Proliferation of small arms and light weapons have become a global challenge. This is due to light weapons’ lethal efficiency, easy accessibility, indiscriminate usage and devastating havocs they wreak.
According to Small Arms Survey of 2018, cited by SB Morgan’s Report on Small Arms, Mass Atrocities and Migration in Nigeria, there are over 40,009,000 small arms in the hands of civilians or non-state actors in Africa.
The report added that 10,972,000 of that number are concentrated in West Africa, where Nigeria is the most populous and dominant power.
The report also puts arms in the hands of civilian non-state actors at 6,145,000, while the armed forces and law enforcement collectively account for 586,600 firearms.
According to the report, this worrying trend of arms proliferation has an impact on Nigeria’s internal security.
The various armed groups used their access to firearms to challenge the state’s security forces, which had resulted to deaths and injuries.
According to preliminary findings from the National Small Arms and Light Weapons Survey (NSALWS), locally manufactured arms, which are normally fabricated in small-scale factories, without legal permits, contribute to a large percentage of arms in circulation in Northern Nigeria, especially in North-Central.
There are also many different points of entry for internationally sourced weapons. Nigeria’s porous borders facilitate the sourcing of weapons from countries bordering Northern Nigeria such as Chad and Niger that are also tackling insurgencies as well as challenges of documenting the flow of small arms.
According to the report, ammunitions from at least 21 different nations have been used in the herders versus farmers conflicts in North-Central.
Some of these nations include Israel, Poland, Brazil, Iran, USA, Czech Republic, Algeria and Egypt.
The Small Arms Survey, a publication of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, Switzerland, estimated 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 per cent of the total small arms and firearms in circulation.”
Former Head of State, Abdusalami Abubakar, at a recent meeting of the National Peace Committee (NPC), expressed concern over the proliferation of all calibre of weapons in the country, which he estimated at six million.
Abubakar, who is also the Chairman of NPC, at a dialogue session of the committee with stakeholders held in Abuja, decried the proliferation of weapons.
Abubakar said that the proliferation of weapons has heightened insecurity in the country and led to over 80,000 deaths and close to three million internally displaced persons, across the country.
The Minister of Defence, retired Maj.-Gen. Bashir Magashi, while receiving the report of the committee set up to facilitate the reform of the Ministry of Defence and Armed Forces, acknowledged that arms proliferation was a major factor threatening the nation’s peace and security.
Magashi said that since the fall of Libya coupled with security challenges in some of the neighbouring countries, they had been massive inflow of arms and ammunitions all over West African, adding that measures were in place to stem the tide.
He assured that the government was committed to ensuring that its laws are obeyed and illegal possession of arms and light weapons checked.
A renowned security expert, Dr Ona Ekhomu, who spoke on arms proliferation, called on the nation’s intelligence agencies to redouble effort in tracking the movement of small arms and light weapons into the country.
Ekhomu said that investigation by the intelligence agencies was necessary, adding that weapons did not just come one by one, but through cartels that stockpile them.
He said that the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and Department of State Service (DSS) had important roles to play in this regard, adding that DIA works from outside the country where some of the weapons come from.
According to him, there is intelligence in exporting countries about the weapons that are leaving as well as the cartel map, through which some of the weapons being imported could be interdicted.
On legislation, Ekhomu said that Nigeria has legislations on the control of small arms and light weapons, adding that enforcement has been the problem.
He said that the best approach to addressing the problem was to block the flow through the nation’s borders.
Ekhomu said that it would be more useful to stop the illegal inflow of weapons into the country before thinking on how to retrieve weapons held by criminals.
While the security agencies, especially the armed forces are grappling with this challenge, policy makers are finding ways to upscale their search for solution through Whole-of-Government and All-of-Citizens approach.
In this regard, President Muhammadu Buhari, on May 3, approved the establishment of the National Centre for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (NCCSALW) to be domiciled in the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA).
Retired Maj.-Gen. Abba Dikko was appointed the pioneer coordinator.
ONSA disclosed that NCCSALW replaced the defunct Presidential Committee on SALW.
NCCSALW is to serve as institutional mechanism for policy guidance, research and monitoring of all aspects of SALW in Nigeria.
The establishment of NCCSALW was part of ongoing restructuring of Nigeria’s security architecture to address emerging threats and strengthen regional mechanism for the control, prevention and regulation of SALW.
According to ONSA, the impact of the proliferation of SALW across national borders in Africa and the Sahel region has resulted in terrorism, human trafficking, organised crime, and insurrections in West Africa.
According to the ONSA, the new centre is fulfilment of the requirements of the ECOWAS Moratorium on Import, Export, and Manufacture of Light Weapons as well as the UN Plan of Action to prevent, combat, and eradicate illicit trade in SALW.
“The NCCSALW will serve as the National Focal Point on SALW in Nigeria and lead a multi-stakeholder process, involving government Ministries, Departments, Agencies and the civil societies in implementing all national, UN and ECOWAS Plans of Action on the control of SALW.
“The Centre will maintain international cooperation and also operate zonal offices in the six geopolitical zones to ensure quick response and effective mobilisation of resources,” ONSA stated.
Stakeholders are optimistic that with the establishment of NCCSALW the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in Nigeria will be greatly reduced.