The Federal Government’s effort to curb the proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) in the country is yet to yield the expected results. Instead of abating, the menace is on the rise. The phenomenon has also heightened the general insecurity in the country. Some of these arms and weapons might be used by Boko Haram terrorists to unleash havoc in some parts of the country. It is for this reason that the Federal Government has set up a panel to review the report of the Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons.
President Muhammadu Buhari was reported to have told the Review Committee to come up with “effective and prompt solutions” to resolve the problem. The Presidential Committee was first constituted in 2013 by the Federal Government under the leadership of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
The meeting of the reconstituted committee, which began last week at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, was chaired by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo. It was also attended by the National Security Adviser (NSA), Maj-Gen. Babagana Monguno; the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu; Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malam and Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ahmed Rufai-Abubakar. Others in attendance were Air Vice Marshal Mohammed Usman; Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola; Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama; Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Col. Hammed Ali (retd) and the Chairman of the Presidential Committee, Ambassador Emmanuel Imobe. The array of people chosen to review the report underscores the urgency of the problem as well as the need to come up with pragmatic measures to curb the proliferation of small arms and light weapons across the country, a problem the Vice President rightly described as “enormous.”
It is worth mentioning that the issue of proliferation of arms was one of the reasons the government gave for the closure of the nation’s land borders in August 2019. Even though arms proliferation has become a global menace, available data showed that out of the 640 million Small Arms and Light weapons in circulation globally, an estimated 100 million were reported to have been found in Africa, about 30 million in sub-Saharan Africa, and eight million in West Africa alone, with Nigeria said to be the transit point and destination of trafficked SALW. No doubt, this can compromise the security of the country. It may also have aided the activities of the Boko Haram insurgents in the North-East.
Two years ago, the Nigeria Customs Service intercepted a consignment of pump action rifles alleged to have originated from China through Turkey. Also, much ammunition concealed in containers with millions of dollars had been intercepted by the Customs and Immigration officials across the country. It is likely that many of these arms and weapons might end up in the hands of bandits, herdsmen, kidnappers and some militia groups. Undoubtedly, the number of arms recovered from armed robbers by the Nigeria Police and Military Taskforce in recent months has underscored the magnitude of the problem. The situation is, indeed, frightening.
Nonetheless, it is heartwarming that that the Federal Government has, even though belatedly, risen to the occasion, towards finding effective solution to the problem. We believe that this is the right time to transform the Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons into a National Commission (NATCOM). The prevailing insecurity will persist until a lasting solution is found in curbing the proliferation of illegal weapons in the country. It has also become necessary for the government to enter into appropriate pacts at regional and international levels to stop the influx of SALW.
Government should check the stockpiling of weapons in the country. Some years ago, the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament warned that Nigeria harboured over 350 million illicit small and light weapons out of 500 million circulating in West Africa. We urge the security agents and other stakeholders to work together to curb the circulation if illegal weapons across the country.