The Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, recently ordered commissioners of police across the country to arrest and prosecute individuals or groups in possession of prohibited firearms. The order, according to the police boss, has become necessary to curb the deliberate arming and movement of political thugs and other criminal elements by politicians across the country. The exercise is also aimed at addressing the proliferation and unlawful possession of prohibited firearms in the country by unauthorised persons or groups. Considering the violent nature of our elections, it is instructive that the order came ahead of the gubernatorial elections in Edo and Ondo states scheduled for September 19 and October 10, respectively.
We welcome the directive and urge those concerned to carry out the exercise with utmost patriotism. Apart from the Edo and Ondo elections, the rising insecurity in many parts of the country is enough to mop up illegal weapons in the land. Nigeria currently accounts for about 70 per cent of illegal weapons circulating in West Africa. In 2018, there were about 350 million illegal weapons in the country. The number of such weapons must have increased due to the escalation of insecurity caused by insurgents, bandits, kidnappers, armed robbers, herdsmen and other criminal elements in different parts of the country.
Beyond ordering the police commissioners to mop up illegal weapons, the IGP needs to go further and ensure its implementation. This is not the first time such instruction would be given. We recall that his predecessor also issued a similar order to recover weapons from vigilance groups and other unlicensed bodies. That more unauthorised persons are still bearing arms in the country is an indication that the previous directive was not diligently implemented. The current order should not be allowed to go the same way. It should be taken seriously by the police commissioners.
We decry the proliferation of illegal weapons in the country. The situation has so much contributed to the nation’s worsening security. To curb the rising insecurity, government must prevent the possession of arms by unathorised persons or groups. Government must strengthen its gun control measures. Although the possession of illegal weapons is against the provisions of Chapter F.28 LFN 2004 of the Firearms Act, many unathorised people still bear arms in the country. We urge the government to apprehend those bearing arms illegally and prosecute them. Arms in illegal hands account for the rising insecurity and criminality in the country as well as violence during elections. The mop up should be carried out before the Edo and Ondo polls.
Checking the menace of illegal weapons in the country requires tackling the sources of their supply. With increasing porous borders, it is easier to bring these arms into the country. Statistics from the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) in 2018 showed that the country’s land borders were vulnerable and the personnel to man them grossly inadequate. Out of 1,500 identified land border crossings into Nigeria, only 114, covering 4,000 square kilometres, had approved control posts manned by 23,000 Immigration officials and other security agencies. These are the loopholes the merchants of illegal weapons exploit to infiltrate the country. Corrupt government officials at the borders do not help matters.
The mop up operation will not achieve much without effective policing and securing the borders. We believe that tightening the land borders will drastically reduce the influx of illegal weapons. It is worth reminding the government that its primary duty is to protect the life and property of the citizens. Checking the proliferation of illegal weapons is part of this duty. The Police should rise up to their responsibilities in this respect. The situation also requires the collaboration of sister security agencies at the border posts.