The Federal Government has again raised the alarm over the proliferation of illegal arms across the country. Available statistics show that not less than seven million illegal weapons are reportedly in the hands of non-state actors and criminal elements in the country. Of the eight to 10 million illegal weapons circulating in West Africa, over 70 per cent of them are domiciled in Nigeria.
The National Security Adviser, Maj-Gen Babagana Monguno (rtd), gave the startling revelation some days ago at the National Institute for Strategic Studies (NISS) in Abuja. The government should be worried over the menace and do something urgently to curb it. The issue of circulation of illegal weapons is not new in the country and the authorities are aware of the dire situation.
In August 2019, the United Nations (UN) put the number of such weapons circulating in West Africa at 500 million. It also said that 70 per cent of those weapons were reportedly in Nigeria. The circulation of illegal arms in the country is partly responsible for rising banditry, armed robbery and kidnapping in Nigeria. It is equally fueling the insurgency in the North-East region as well as the militancy in the Niger Delta region.
Since 2009, over 8,000 women had been made widows by bandits in Zamfara State, while 16,000 children had become orphans. The bandits had also killed at least 5,000 people and injured more than 9,000 others. They had equally destroyed over 10,000 houses.
The 2018 Global Terrorism Index (GTI) ranked Nigeria third among countries worst hit by terrorism and other criminal activities. Even now, there is no indication that the situation has significantly improved. The government’s war against terrorism is still ongoing in the North-East and there is no sign it is going to end so soon.
While the government has vowed to stamp out the menace, it appears that the problem is yet to abate. The use of armed thugs by politicians during elections can also escalate the proliferation of illegal arms. At the end of each election cycle, the arms used for political violence are used for criminal activities.
Past efforts by the Nigeria Police Force to mop up illegal arms in the country did not yield good result, hence the escalation of crimes. Having over 1,000 porous borders must have contributed to the proliferation of illegal weapons in Nigeria. Apart from having many porous borders, the absence of a commission for the control of arms in West Africa can also lead to circulation of illegal arms in the country.
The police, with their present numerical strength put at 334,000, can hardly tackle the insecurity in country with over 200 million people. With the present numerical strength of the police, we are far below the United Nations’ standard of one police officer to 400 citizens. Unemployment and rising poverty can be responsible for the proliferation of arms in the country.
There is no doubt that rising unemployment is a threat to national security. That Nigeria has overtaken India as the poverty capital of the world underscores the enormity of the problem. The Federal Government should substantially increase the numerical strength of the police so that they can effectively tackle the security challenges facing the country, including the unbridled proliferation of illegal weapons.
It has been recommended that the police should recruit at least 40,000 new policemen annually to cover the manpower shortfall. Unfortunately, this recommendation has not been faithfully implemented. Apart from recruitment, the police should be adequately trained and equipped to handle the mounting security challenges facing the country.
The police should deploy technology, such as drones and CCTV cameras, in fighting crimes. To curb the proliferation of illegal weapons in the country, the government must apprehend those behind the menace. The police should also muster the will to mop up all illegal weapons in the country.
Government should enact new laws with stiffer sanctions against the possession of illegal weapons. The Nigeria Customs Service and other security agencies should work together to stem the menace. In fact, all security agencies must work jointly to rid the country of illegal weapons.