THE rate of armed violence across Nigeria is a reflection of the ready availability of small and light weapons. Many non-state actors are now in possession of illegal weapons. This, of course, is at the expense of lives and property. A 2016 United Nations, UN, report revealed that 70 per cent of the estimated 500 million such weapons circulating in West Africa are domiciled in Nigeria.
Two years ago, in Rivers State alone, a cache of heavy weaponry was harvested when 22,430 militants, criminals and cultists embraced the amnesty offer of the state government. They surrendered about 1,000 firearms, 7,661 rounds of ammunition, and 147 explosives. Last year, the Senate raised the alarm over the unacceptable rate of proliferation of small arms and light weapons in the country.
While we acknowledge that this indiscriminate ownership of arms has a direct link with the spillover of the Libyan crisis, it is pertinent to situate it in the failure of the nation’s security agencies to arrest the influx.
The National Commission on Small Arms and Light Weapons, NATCOM, recently lamented that despite several protocols signed by member-nations of ECOWAS, nothing has changed. According to NATCOM: ”The case of the Sahel region and Northern Nigeria in particular, reveals deficiency in the reinforcement capacity of security forces in the control of illegal movement of arms in Nigeria.”
The porosity of our borders has allowed easy accessibility of dangerous military-style weapons to non-state actors, and this is visible in the herdsmen menace across the nation. National security is gravely threatened and the livelihoods of millions are put at risk. A nation like Nigeria should no longer fold its arms at this unfolding signpost of anarchy. The nation is practically sitting on a ticking time bomb.
We call on the Federal Government to review the capacity of all agencies charged with securing our country to see how strategies can be readjusted for more effectiveness. Every stakeholder must sit up.
The Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons, PRESCOM, needs to give bite to its mandate to deal with this monster. It should work closely with the National Assembly to ensure the revival of the Bill that will upgrade the severely obsolete 1959 Nigerian Firearms Act which was mooted in 2014. The time has come for that law to be revisited. The outcome of the PRESCOM roundtable which also took place in 2014 should be brushed up and implemented.
If care is not taken, the attacks by herdsmen in almost all parts of the country could force more people to reach for arms to defend themselves and their communities, and this could spell doom for our country. The Federal Government must act urgently to prevent that by reining in all illegal arms.