By Olakunle Olafioye
The announcement early last week of the interception of 1,100 rifles by men of the Nigeria Customs Services NCS, elicited excitements much as it threw jitters down the spine of many Nigerians who fear that criminal elements in the country are not relenting in their determination to unleash terror in the country. But Colonel Gabriel Adetunji Ajayi retd, in this interview says that the euphoria which greeted the seizure has been eclipsed by the fact that more lethal weapons still find their way into the country undetected.
He also bares his mind on why Nigerians don’t get to know the outcomes of previously seized ammunition in the country and other security challenges in the Nation.
The Nigeria Customs announced the interception of about 1,100 rifles few months after similar cache of arms was intercepted. What message does this convey as far as security is concerned in Nigeria?
You will expect me to congratulate them for a job well-done but to me it doesn’t convey any message in the sense that the arms that were seized are just pump action guns. Not even nomadic herdsmen use pump action guns, they use AK 47. Let me explain this to you. In the world there are three major money spinning crimes. The first one is oil bunkering, followed by drug and money laundering. The third one is arms proliferation.
How did arms proliferation come about? With the collapse of the old Soviet Union, the successor republics had large caches of arms stockpiled in their territories. But these successor nations did not need these arms, rather what they needed was dollars. So they had to sell the arms in their possession. By the international convention governing the sale of arms they cannot sell these firearms in the open market, so they resorted to black marketeering. In the case of the pump action guns that are being intercepted, people can procure them through license and the essence of pump action guns for those who have the license is for gaming.
But gaming and hunting are not vibrant occupations in Nigeria. People that acquire them mostly use them for self defense. Of course the law does not permit someone to hold gun for self-defense but there is this feeling that it will at least serve as a deterrent to miscreants who may want to harass them. I believe the pump action guns are being brought because of politics by politicians to harass their opponents. But the one that should really put us on the edge is not the varieties that are being seized but those ones coming into the country unhindered. I mean the AK 47 variety of weapons. How are Boko Haram insurgents getting their weapons? How are the killer herdsmen getting their AK 47? You can never see pump action guns with the insurgents neither can you see them with the herdsmen.
That is the reason why we have never seen the prosecution of those who were arrested in the past for allegedly bringing weapons into the country? Perhaps they have their papers. So if they have their papers there will be legal right to bring them in and the people that will take it from them might even have their licenses to carry the arms. So there is nothing wrong in that. However, the suspicion therein is that which one, which countries are these arms from? Are they friends of Nigeria? Do they have any sinister motive by allowing such weapons to be brought from their country into Nigeria? Those are the questions we need to ask. It is not a question of getting afraid or getting worried, it is a question of getting down to business of ensuring that our society is arms free. The arms in circulation in Nigeria are more than the arms in possession of the whole ECOWAS sub region. That is why crime continues to rise in Nigeria.
Are you saying there is no cause for alarm with the flooding of the country with small fire arms?
No, there is a cause for alarm, but we should be more disturbed by the AK 47 variant that comes into the country undetected. What I am saying is that the lethality of the ones that are being detected is suspicious. These are weapons that can be brought into the country with license.
They could be sold under license, they could be held under license but no one can have the license to import AK 47. No one can have the license to sell AK 47 and no one can have the license to hold AK47. Yet these are deadly weapons that are in circulation in Nigeria. All the arms you see with Boko Haram and herdsmen are supposed to be in possession of security operatives.
But now that the report claimed that the intercepted weapons were smuggled in don’t you think Nigerians’ suspicion on the motive behind its importation should be further buoyed by this fact?
That is the propaganda we were fed with. After investigation it might be discovered that the weapons were imported legally. That might be the reason we have not got further information about previously seized weapons. If after investigation they discover they have the license to import, that they have the license to sell and those who buy them have licenses to possess them, then what is the furore about the issue? the one that should really give us sleepless night are the ones that cannot be cleared, that are being smuggled into the country through the coast. They can bring them through small boats and offload them without passing through the port. Most of the AK 47 may not come through the port anyway. This is what should trouble us more. The fact that they are not being detected does not mean that these arms are not coming in.
One would have thought that with the interception of similar imported firearms at the port earlier in the year those who are into this illegal business would have been discouraged from bringing them through the port. What would you say could be the motivation for coming through the port?
What happens is that ineed a license to import rifles; single barrel, double barrel and pump action belong to the same class. The difference between double barrel and pump action is that pump action has four systems of firing and they can load more cartridges, double barrel can load two cartridges while single barrel will load one cartridge and they are supposed to be used for gaming or hunting. But like I said, these weapons are not used for hunting because hunting and gaming are no longer lucrative pastimes in the country. Like I said earlier, those who possess them are either using them for self-defense or political reasons; to arm their thugs and intimidate their political opponents. As we are getting towards next election, politicians are trying to prepare for it, don’t let us pretend about it. An ordinary man cannot afford to buy a pump action gun which costs around N360, 000 to N400, 000. So we can imagine the caliber of people who can order for over 1000 units of pump action guns.
The recent deployment of soldiers in the South-east is generating a lot of ripples. What security implication does this portend?
I am very reluctant to comment on that issue because of the sensitive nature of that exercise. However, I want to sound a note of caution. We should not take to the last resort as the first resort. Military involvement in peace keeping or internal security operation should always be the last resort and we should be aware of the fact that we must not set any bad precedent because the person coming next may even worsen it. The military is like a spear in the hand of the holder. The spear goes wherever it is thrown, so if the spear is in the hand of Mr. A today, tomorrow it may be the turn of Mr. B to hold the spear. Soldiers go where they are asked to go and do what they are told to do. If Mr. A feels he can throw the spear the way he likes, when it is Mr. B’s turn he can also throw it the way he likes. It is a very sensitive thing to ask soldiers to pull down agitations among their own people. It has a very bad psychological effect on the soldiers too. Some people are saying that the soldiers were being pestered with bottles, I will say that is why soldiers are being giving medals for sacrificing their lives today for the future of others.
Those are the things the military has to encounter but that does not mean they should resort to the use of fire arms. So we have to be very careful so that we don’t set a bad precedent.
Many people who have been lauding the move are not being sincere. We need to be very cautious because there will always be a tomorrow. I strongly believe that there is an alternative to the deployment of the military in the zone. I know they must have gone through the normal process before authorizing the deployment in the interest of Nigeria. If the order is not in the interest of Nigeria, it should not be carried out. What I am trying to say is that this is a very sensitive matter so we have to be very careful so that we don’t set a bad precedent.
What alternative would you suggest to the deployment of military?
Nigeria has never followed constitutional process on issues like this in the past, we all always resort to fighting. Even the Biafra War, we did not exhaust the constitutional process or political process to resolve the crisis before we went to war. That is what I refer to as taking the last step first. The military should be the last resort and not the first resort. Look at the time Boko Haram started we didn’t start with the military first. It took a long time before they declared state of emergency to give way for military operation in that area. The use of the military in non emergency situations requires a lot of caution because the people you are still dealing with are your fellow Nigerians. The police are capable of dealing with that situation.
The operations of the military should have been in support of the police. No matter how long it takes we are still going to resort to dialogue so why should we then resort to the foolishness of war. There are alternatives to the use of force at least for the time being. During the civil war, the Nigerian side was able to counter the propaganda of Biafra by allowing the United Nations to send an observer team headed by a Canadian that was what saved the face of Nigeria. The presence of the UN observer team helped to put a lie to the propaganda of Baifra. They were able to see that the war was being fought according to the law.
Nobody can do anything illegally except during the military regime when you are not accountable to anybody. So the government must bear it in mind that they have to account to the people; they are not there on their own. They are there on behalf of the people of Nigeria. So any step that will be taken must be done in the interest of the people of Nigeria.
Are you satisfied with the way the war against Boko Haram insurgency is being fought?
One of the greatest achievements of the Nigerian armed forces is that they have been able to restrict the activities of the insurgents to the north east. In fact in some other places it would have gone round the country. There is nothing stopping suicide bombers from going to Lagos or Port Harcourt or Enugu, but because of the effort of the military insurgency it has been restricted t o the north east. We should not think fighting insurgency is a tea party. It will be naïve to think that these insurgents do not have subscribers among the locals even among the victims and these people will continue to give them support. How do Boko Haram insurgents get their supplies? Who repairs their vehicles? Where do they get petroleum products and lubricant? How do they get food? They could not have survived if there are no cooperation here and there; if there are no betrayers here and there. There is no way you can defeat Boko Haram, you can only degrade their activities until they fizzle out.