Tackling Security Sector Connivance in Proliferation of Small Arms, Light Weapons 

Though the underhand business of  proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons, SALW, popularly known as gun running has been in existence for decades, it has become more alarming in the light of the current security concerns in country. At the moment, the  volume of illicit weapons has reached a  frightening dimension fueled by weak security architecture and connivance, corruption, hollow institutions, and the near absence of adequate punishment for the traffickers. Chiemelie Ezeobi reports 

 Nafiiu was a soldier who had pledged allegiance and loyalty to the Nigerian state in defending it’s territorial integrity. He was attached to the Muhamadu Buhari cantonment in Tungan Maje, Abuja.

That much he did until two months ago when he was arrested by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) for allegedly hiring out and selling guns to kidnappers around Dankogi Park in Zuba in collaboration with members of the Vigilante Group of Nigeria in the area.

On one occasion, Nafiu hired a gun to the kidnappers for N300,000 and in another instance, N200,000 naira for another operation. He however met his Waterloo after the kidnappers were arrested and they mentioned him as their gunrunner.

As instructed by the DSS, the kidnappers had contacted him for another deal to supply them with AK 47 rifles for three million naira and he fell for it. At the agreed site in Zuba, he was arrested immediately he arrived to present the arm to the buyers. The AK 47 rifle, as well as a fully loaded magazine with 30 rounds of ammunition were found in his car.

Nafiu is not the only one who delves in gun running while in uniform. In May last year, another soldier, Corporal Mohammed, was arrested at Borno Express motor park with 2,000 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition in Borno State.

Premium Times had reported that the soldier, attached to 198 Special Forces Battalion, had just been relieved from duties at Damasak town in Borno State, after recently obtaining a sick report, which the army later disowned.

In March of that same year, the Zamfara State government had alleged that a Nigerian soldier and his girlfriend were caught supplying ammunition and military uniforms to armed bandits in the state. He was said to have been arrested by the military through community-driven intelligence.

On October 11, 2022, a serving Nigerian Army private, Emmanuel Iorliam of the 156 Task Force Battalion, Mainok in Borno state, was arrested for gun running.

Iorliam allegedly steals arms and ammunition from his base which he sells to bandits, Boko Haram members, and kidnappers. He met his Waterloo while he was moving the cache of ammunition out of Borno State to hand over to his customers.

He was intercepted by his colleagues at a checkpoint and upon searching him, he was found to be in possession of the stolen ammunition.

The proliferation of small arms and light weapons SALWs, occasioned by illegal and porous national borders and a booming business of gun-running, are some of the main factors fueling Nigeria’s security challenges. This has been exacerbated by security sector connivance in arms dealing which has given rise to criminal activities across the country.

ECOWAS and Its Definition of  Small and Light Weapons

Small arms as explained by the ECOWAS Convention in 2006 are arms used by an individual, and which include firearms and other destructive arms or devices such as exploding bombs, incendiary bombs or gas bombs, grenades, rocket launchers, missiles, missile systems or landmines, revolvers and pistols with automatic loading, rifles and carbines, machine guns, assault rifles and light machine guns.

Light weapons, on the other hand, are portable arms designed to be used by several persons working together in a team, and which include notable heavy machine guns, portable grenade launchers, mobile or mounted portable anti-aircraft cannons, portable anti-tank cannons, non-recoil guns, portable anti-tank missile launchers, and mortars with a calibre of less than 100 millimetres.

According to United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) which has done extensive studies on the dangers posed by SAWL, “the uncontrolled trade in small arms and light weapons is a matter of life and death to people around the world.” 

But of greater concern to UNICEF is the fact that it is easy for children to be easily taught how to handle these weapons, which are lethal but light and easy to use yet once exposed to them, what follows is “a vicious cycle of crime and violence.”

United Nation’s Position

Over the years, the United Nations (UN) has significantly enhanced global efforts to combat the proliferation of SALW.

In 2001, the General Assembly adopted the United Nations Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects (PoA).

In the instrument, governments agreed to improve national small arms regulations, strengthen stockpile management, ensure that weapons are properly and reliably marked, improve cooperation in weapons tracing, and engage in regional and international cooperation and assistance.

Within the PoA framework, the General Assembly adopted the International Tracing Instrument (ITI) in 2005, a global instrument for cooperation in weapons tracing.

Improving weapons tracing is now part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Together, both instruments constitute the normative framework on small arms and light weapons, which all UN Member States have agreed upon.

States periodically report on the implementation of the PoA and ITI and review implementation efforts at Biennial Meetings of States and Review Conferences. Additionally, countries have held Meetings of Governmental Experts (MGE) to benefit from the knowledge of technical specialists on matters of small arms control.

The global framework of treaties and instruments also includes the Firearms Protocol and the Arms Trade Treaty. In addition, there are regional instruments and regional roadmaps to control and regulate small arms and light weapons.


According to a study conducted by the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, it is estimated that more than 857 million SALWs are currently in circulation aside from 12 billion rounds of ammunition produced annually. Of these, 10 million SALWs are estimated to be in Africa with 1 million of these in Nigeria.

This is connected with previous and ongoing conflicts in the west and North African countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire, Chad, Niger, Mali, and Libya.

A report by Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin (SBM) Intelligence notes that about 6,154,000 SALWs are illegally circulating among civilian non-state actors and criminals in Nigeria.

The firearms, according to the report, were put at 3.21 per 100 persons, while a total of 224,200 and 362,400 firearms were in the possession of the military law and other law enforcement agencies, respectively.

The Nigerian Situation 

The proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALWs), occasioned by illegal and porous national borders and a booming business of gun-running, are the main factors fueling Nigeria’s security challenges, giving rise to criminal activities across the country.

A 2016 United Nations report reveals that Nigeria accounted for 350 million, representing 70 per cent out of the 500 million illegal arms in West Africa. A revelation by the Nigerian police that 1,887 weapons were recovered between January and December 2021 is undoubtedly a mere drop in the ocean.

This grim revelation does not bode well for Nigeria especially at this critical time when the nation is experiencing serious security challenges across almost the regions.

 It stands to reason that with access to abundant illegal weapons, the rogue elements have become more fortified and hence less amenable to entreaties to make peace. Indeed, the proliferation of SALWs is believed to have aided non-state actors including Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists, bandits, militants, etc while undermining the state’s monopoly of instruments of coercion.

In fact, the volume of illicit weapons in Nigeria has reached a frightening proportion and portrays Nigeria’s weak security system, fueled by corruption, laxity, hollow institutions, and the absence of adequate punishment for the traffickers.

The danger in the proliferation of these weapons is that when they fall into the hands of non-state actors such as Boko Haram insurgents and bandits or terror herdsmen, they become objects of terror by people who have no regard for international laws and conventions. 

Such proliferation equally leads to difficulties in conflict resolution as was the case not long ago in Liberia and Sierra Leone, sometimes with dire consequences for even children.

Promotion of Self Defence Bane of  Weapons Proliferation 

Gunmen violence feeds from arms proliferation and porous borders. Undoubtedly, criminal networks have explored unregulated borders entry points to smuggle weapons undetected.

These armed group violence has left communities vulnerable, and state security frameworks ineffectual in preventing the destruction. As a result, self-defence militias are created for survival and other unclear motives. Indeed, some government officials have encouraged self-defence in the face of security threats. 

In 2021, Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina State asked people to arm themselves and confront bandits. These new additions will likely require guns to operate as well. 

Therefore, while terror groups constantly need weapons, self-defence militias will also need arms to protect themselves. Together with porous borders, the situation creates a readily available and accessible market for SALWs’ business. 

Where Does the Inflow Come From? 

This beggars the question how the arms smuggling and proliferation thrive.

Multiple reports have suggested that Nigeria’s landmass, the hundreds of unmanned borders coupled with shortage of security manpower have  made it easy for gunrunners to thrive unchecked.

Also factored is the crises in Libya, South Sudan and other countries in the Sahel, which seems to further increase inflow of illicit weapons into Nigeria. 

 According to a three-year study by the Conflict Armament Research (CAR), an independent investigative organisation based in the UK, into the proliferation of weapons used by armed groups involved in Nigeria’s herder-farmer conflict, “it shows that most of the weapons were smuggled into the country from Libya, Turkey and Côte d’Ivoire”.

Also according to the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (UNREC), the same source the NSA document claimed to have drawn its figures from, “70 per cent of the 500 million illegal arms in West Africa are in Nigeria, meaning there is an estimated 350 million of these weapons in Nigeria”.

Corroborating the proliferation, the Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Ibrahim Musa Rafsanjani said 70 per cent of illegal arms in West Africa are in Nigeria.

Quoting available data on SALW document captioned ‘Proliferation of Arms and Security Challenges in Nigeria: International Journal of History and Cultural Studies published by www.arcjournals.org’, he said it showed that out of the 640 million circulating globally, it is estimated that 100 million are found in Africa, about 30 million in sub-Saharan Africa and eight million in West Africa.

He said: “Seventy per cent of the eight million find their way into Nigeria. The majority of these SALW, about 59 per cent, are in the hands of civilians, 38 per cent are owned by government armed forces, 2.8 per cent by police and 0.2 per cent by armed groups.”

Also speaking at a recent focus group discussion on the “Barriers and Bridges to Accountability in the Defence and Security Sector”, which they organised in Lagos, CISLAC then Program Officer, Salaudeen Hashim said: “there are over 70 per cent of the eight million small arms in the country, in the hands of armed opposition groups. 

“How are these things happening? We know that even the collapse of Libya has continued to lead to the export of personnel and fighters into the country. All of these things put together suggest that we need to tighten up more around our border patrols.

“The Sahel and the Gulf of Guinea are some of the biggest threats to security in this part of the country. And until we regulate and work more, and those who have responsibility to act should do a lot more, we might continue to experience this situation and there might not be any end in sight till there is a deliberate approach towards stemming the current tide that we are currently experiencing.”

Another incident that increased the influx of such weapons in the hands of non- state actors was the 2020 EndSARS protest across the nation. After the Lekki shootings of October 20, 2020, the once peaceful protest turned violent as rioters looted, burned, vandalised and destroyed many police stations and correctional centres. At the end, they made away with a large number of AK47 rifles and other weapons from the police stations, most of which are yet to be recovered till date.

Meanwhile, the ongoing Insurgency and terrorism in Nigeria has been cited as one of the major reasons for the influx of  illegal arms in the hands of non- state actors. 

In this case, these terrorists often over run the security forces and even their bases. And each time this happens, they  make away with their gun trucks, cartridges, ammunition, and even the Armoured Personnel Carriers and other Contingent-owned Equipment (COE). This has gone a long way to boost the fighting force of the Insurgents.

But for President Muhammadu Buhari, the blame should be squarely placed on the table of the war in Ukraine and Russia. Speaking at the 16th Summit of Heads of State and Government, hebsaid weapons being used for the war in Ukraine and Russia, and also those used in Libya were filtering into the Lake Chad and Sahel regions of the country

According to him, “Despite the successes recorded by the gallant troops of the Multinational Joint Task Force and the various ongoing national operations in the region, terrorists’ threats still lurk in the region.

“Regrettably, the situation in the Sahel and the raging war in Ukraine serve as major sources of weapons and fighters that bolster the ranks of the terrorists in the Lake Chad region.

“A substantial proportion of the arms and ammunition procured to execute the war in Libya continues to find its way to the Lake Chad region and other parts of the Sahel.

“There is, therefore, the urgent need for expedited collaborative actions by our border control agencies and other security services to stop the circulation of all illegal weapons in the region.”

Complicity of the Police 

On January 2, 2022, the Office of the Auditor General for the Federation (OAuGF) disclosed that about 178,459 different types of arms and ammunition were missing from the Nigeria Police armoury in 2019. 

As alarming as that sounded, the report got worse as it further revealed that there was no trace or formal report on its whereabouts as at January 2020 when THISDAY reported it.

As contained on pages 383 to 391 of the OAuGF’s annual report on non-compliance, internal control weaknesses issues in Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the Federal Government of Nigeria for December 31, 2019, which was submitted to the National Assembly, 88,078 of the missing arms were AK-47 rifles and 3,907 assorted rifles and pistols from different formations nationwide.

Referenced AuGF/AR.2019/02 and dated September 15, 2021, the report which was signed by the Auditor General for the Federation, Adolphus Aghughu, and addressed to the Clerk to the National Assembly, accused the Nigeria Police headquarters of lacking comprehensive details of unserviceable weapons, lamenting that such could fall into unauthorised hands for illegal use. 

It stated that the action of the Nigeria Police contravened paragraph 2603 of the Financial Regulations, which stipulates that in the event of any loss of stores, the officer in charge of the store in which the loss occur shall report immediately to the head of department or unit but not later than three days, by the fastest means possible if the loss occurs away from headquarters.

The AuGF report stated, “Audit observed from the review of Arms Movement Register, Monthly Returns of Arms and Ammunition and Ammunition Register at the Armoury section that a total number of lost firearms as reported as at December 2018 stood at 178,459 pieces.

“Out of this number, 88,078 were AK-47 rifles, 3,907 assorted rifles and pistols across different police formations, which could not be accounted for as at January 2020. Formal report on the loss of firearms through dully completed Treasury Form 146 (loss of stores) were not presented for examination.

“Records obtained from force armament at the Force headquarters showed 21 Police Mobile Force (PMF) Squadron, Abuja, did not report a single case of missing firearm, whereas, schedule of missing arms obtained from the same PMF showed a total number of forty six (46) missing arms between year 2000 and February 2019.

“The value of the lost firearms could not be ascertained because no document relating to their cost of acquisition was presented for examination.

“The above anomalies could be attributed to weaknesses in the internal control system at the Nigeria Police Force Armament. Several numbers of firearms from the review of arm issue register, monthly returns of arms and ammunition obtained from Force Armament, Force headquarters for various States Commands, Formations, Zonal offices, Training Institutions, squadrons and physical inspection of firearms and ammunition at the Force Headquarters have become unserviceable and dysfunctional.

“Similarly, returns were not submitted by some Police Training Institutions and some Formations, and Physical verification of firearms and ammunition at the Force Armament, Force Headquarters showed large quantity of damaged and obsolete firearms which needed to be destroyed.

“The damaged and obsolete firearms and ammunition should be treated in line with Financial Regulations 2618 which requires the destruction to be carried out in such a manner as to render the firearms unusable for their original purpose.”

Inadequate Manpower to Man Porous Borders 

It is no gainsaying that our borders are porous, which has given room to increase in infiltration of such weaponry into the country. As much as it is the responsibility of the police to provide internal security and the military external protection, the onus of protecting our borders however lie with the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS).

It was rather alarming when the then Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, made the startling disclosure that besides the 84 regular border check points, there were no fewer than 1,497 illegal routes that lead into Nigeria. 

Identified  by the NIS in conjunction with the National Boundaries Commission (NBC), these illegal borders have become routes through which such illegal arms are smuggled into the country. 

Many stakeholders have argued that the porous borders have posed the nation’s weakest link in terms of security.

At one time, the NIS under the then  Comptroller-General, Mr. David  Parradang, had pledged that as part of his key reform programs, tightening the borders would be worked on. He had vowed that the borders would be secured in a way that has not been done before that would be able to yield positive results for the security of Nigeria. 

It was on that note that the  government approved the establishment of border patrol corps to take care of the wide expanse of land in the nation’s borders from the north to east and also the sea sides of the country. Years after, that idea never thrived as new illegal routes continue to spring up each day. 

Infact, recently, CISLAC blamed the immigration services for the role they play in the proliferation of these weapons.

Its Executive Director, Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani), called on Nigerians to hold the services accountable for the massive influx of arms and ammunition into the country.

Lamenting the high level of banditry in the country, he stated that the constitutional mandate of both Customs and Immigration included checking goods and persons into the country at the different seaports and land borders.

He stated that if the two organs of the government dedicated half of the energy used in running after smugglers of rice and frozen poultry to checking the inflow of arms and illegal aliens, the war against banditry would have been a thing of the past.

Also, CISLAC then Programme Officer, Mr. Salaudeen Hashim, argued that the NIS is part of the problem because these aliens are not properly controlled and the inability to control them has continued to threaten the security architecture of the system. He argued that bandits were able to bring gun truck into the country because our borders are porous. 

“Our borders are becoming very porous, we have a belt of over 2000 kilometres that is not properly policed. Also, there seems to be a lot of commercialisation going on by personnel at the nation’s borders. They look the other way and allow aliens to move in and out of the country at will,” he said. 

Crucial Role of Customs 

Again, as much as the NIS have a crucial role to play, the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) are not left out as the onus of importation lies on them. It is no gainsaying that most of what is exported and imported goes through the customs and inculcates their statutory functions of revenue collection,  anti-smuggling, trade facilitation and security. 

Also, heaping a part of the blame on the Customs, Hashim said: “I think it is important that they begin to tighten up more.” 

He however, commended the efforts they have put in. “There seems to be some effort coming from the system, as we have seen where customs have been able to expose arms and containers full of ammunition, but of course, there are still some snickers where these things are going on”.

For example, a joint border patrol team of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) in Kwara, Kogi, Niger and Benue states led to 550 pump action gun cartridges interception in December 2021. In January 2022, NCS seized 3,620 live ammunition cartridges in Kwara state.

Efforts to Tackle Proliferation of SALWs

The Nigerian Government has made concerted efforts to tackle this menace. 

In July 2022, The Senate passed a bill that seeks to establish the National Commission for the Coordination and Control of the Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALWs).

The bill passed is a consolidation of three bills including the Nigerian National Commission against the Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (Establishment) Bill, 2020 (SB. 283).

Another of the bills is the Nigerian National Commission against the Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (Establishment) Bill, 2020 (SB. 513).

The third among the bills now consolidated into one is the National Centre for the Coordination and Control of the Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (Establishment) Bill, 2021 (SB. 794).

The passage of the bill was a sequel to the consideration of a report by the Committee on National Security and Intelligence, amid rising violent attacks, including kidnapping, terrorism and banditry, across the country.

Given the objectives of the bill, it is aimed at combating the challenges associated with SALWs in Nigeria under the United Nations Treaties and ECOWAS Convention on SALWs.

The proposed commission, if established, will identify sources and routes of illicit trade of SALWs, enhance coordination and collaboration among Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs) to address the challenges of the proliferation of SALWs and disseminate information among intelligence units and law enforcement agencies.

Other functions of the proposed commission include providing training for officers in identifying individuals that are involved in the illicit trade of SALWs and establishing mechanisms for the prosecution of offenders involved in the illegal importation of SALWs.

On November 24, 2022, the Office of the National Security Adviser-ONSA said efforts of FG in addressing the proliferation of illicit small arms and light weapons are yielding positive results.

Co-ordinator of the National Centre for Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons, Major General Abba Mohammed Dikko (rtd) stated this while briefing newsmen on the activities of the centre in Kaduna.

Dikko explained that the centre had recovered over 3000 illicit small arms and light weapons from various theatres of operations as well as those who willingly surrendered their arms in the past 18 months.

He said the centre collaborates with government agencies and stakeholders at different levels through capacity building to nip core societal issues of concern in the bud. 

He disclosed that the centre would identify the ingenuity of people and mainstream them into the military-industrial complex to become self-reliant in weapon manufacturing and reducing importation.

He also pointed out that the centre was in the process of providing a database for legitimate and illegitimate arms in the country to advise the government on the lines to take in terms of weapon and ammunition management.

The NCCSALW will also work closely with security and intelligence agencies on prevention and control of proliferated arms, as well as tracking weapons in the hands of non-state actors.

National Assembly Delves In 

Pending the outcome of the probe that the National Assembly has reportedly instituted, there is no other preliminary conclusion one can draw other than that these losses were deliberately concealed by the end police authorities, perhaps over the years, they said.

With these revelations, “it should not be surprising that the Police is so weakened that it has become systematically outgunned by criminals and terrorists almost in every situation, including the war against Boko Haram, bandits, criminal herdsmen, armed robbers and the so-called “Unknown Gunmen” who have been destroying Police stations in several parts of the country.

“We call for a similar investigation of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Customs and other arms-bearing security agencies. With the frequent reports of collusion with, and condonement of terrorist acts, banditry and atrocities by armed herdsmen, as well as reports of night time helicopter drops to the camps of the marauding herdsmen, it will not be surprising how the bulk of the missing weapons found their ways to these terrorists.

“Officers found culpable for this crime, even the retired ones, must be exposed. They must tell Nigerians what happened to these weapons. They must be treated in a manner as to ensure this is not repeated in the future.”

Way Forward

To manage gunmen violence in Nigeria should include efforts to tackle SALWs proliferation and regulate border entry points. 

For many stakeholders, gun violence and porous border problems call for regional commitment towards security as such a  Illegal entry points have created an easy passage for armed groups to operate across the board. 

They also posited for increased multi-agency and multi-country collaboration on managing shared borders and making concerted regional efforts to securitise borders, which will help address the smuggling of small arms and light weapons.

In one of the reports cited by THISDAY, 

National Working Group on Armed Violence (NWGAV) in conjunction with the UK-based Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), in its 24-page report titled: ‘The Violent Road’, recommended that the government needs to do a weapons stockpile management, which entails marking and tracing of small arms.

Also, many called for increased collaborative actions by border control agencies and other security services to stop the circulation of illegal weapons in the region.

This story was sponsored by The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, (CISLAC) in collaboration with Transparency International Defence and Security (TI-DS)

Related Articles