“You must be bold, brave, and courageous and find a way… to get in the way,” – John Lewis
The Inspector-General of Police, Ag. IGP Kayode Adeolu Egbetokun, through a statement issued by Police spokesperson, ACP Olumuyiwa Adejobi, announced on Monday the establishment of an ad hoc committee tasked with the comprehensive review of firearms licencing and regulations by the Nigeria Police Force in line with the Firearms Act and other extant laws in the interest of public safety and general security.
Let me start at the root. The term weapons proliferation commonly refers to a rapid or prolonged increase in the development and inventory of nuclear armaments, such as was seen during the Cold War.
The proliferation of small arms and light weapons in Nigeria has become a clear and present danger to the country’s security.
It has also become a major source of vulnerability in our society and stands out as a key driver of violent conflict, crime, and terrorism within and beyond our borders.
I recalled that former President Muhammadu Buhari also raised the alarm that some of the arms used in the Russia-Ukraine war had also ended up in the Sahel region of West Africa, including Nigeria. Some of the weapons used in the Libyan conflict have also ended up in the wrong hands in Nigeria.
Experts estimate that the number of illicit arms in circulation in Nigeria is over six million. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime noted that illicit small arms and light weapons in Nigeria were about 70 per cent of the 500 million in West Africa.
Nigeria has 770 kilometres of shared land border with the Republic of Benin, around 1,500 kilometres with the Niger Republic, 1,700 kilometres with Cameroon, and 90 kilometres with Chad. The country also has 850 kilometres of maritime border in the Atlantic Ocean. With the intimidating size of our borders, it seems impossible to deal with the besetting insecurity. But with a strong political will, it could be tackled.
Many times, smugglers bring goods, including weapons, through our borders without any serious resistance from our security agencies. Sometimes, some of the security agents compromise our security by collecting bribes to allow people to bring in contraband.
A report said in 2020 alone, security agencies arrested 4,338 people over arms trafficking. Some 255 guns, 2,204 rounds of ammunition, and 1,417 cartridges were recovered. Though these recoveries may look significant, they are like a drop of water in the ocean when compared with the number of illegal weapons in circulation.
I am aware that the Committee set up by IGP Kayode Egbetokun has the mandate to encompass a thorough assessment of current firearms licencing procedures and regulations with the aim of enhancing their effectiveness, transparency, and accountability.
I am happy that the police will engage relevant stakeholders, including legal experts, civil society organisations, and experts in the field, to ensure a holistic and well-informed review.
The IGP should extend this to the Economic Community of West African States. Under this ECOWAS protocol, security agencies in member countries are expected to cooperate in order to prevent the smuggling of illegal weapons in the sub-region.
The question of small arms is dealt with in Articles 50 and 51 of the Protocol.
Article 50 on ‘Control of the Proliferation of Small Arms provides as follows: “While taking into account the legitimate national defence and security needs and those of international peacekeeping operations, ECOWAS shall establish effective measures to (a) control the importation, exportation, and manufacture of small arms and eradicate the illegal flow of such arms; (b) register and control the movement and use of legitimate arms stocks; (c) detect, collect, and destroy all illicit weapons; (d) encourage member states to collect and destroy all surplus weapons.”
Article 51, on “Preventive measures against the illegal circulation of small arms”, provides as follows: “ECOWAS shall take all the necessary measures to combat illicit trafficking and circulation of small arms. These measures shall include (a) Developing a Culture of Peace; (b) Training for Military, Security, and Police Forces; (c) Enhancing Weapons Control at Border Posts; (d) Establishment of a Database and Regional Arms Register; (e) Collection and destruction of surplus and illegal weapons; (f) Facilitating Dialogue with Producers and Suppliers; (g) Reviewing and harmonising national legislation and administrative procedures; (h) Mobilising Resources.”
The stern warning by IGP Egbetokun to all individuals involved in the wrongful possession of arms and light weapons, reiterating that the illegal proliferation of firearms and light weapons poses a significant threat to the peace and stability of our nation, is a welcome development.
There is no doubt that IGP Kayode Egbetokun is resolutely determined to combat the illegal fabrication, sale, possession, and use of arms, emphasising that possessing firearms without the appropriate licences and permits is not only a violation of the law but also a grave danger to society.
I am also happy that he has assured me that the Nigeria Police Force will spare no effort in pursuing and prosecuting those engaged in these illegal activities to the full extent of the law.
The directive of the Inspector General of Police to all State Commissioners of Police and supervising Assistant Inspectors-General of Police in charge of Zonal Commands and tactical squads to commence a total clampdown on the illegal fabrication, sale, possession, and use of prohibited firearms in the country is a right step to ending the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in Nigeria.
It is obvious that when a country is not in control of the arms circulating in its territory, that country is doomed. In other words, any country that is not in charge of its security is in trouble.
All in all, the ad hoc committee should look inward, as security agencies must police their personnel to fish out turncoats who collaborate with arms smugglers or even those who use the advantage of being security agents to engage in illicit arms smuggling.
With the ad hoc committee aimed at reviewing firearms licencing and regulations, there is no doubt that IGP Kayode Egbetokun has hit the nail on the head.
Adewole Kehinde is the publisher of Swift Reporters and can be reached via 08166240846, email: [email protected]
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