Security experts say more dire consequences are imminent for Nigeria if authorities in the country fail to come up with workable strategies on how to stem the inflow of arms and ammunition into the country.
In the build up to the 2019 general election, vociferous calls from concerned Nigerians over the proliferation of firearms are gradually getting deafening level with experts insisting that there is little to show that the relevant agencies of government are giving adequate attention to this apocalyptic threat.
A retired Commissioner of Police and former spokesman of the force, Frank Odita described the situation as an indication of the desperation of the current crop of politicians in the country and called for decisive action to arrest arms proliferation.
“The crop of politicians a country has at any given time dictates what happens. In the past, Nigerian politicians were not as ambitious as what we have now. The issue of wealth was not a major issue. A good number of them wanted to serve then and we could see patriotism written all over them But the issue of killing is a new phenomenon and it is not peculiar to Nigeria alone. People are going out of their normal selves because they want to win elections. The truth is that the present day politicians are different from the politicians of those days. So we need new orientation for everybody to understand that life is precious and sacrosanct. You don’t just carry arms because you want to win an election,” Odita said.
The National Coordinator, Community Policing Partnership Association of Nigeria (CPPAN), Mr. Sunday Solanke, also said that mounting fears over arms proliferation as the 2019 elections gather momentum became more palpable because of the nexus between arms proliferation and violent crimes in the country.
“Besides the daily diet of killings by bandits and herdsmen in parts of the country, history has it that election years are characteristically fraught with pre and post-election violence as gun-wielding thugs, driven by blind support for their candidates, periodically engage one another, not only in character assassination, but outright elimination of their opponents. Shocking enough, cultists and common criminals find such weapons very handy for their criminal activities. The prevalence of small arms is believed to be the cause of the violent crimes being perpetrated across the country,” Solanke noted.
Signs of impending doom arising from the threats of arms proliferation have been multiplying for months. Aside from gruesome killings of innocent Nigerians in parts of the country, reported cases of firearm seizures from criminal elements have continued to put Nigeria on the edge.
Last week, the Defence Headquarters, Abuja disclosed that 133 ammunition and five AK 47 rifles were recovered during an exercise it carried out in an attempt to mop up illegal arms and weapon in the country. The Director, Defence Information, Brigadier General John Agim, who made the disclosure said the weapons were recovered from both politicians and other criminal elements.
The seizure came barely two weeks after the national coordinator, Project Victory Call Initiative, (PVC-Naija), an advocacy group, Dr Bolaji Akinyemi, raised the alarm that desperate Nigerian politicians are unrelenting in their quest to unleash war on innocent Nigerians by flooding the country with illegal arms.
Dr. Akinyemi while urging Nigerian youths to resist the temptation of being used by desperate politicians re-echoed a United Nation’s alarm, which tagged Nigeria as home to about 70 per cent of over 500 million small arms in circulation globally.
“About 70 per cent of the proliferation of global small arms estimated at 500 million have found its way into Nigeria, with 300 million arms in a nation of 150 million. That is an average of two arms per person. The monster behind this cache are the political class, whose children are kept far away from the battle ground, but their plan to unleash war against our innocent generation shall not see the light of the day,” he said.
Back in 2016. Director of UN Regional Center for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (UNREC), Mr. Anselme Yabouri, while speaking in Abuja on the alarming proliferation of small arms, had expressed concern that Nigeria was being flooded with illicit weapons, which have found their way into unauthorized hands, noting that the development was a threat to the existence of the country as well as lives and property.
But as the 2019 general election draws nearer, fears have once again begun to mount over the ubiquitous presence of arms in the country. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, in an attempt to arrest this dangerous trend, recently sponsored a bill that seeks to eliminate the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in the country.
Speaking at a forum where he received a delegation from the Security Sector Reform of Civil Society Organisations in Nigeria and Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, he noted that small arms and light weapons fueled conflicts, which “in turn impale societies, truncate development in any society and when introduced in politics, set the nation back.”
As the build-up to the 2019 elections continues, he said, violence was beginning to take root, adding that the situation might get worse if care was not taken to stem the influx of small arms and light weapons.
“We are aware of the fact that if this 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.”
Experts are unanimous in the belief that the fight against arms proliferation is indeed a collective one that requires the collaborative efforts of the government, security agencies and the public.
In his submission on the way to handle this threat, Odita called on Nigerians to assist security operatives by providing information on questionable elements in the country. “We need to appeal to members
of the public because it is the members of the public that can help to expose people who they reasonably suspect to be in possession of firearms.
“Secondly, our officers at the borders and the entry points into the country have to be extra vigilant and should be able to get adequate information to deal with the situation as it crops up. All security organizations must use intelligence gathering mechanism at their disposal to gather information and, of course, they need to work with members of the public,” Odita said.
In the same vein, the CPPAN national coordinator said Nigerians are impatiently waiting to see more deliberate efforts on the part of the the Committee on the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) in view of the international dimension to the inflow of weapons, a stronger regional coordination and collaboration among ECOWAS member states on this herculean task.
“It is for these reasons and more that we support plans by the National Assembly to enact a bill on the establishment of National Commission on Small Arms and Light Weapons to be charged with responsibility of regulating and prohibiting proliferation of small arms, ammunition and light weapons.
“Besides prohibiting illegal possession of the weapons, the proposed law should task such commission to be established with the sensitization of the public to the dangers of such weapons with the view to discourage their production and to combat the problem of the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.
“The National Orientation Agency (NOA) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should ensure immediate commencement of voter and public education on the need to jettison politics of bitterness, hate and rancour, especially since violence is an ill wind that blows no one any good.
“While violence and killings undermine the credibility of any election, it is safe to reason that only a free and fair election, which produces a winner on the basis of his clear manifesto and devoid of bloodshed, can be said to represent the will of the people. No election is worth the blood of anyone,” he counseled.