From Fred Itua, Abuja, Sunday Ani and Chukwudi Nweje
Senators, yesterday, raised the alarm that Nigeria is under siege from murderous non-state actors whose activities are threatening the continued existence of the country.
The scenario, senators said, is further heightened with records from the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (UNREC), that out of 500 million illegal weapons circulating in West Africa, 350 million (70 percent) are domiciled in Nigeria.
Making the submissions during a public hearing, organised by the Senate Joint Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Navy and Marine Transport on Firearms Act 2004 (Amendment) Bill 2021 and Exclusive Economic Zones Act 2010 (Repeal and Re-Enactment ) Bill 2021, Uba Sani said the country needs to urgently address the worrisome situation.
Sani, who is sponsor of the Firearms (Amendment) Bill, lamented that proliferation of illegal arms and ammunition with little or no control by relevant authorities has profound implications for collective survival of Nigerians and Nigeria.
“We are gathered here to deal with a matter that has profound implications for our collective survival. We are under siege from murderous non-state actors. They have been acquiring arms illegally, maiming our people and threatening the continued existence of our dear nation.
“We either take measures to deny them of the oxygen that sustains their nefarious activities or we watch helplessly as they overrun us and our country.”
The aim of the proposed amendments to the Firearms Act, he explained, is to curtail proliferation of illegal arms and bring the existing law in line with global best practices.
He said UNREC recently reported that the proliferation of illicit small arms and light weapons (SALW) in Nigeria had reached an alarming proportion.
“A pointer to this effect can be cited with the incidence of January 31, 2017, when the Nigeria Customs Service confirmed the interception and seizure of 661 pump action rifles imported from China into our country.
“More recently, in Benue State, a local militia had the temerity to kill an army captain and 11 soldiers not to talk of reign of terror in Owerri, Imo State by gunmen who launched coordinated attacks on police headquarters and correctional centre.
“Something must be done urgently to curtail arms proliferation, the very reason for the proposed amendment bill on the existing Firearms Act.”
He listed the five major objectives of the amendment bill to include imposition of stiffer penalties for offences under the Act. One of such penalties is the one under section 27 (sub-section 1c), which proposed increase of fine from N1,000 to N1 million.
But a representative of Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshal Oladayo Amao, in his submission, objected to the N1 million and proposed N2 million.
Earlier, Chairman of the Committee, Opeyemi Bamidele, said the purpose of the two bills were to further strengthen the extant laws against illegal firearms possession and proliferation as well as making provisions of the Act on Exclusive Economic Zone to be in line with global practices as far as protection of the nation’s territorial sea and waters are concerned.
Meanwhile, reactions have continued to trail the Senate’s statement that Nigeria is under siege.
Former governor of Anambra State, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife agreed that Nigeria is in dire situation.
“Our continued existence is in serious danger like they (senators) pointed out. But, it only shows that they are blaming themselves because they are part of the government,” he stated.
He, therefore, appealed to Nigerians, irrespective of religious belief, to pray for the survival of Nigeria.
For the President of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Alhaji Yerima Shettima, the Senate’s statement amounts to an insult and abuse on the sensibility of Nigerians.
“It is an insult and abuse on the sensibility of Nigerians for the Senate to sit down and just say that Nigeria is under siege when we have been suffering all these while in the hands of bandits.”
He described the security situation in the country as frightening, even as he charged the senators to realise that the issue is degenerating by the day.
“And I am afraid if anybody will escape it at the end of the day. All of us will be victims if they don’t take measures immediately. They have to wake up to the realities of the day that we are in big trouble. The earlier we wake up to accept that we have a serious monster and work collectively to defeat it, the better otherwise all of us will be consumed.”
National Publicity Secretary, Middle Belt Leaders Forum, Dr. Dogo Isuwa, also charged the lawmakers to step up to their responsibilities, even as he blamed them for being quiet in the face of the wrongdoings in the country.
“Nigeria is dying and this has been going on for a long time. The question is why has the National Assembly not done anything all this while? Why did they wait until we are close to the end of the tunnel? The National Assembly has not acted on what they are supposed to do. If Nigeria is under threat from these non-state actors, why is it that nothing has been done to stop it from happening? In my opinion, the worst is yet to come if nothing is done at the earliest time possible to stop it. Who would believe that despite the killings that have been going on in Southern Kaduna for years, not a single person has been arrested not to talk of being prosecuted? If Miyetti Allah would come on television and own up to their collaboration with those doing the killings, what else can you say? They know the killers, so why have they not done anything about it? The National Assembly knows what is happening and they know what to do. If they feel that something is wrong, they should act now before it is too late.”