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Opinions of Sunday, 26 December 2021

Columnist: Mukhtar Ya’u Madobi

Halting the illegal circulation of firearms

File photo to illustrate the story File photo to illustrate the story

Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons, occasioned by illegal and porous national borders and a booming business of gun-running, is the main factor fueling Nigeria’s security challenges and criminal activities across the country.

The proliferation of SALWs is a global phenomenon arising from conflicts across the globe. According to a study conducted by the Geneva Based Small Arms Survey, it is estimated that more than 857 million SALWs are currently in circulation aside from 12 billion rounds of ammunition produced annually. Of these, 10 million SALWs are estimated to be in Africa with one million of these in Nigeria.

This is connected with previous and ongoing conflicts in West and North African countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire, Chad, Niger, Mali and Libya. The proliferation of SALWs aids non-state actors, including Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists, bandits, militants etc, while undermining the state monopoly of instruments of coercion. The threats posed by the proliferation of SALWs are of such magnitude that a security strategy that contemplates the monitoring of their flow and use is required.

Another report by SBM Intelligence noted that about 6,145,000 SALWs are illegally circulating among civilian non-state actors and criminals in Nigeria. Indeed, the proliferation of arms across borders along with human trafficking and drug trafficking especially in the Sahel region ranks high on the chart of criminal activities constituting threats to national and regional stability in Africa.

Experts had identified a lack of effective legislation and enforcement mechanisms as a major reason SALW proliferation has a significant impact on crises both within and across many national borders.

In order to stem the rising tide of illegal weapons circulation, the Federal Government has established the National Centre for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons. The centre was domiciled under the Office of the National Security Adviser, Major General Babagana Monguno, with retired Major General AM Dikko as the Pioneer Coordinator. The National Security Adviser said the centre will operate in a similar way to the counter-terrorism centre and the cybersecurity centre, both of which are domiciled under his office.

The NCCSALW was established to replace the defunct Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons and is expected to serve as the institutional mechanism for policy guidance, research, and monitoring of all aspects of SALWs in Nigeria. Obviously, the Federal Government believes that the transition from PRESCOM to NCCSALW would provide more effective coordination and monitoring of progress as regards the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. When fully operational, the NCCSALW would have six regional offices that will work closely with security and intelligence agencies on prevention and control of proliferated arms as well as tracking weapons in the hands of non-state actors.

Among several functions, the National Centre will be responsible for controlling the proliferation of SALWs in Nigeria, implementing strategies, plans and policies for the eradication of SALWs as well as supervise the implementation of same by relevant government bodies. It will also create and maintain a small arms and light weapons register and a national database; receive reports on firearms registration from the Nigeria Police and update the database with such information.

In addition, it will also register, store and destroy firearms and ammunition possessed illegally by security agencies, criminals and other non-state actors, maintain a database of registered firearms dealers in Nigeria among others. Furthermore, the centre will be responsible for updating and transmitting the national database to the United Nations, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States. In its relations with these inter-governmental bodies, the National Centre will identify legitimate national defence and security needs and obtain the required exemptions from certain international protocols in order to meet up these needs. The National Centre is also empowered to carry out public education and awareness at national, state and local levels to involve Nigerians in the efforts to control the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.

No doubt, the establishment of the NCCSALW is a move in the right direction but, to achieve maximum impact, it is expected to open up new regional and international cooperation and strengthen existing efforts.

In 2001, UN countries adopted the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects.

In the instrument, member states agreed to, among others, improve national small arms regulations, strengthen stockpile management, ensure that weapons are properly and reliably marked, improve cooperation in weapons tracing and engage in regional and international cooperation and assistance.

According to the UN, one of the most important components in the fight against SALWs proliferation is weapons tracing. Hopefully, when the centre discharges its mandate fully, it will undoubtedly lead to a drastic reduction in national, sub-regional and regional illegal possession of SALWs which, in turn, will be very crucial in mitigating the rising level of armed violence.

The NSA has recently declared that the government is making preparations to constitute a security outfit responsible for safeguarding the nation’s porous borders. The move is very apt because it will curb transnational organised crime, thereby reducing the level of security challenges currently facing the country.