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Countries in the region must collaborate and address the challenge decisively

It is remarkable that the federal government is just coming to terms with the danger of the proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW) in the Lake Chad Basin. At a multilateral meeting with stakeholders in Abuja last Thursday, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha said countries in the region should establish a network and synergy to curb what he described as “weapons of mass destruction”. Harping on the consequences of weapons’ proliferation to the economic and social development of the countries in the region, Mustapha said we must put an end to “the senseless and mindless violence of Boko Haram and other violence mongers that are widespread in the region.”   

For years, we have repeatedly warned that violent crimes in Nigeria and neighbouring countries have ceased to be just social deviance but a thriving enterprise with dire consequences for peace and security within the region. Even more frightening is the calibre and quantum of lethal weapons in the hands of non-state actors and contestants of territorial control. In parts of the Northeast where Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) operate, the arsenals in the hands of these lawless groups range from AK 47 to machine guns, rocket   propelled grenades to rockets and rocket launchers.

Given the overwhelming level of insecurity in the region, proliferation of SALW has always been a serious challenge. Sources of these dangerous weapons range from trafficking across porous land borders to leakages in lax import procedures that have encouraged black market arms traffickers. Since transactional kidnapping has emerged in recent times as an unofficial sub-sector of the economy, especially in Nigeria, families and friends of victims are being tasked to come up with ransoms in hundreds of millions of Naira.     

At the Lake Chad Basin meeting, Nigeria’s National Security Adviser (NSA), Babagana Monguno called for collaboration and “decisive action to address this menace” if we must protect citizens of countries in the region. “This is not a problem that any one country can solve alone. We must work together as a region to address the root causes of this problem including poverty, underdevelopment, and poor governance,” said Monguno who advocated better border control measures.  

While the challenge is regional, the greater problem is within our country. Nigeria, according to most reports, accounts for at least 70 per cent of the illegal SALWs circulating within the West African sub-region most of them in the hands of sundry criminal cartels and lone wolves. It stands to reason that with access to abundant illegal weapons the rogue elements in our midst have become more fortified and hence less amenable to entreaties to make peace. Yet, as we have repeatedly pointed out, it was such easy access to SALWs by some unscrupulous elements that resulted in total breakdown of law and order in some of the failed states in Africa of which Somalia is a prime example.    

The task of protecting the people remains that of the state. But it is a task that can only be performed in tandem with strengthening the security of citizens to make illegal possession of firearms unattractive and unnecessary. Countries in the Lake Chad region must proceed through a programme of illegal arms decommissioning and recovery plus the reinforcement of existing gun laws to penalise illegal possession of arms within their respective jurisdictions. It is not enough to be holding regular meetings to offer lamentations. There must be concrete actions to deal with the challenge of arms proliferation within the Lake Chad Basin area.  

 Ordinarily, peace and order are only guaranteed because citizens surrender their right of self-defence to the overarching force of the state.   

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