The recent seizures of arms and ammunition around the country confirm the government’s failure over the years to stop the massive flow of illicit weapons into Nigeria. Literarily, Nigeria is deluged into illegal firearms by non-state actors. Thus emboldened, terrorists, violent Fulani herdsmen, armed robbers, insurgents, and criminals of diverse stripes have launched multiple, simultaneous crime sprees, spilling blood, disrupting economic and social activities, and threatening national sovereignty. Security agencies must fashion a coordinated and effective strategy to stop the flow, mop up illicit arms, and tame insecurity.
A report with our correspondent underscores the problem. Since mid-June, when tough-talking Kayode Egbetokun became the Acting Inspector-General of Police, the police have apprehended 297 suspects possessing 520 firearms of different calibre, 4,043 rounds of ammunition, and 264 stolen vehicles. Also, the National Commission for the Coordination and Control of Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons recently revealed that African countries imported arms worth $1.9 billion and warned of the repercussions to the continent’s stability.
Across the country, state police commands, military units on internal security operations, customs, and state and regional security personnel regularly seize firearms and ammunition along with the arrest of crime suspects. Bandits, Islamic terrorists, Fulani herdsmen, and gunmen increasingly possess heavier and more sophisticated weapons with which they ambush security units. A trending report said an Army Major, two other officers, and 13 troops were killed in one ambush by bandits who shot down a military helicopter in Niger State on Monday morning.
Stopping the Continues flow of illicit firearms Ownership.
The International Action Network on Small Arms and the International Peace Information Service 2022 report estimated over six million legal and illicit firearms in Nigeria and ranked her 16th (the only African country) among the 25 states with the highest firearms possession worldwide. Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, and Sudan were listed as African countries where local manufacturing of SALWs is prevalent.
The United Nations’ take that 70 per cent of the 500 million SALWs in West Africa are in Nigeria demands more decisive action by the Federal Government. The frequent seizures and occasional destruction of illicit firearms have apparently not reduced the flow.
President Bola Tinubu inherited the problem, but unlike his predecessors, it should not defeat him. Relevant security units and measures must be radically rejuvenated and upgraded, and the menace tackled on multiple fronts. Importation through legal and porous borders is one; the increasing presence of local illegal arms fabricators is another, while the sale and leasing of arms to criminals by rogue elements in the security forces is also a challenge.
Coordination is critical. Tinubu should lend the total weight of his office to the National Security Adviser to coordinate the agencies, personnel and assets engaged in stopping illicit arms proliferation. Inter-agency rivalry should not be tolerated.
The multi-faceted strategy should include stringent border controls; the air routes, waterways and ports must be effectively policed. Law enforcement agencies must collaboratively go beyond the arrest of peddlers, confiscation, and destruction of illicit SALWs, to dismantle the cartels and the unmasking and prosecution of the barons and financiers. Financial surveillance should be stepped up. Corrupt officials facilitating the illegal trade should be smoked out and prosecuted.
The nexus between terrorism, banditry, general security, and state fragility has long been established. Ranked 15th on the Fragile States Index 2023, stopping the arms flow and halting the descent into state failure should involve a more vigorous, intelligence-led, and technology-enabled law enforcement strategy. Let that process begin today.
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