigerians should “acknowledge, agree and unite to the fact that we have a scourge to which we are all victims. Our land and sea borders are poorly secured and administered.
“We must know the difference between border security and border control. Border security is the total physical and virtual occupation of our border to deny illegal infiltration while border control is ensuring legal border crossing through our land, sea and air borders at the legally established border posts.
“Border security should be scaled up to a military role and so taken over and done by our military in their constitutional role of security and ensuring territorial integrity, while the immigration service should concentrate on border control.”
He emphasised the need to deploy intelligence teams to air, land and sea borders, which according to him, would not only asphyxiate the border entries of illegal arms, but also violent groups.
At the sea borders, he suggested that the navy should be empowered with fast patrol boats to police the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), where the most of small boats sneak in arms and other illegal items into coastal communities.
When this is done, Bala said the problem of corruption among the security forces and collusion with economic saboteurs and criminal gangs should be closely monitored with harsh laws against any unit or personnel found liable.
He said “”Experience has shown that defence and security forces on border duties are at the height of corrupt practices for personal enrichment and which lead to the pouring of illegal items including arms and ammunition into Nigeria. This is a major problem.”
He said the solution “should be given a five-year life. But the situation now is such that the threat is at a high military scale, and only a robust military solution can solve it. This is evident from the number and overwhelming commonality of armed groups occupying our huge ungoverned spaces.
“The nations around us that are all former French colonies have gendarmerie, which is a high-breed police force that police their borders. They are equipped and organized similarly to the military. This should be a lesson for us.”
He noted that the arrangement where the Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons (PRESCOM) “is remaining at committee level since its establishment over two decade ago, rather begs the questions.”
Bala advocated that the presidential committee should be upgraded “to a federal agency and empowered by law to operational level. That will not only enable them to work at the regulatory and enforcement levels.”
He equally argued that the presidential committee “should be so empowered such that it keeps the records of the inventory of all arms in all defence, intelligence and security forces, but also has powers to visit their locations to physically inspect and ensure accountability.
“The president should stop the issuance of permits to any private person, so also for police at the state levels for any kind of firearm. A moratorium should be placed on the importation of any form of arms, except for state use.”
In West Africa, for instance, Role observed that there “are reports that show how small arms are coming from Africa’s conflict-ridden states. This has contributed to the rising rate of insecurity.
“The proliferation of illegal arms in circulation in Nigeria, will further complicate insurgency in the Northeast; banditry in the Northwest and all sorts of conflict nationwide.”
Consequently, the ex-general challenged the federal government “to adopt an all-encompassing approach to mop illegal arms in circulation. The security agencies should not be left to address this challenge alone.
“The political authority has a role to play to ensure that all parts of the federation are involved in the process of arms recovery. It must involve the local, state and federal governments to recover all illegal arms across the federation.”