The increasing rate of internal security problems in the country occasioned by proliferation of small and light weapons in circulation is a source of serious concern. In recent times, the nation has been bedevilled by horrendous killings either by cultists in Lagos and Rivers states or herdsmen in the North-Central.
A couple of months back, a United Nations’ report said that over 3,000,000 illegal weapons are in circulation in Nigeria.
By that report, hundreds of illegal weapons are in the hands of individuals and groups whose intents and purposes are not only self-centred, but also myopic and criminal. Propelled by drugs, in some cases, these criminals in possession of these weapons find them handy to commit killings, kidnapping and other criminal activities.
Whether such crimes come in the forms of armed robbery, cult killings or others, they are symptomatic of the fact that the nation is swimming in wars.
Expectedly, the nation has borne the consequences in the forms of cult killings, armed robberies and even herdsmen attacks in almost all parts of the country. It is baffling that many parts of the country have become a killing field and government’s crass insensitivity is gradually putting the nation on the road to Somalia.
Ironically, few months ago, scores of varieties of arms and ammunition were surrendered by over 2,000 militants in Ondo State, in a renunciation of criminality.
The share number of short and long range weapons surrendered by the former militants from the southern part of the state was rather terrifying, bearing grilling evidence to the fear created by the militants who have literarily held the South-West hostage for many years.
Electrifying as the news was, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), thought the exercise held the vistas for a more secured Ondo, for the twin reasons that militants in the state had been involved in pipeline vandalism and other forms of criminality for sometimes now.
Among the militants who surrendered arms were kidnappers of the pupils of Lagos Model College, Epe, Lagos State, on May 25, 2017, and their leader, Ogailo Young. In November last year, about 22,430 youths suspected to have indulged in militancy and cultism in Rivers State, also embraced the amnesty programme packaged by the Governor Nyesom Wike-led administration. Wike also utilised the occasion to disband vigilance committees in all communities of the state.
An excited Wike had described the programme as ‘very successful,’ bearing in mind the fact that such large number of cultists accepted amnesty and surrendered 911 assorted arms with 7,661 ammunition and 147 explosives. Presumably, relative peace seemed in the offing in the state.
But we now know better. In Benue State, Governor Samuel Ortom rolled out the drums last year when his amnesty programme yielded fruits, making 175 militants to give up their illegal arms and embrace peace.
About 366 arms and ammunition were recovered from the militants under the state’s amnesty programme. Ortom had announced the release of N17 million for the purchase of the ammunition from their former owners, expressed appreciation to those who capitulated and assured them of rehabilitation and integration into their respective communities.
Terzungwe Shiando, Msugh Tyavyar, and Terwase Akwaza, leaders of the armed gangs, who led their members to surrender arms, expressed their appreciation for the opportunity to be reintegrated in the society.
While we commend the weapons mop up by these state governors, we strongly recommend it be sustained to ensure they are not a flash in the pan exercise. Equally important is the need to ascertain the genuineness of the commitment of these militants to the peace process, to ensure full compliance since some of them might be opportunists, exploiting government’s efforts to under-declare their weapons and make some cash.
The various state governments which have commenced the exercise must work with the national agencies for the control of small and light arms to ensure the success of these noble efforts. Also, the respective State Security Councils should formulate an inter-agency mechanism to infiltrate the ranks of other militant and cult groups with the view to breaking them, identifying sources of their weapons and decimating if not destroy those machineries and merchants of death.
Members of the public also owe it a duty to assist law enforcement agencies with information on suspected unlawful possession of firearms, even as these agencies must reciprocate such gestures with high degree of professionalism by ensuring the confidentiality of such information and protection of the identity of informants.
As contained in the nation’s Firearms Act, the Criminal or Penal codes unlawful possession of firearms is a criminal offence, a felony, which upon conviction, attracts seven or more years imprisonment, and the law enforcement agencies should not spare anyone who violates such laws.
A law enforcement agency or agent who is complicit in this regard will be doing the country a great harm. Given the current volatile nature of the nation and more so as we gravitate towards elections period which historically is often marked by increased violence, the time to ensure greater commitment to checking proliferation of arms is now.
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