By Sagir Musa
Proliferation of small arms and light weapons is increasingly and dangerously becoming a transnational organized crime in Nigeria with Boko Haram’s insurgency, re-emerging Niger Delta crisis and escalating kidnapping, communal crises and armed robbery in the South East providing impetus for arms trafficking. Some border towns, particularly in the North Eastern flank, serve as a hub for trafficking of arms as well as stolen goods, drugs and hostages by criminals, terrorists and their collaborators. The recent kidnap of a French family at a border town between Nigeria and Cameroon is an example. Similarly, many arms and ammunition of various types, sizes and calibre have been intercepted and confiscated by security agencies. The recurrent detection and recovery of cache of arms, ammunition and Improvised Explosive Device Materials by the Joint Task Force, JTF, further buttresses the point. Similarly, the occasional recovery of stolen goods and hard drugs from criminals and terrorists’ camps or hideouts is an indication that the illicit trade has been on the rise in recent times.
Of concern is the discovery that despite the efforts of security agencies, the “merchants of death” continue to engage in arms trafficking/ trading through covert means largely aided and abetted by the porous nature of the Nigerian borders with Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Recently, the Comptroller General of Nigerian Immigration Services stated that the Service had discovered hundreds of illegal routes in Nigeria that link or lead to some neighbouring African countries.
Nigeria’s borders are massive with hundreds of footpaths crisscrossing to neighboring countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger with links to Mali, Libya and Sudan. From conservative estimate by locals, there are well over 250 footpaths from Damaturu/Maiduguri axis that link or lead direct to Cameroon, Chad or Niger. These paths, which are mostly unknown to security agencies, are unmanned, unprotected and have continued to serve as conveyor belts for arms and ammunitions trafficking into Nigeria.
It is disheartening and unfortunate that the “merchants of death” have since devised methods to beat security agencies at the borders, chief among them, through the footpaths. These methods include the use of camels, donkeys and cows to traffic arms, ammunition and drugs such as cocaine into Nigeria. The fact that the weapons are small, light and collapsible makes it easy to be concealed and moved on camels and donkeys’ back in a specially crafted skin or thatched bags mainly meant for the illegal “expedition” undetected. Similarly, some cows and grains merchants in the North- East sub – region of the country device means of hiding cache of arms and ammunition in empty fuel tankers, vehicle engines and bags of grains.
The “grains” are transported in large number via trucks, trailers, lorries and old model pickup vans and jeeps with little attention given to them by security agents. The use of Jega type of tricycles ( KEKE-NAPEP) as well as camels, donkeys, and cows (moving in flocks) to deceive, hide and conveniently traffic arms in some parts of the North are ways hitherto unknown, not well exposed or documented. Their capacity for arms trafficking is beginning to be uncovered and is being curtailed by security agencies. The security situation in the JTF Operation RESTORE ORDER area of responsibility forced the task force to take on additional responsibility to trace sources of arms and ammunition to Boko Haram insurgents, how the arms are trafficked and are also taking measures to block them. This is one way of effectively checkmating terrorism in Nigeria – destroy its centre of gravity! And this seems to be a task that has so far proved difficult but necessary to be accomplished if the war against insurgency is to be effective and successful.
Similarly, the Libyan and Malian rebels are desperate to exchange arms for money to Boko Haram terrorists, their financiers and collaborators as the sect has since been affiliated to Al-Qaida in the Maghreb. This has added to the overwhelming challenge of the influx of illegal aliens, arms, ammunitions and sophisticated IED materials into the country and an efficient and effective fight against terrorism. Additionally, the water ways/ seaports provide havens for arms trafficking through ships and speed boats on high seas and the use of canoes in the creeks. The exchange of stolen crude oil for arms/ ammunition is a well known “trading activity” nurtured and ferociously protected by militants or sea pirates and their financiers and collaborators with the possible connivance of unscrupulous law enforcement agents in the Niger Delta. This is one major source of arms and ammunition that strengthens militants’ arms and ammunition holding not only in the Niger Delta but also in the South East and South Western parts of the country.
Security agencies at the borders and seaports have severally complained of the porosity of the nation’s borders and waterways. The problem of porous borders is compounded by inadequate personnel, patrol vehicles, surveillance helicopters and equipment. Consequently, most of the borders are leaky and this makes effective control of intruders, smugglers and “merchants of death” a mirage. The vastness of the nation’s borders in the face of these challenges bring to the fore the need for a rethink on the management and security of the Nigeria’s borders and seaports – without which effective fight against insurgency, arms trafficking and proliferation will remain an optical illusion. There must be innovative technology; sound policies, proficient process that will help protect our borders. It is worrisome that the exact number of illegal routes and means through which illegal aliens, arms and ammunition are trafficked into the country are largely unknown by the nation’s security system.
The use of innovative technology – radars and alarm systems- are major ways developed countries utilize to monitor and secure their borders. Some radars can be used as primary detection sensor for long range remote surveillance platforms. The ability to detect slow moving targets, even in complex mountainous, thickly forested terrains and large open areas make some radars such us Blighter Radar ideal for remote surveillance and detection of vehicles and people trying to cross borders illegally.
In remote areas, it is common for intruders to follow natural routes across the land, valleys, mountain paths or animal tracks. In these instances, Mobile Surveillance System provides a cost effective way of monitoring key areas with limited resources. Similarly, Blighter Radar, unlike traditional Air Surveillance Radar, can effectively survey both the land and low air zone simultaneously.
Correspondingly, the fundamental problem of border security, arms trafficking, efficient and effective fight against terrorism in Nigeria can be linked to what Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi tersely identified as institutional fragmentation, intelligence and policy non-coordination among the security agencies. These challenges are real and must be addressed for the fight against terrorism, arms proliferation and border security to be effective.
* Musa, a lieutenant colonel in Nigerian Army, is the spokesperson for Operation Restore Order, Maiduguri, Borno State