The Director-General of the National Taskforce on Small Arms, Light and Chemical Weapons (NATFORCE), Dr. Emmanuel Okereke, recently raised the alarm that some politicians and other stakeholders are stockpiling arms and ammunition ahead of the 2019 general election in the country. The NATFORCE boss blamed the nation’s porous borders and the non-existence of a commission to tackle the menace for the proliferation of arms by desperate politicians.
The proliferation of arms and ammunition in the West African sub-region is dangerous. It is estimated that the number of small arms and light weapons circulating in West Africa is about 500 million. Unfortunately, over 70 per cent of these weapons are reportedly in Nigeria. The presence of these illegal arms in the country must have exacerbated the nation’s security challenges. It may also lead to the electoral violence. The government and the security agencies are, therefore, enjoined to halt the arms buildup and apprehend those behind the nefarious act capable of causing violence in the country.
It is commendable that the Acting Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, has asked individuals who have illegal arms and ammunition in their possessions to voluntarily surrender them to the police. We doubt that the call will be heeded by those behind the proliferation of arms in the country. The Police ought to go beyond the appeal for voluntary surrender of arms and arrest all those involved and diligently prosecute them.
Without doubt, those stockpiling these dangerous weapons may be doing so for the purpose of causing violence during the forthcoming general election or any other nefarious activity. We agree with the NATFORCE helmsman that the proliferation of arms in the country is made possible by the nation’s porous borders and the absence of a commission for the control of arms as Nigeria and Gambia are the only countries in West Africa who have not established a commission for the prohibition of illegal importation of arms, ammunition and light weapons in accordance with a resolution by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) of December 2017.
To tackle the menace, we think that the Federal Government should establish a national commission for the prohibition of illegal importation of arms as recommended by ECOWAS. At present, 14 out of the 16 member sub-regional body have set up the national arms control commission. Since a bill to set up the commission is before the Senate, let the lawmakers make haste and pass it. Apart from the provisions of Section 227 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the Section 81 of the Electoral Act 2010 to the effect that no individual or corporate entity shall train or retain any person or groups of persons for the purpose of arming them and using them for unlawful and violent means, there is the need to set up a commission specifically to deal with the issue of arms proliferation in the country.
The absence of specific laws against arms proliferation makes it difficult to tame the menace. Since the 2019 election is fast approaching, those saddled with the responsibility of ensuring peace and security during the exercise must curb the menace. Until we have a commission properly empowered for the purpose, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), and other relevant security agencies must work in concert to check the proliferation of arms in the country.
Let politicians and their supporters assist the security agencies to track the arms and make the country safe for all. It is only in the atmosphere of peace and security that a credible and free election can take place.
The police should take decisive actions against those unpatriotic persons involved in the illegal arms trade. We hope that the security agencies, especially those at our borders would do the needful and ensure that the nation is spared of illegal arms and ammunition. There is the need for a comprehensive disarmament programme to rid the country of illegal arms.