From Libya with illegal arms
Proliferation of small arms has for a long time been a difficult nut for Nigerian security agencies to crack. But the revelation by the Minister of Interior, Lt.-Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau (rtd), that about 350 million arms are in wrong hands in the country shows that Nigeria and Nigerians are in for the worst, writes EMMANUEL ONANI
How did an estimated 350 million illegal firearms find their way into the country? What is the security implication of proliferation of smuggled illegal firearms and light weapons? These are some of the questions that have continued to agitate the minds of the public since January 23, when the Minister of Interior, Lt-Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau (rtd), raised the alarm, to the consternation of the public.
As part of measures to contain the spate of killings in Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa, Adamawa, Kaduna and other states – occasioned sometimes by disagreements between local farmers and herdsmen – Dambazau had hosted a security meeting that had in attendance governors from the aforementioned states. He also met with some heads and representatives of security and para-military agencies.
The minister, who highlighted some of the issues raised, said the Federal Government had established a possible link between proliferation of firearms and killings. He further blamed the somewhat fragile security situation in parts of the country on drugs.
What is confusing and confounding in Dambazau’s submission, is the fact that most of the illegal arms are smuggled into the country from Libya, a North African country battling internal strife, since the death of its leader, Muammar Gaddafi, in October 20, 2011. Was there no possible threat analysis of the crisis in the Sahel region, fuelled by the Libyan conflict, to determine its likely contagious effect on the country?
Nonetheless, he said: “Fol-lowing the meeting we had with governors two weeks back over the violent conflicts that took place in Benue and other places, between herders and farmers, one of the issues that came up in the communiqué was the issue of the proliferation of small arms, and also the issue of drug trafficking and abuse.
“We also found that these two issues are triggers to the violence taking place in this country. Without the firearms, without the drugs being processed, the courage of those who partake in violence, we would not have the kind of violence with magnitude we have today. “So, there is need to take very urgent action, in order to ensure that this situation is dealt with accordingly.
“As a follow-up, I invited this meeting of experts so that we will be able to deal with the situation, examine and analyse it, and see how best we can approach it.”
Dambazau attributed the alarming figures to statistics released by the United Nations (UN) Centre for Peace and Disarmament, which he noted, had put the total number of illegal arms in West Africa at 500 million. He said: “From records by the United Nations Centre for Peace and Disarmament, I understand that there are approximately 500 million assorted firearms in West Africa.
“Of these 500 million, 70 per cent, approximating 350 million of them, are in Nigeria. And, of course, we know for a fact, that quite a large consignment of weapons are being smuggled, or have been smuggled from North Africa, in particular, Libya, as a consequence of the crisis in that country.
“In addition to that, the insurgency in the North-East adds more of the problem, because of the supplies of weapons to the insurgents and terrorists there.
“Likewise, we have similar problems in the Niger Delta, where militants are supplied weapons, not only by trade-bybarter (with stolen oil), but also by politicians, in order to carry out actions against opponents. “These are the issues that we hope to deal with, particularly that 2019 elections are coming up…”
Over the years, the porous nature of Nigerian borders has dominated national discourse, but not enough is seen to have been done.
The nation’s borders cover about 5,000 kilometres (both land and littoral), with many designated entry points. What seems to defy common sense is the fact that agencies of government such as the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) and Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) have the constitutional responsibility of detecting and checking smuggling and irregular migration.
Interestingly, the Federal Government has since admitted that the country’s borders remained largely vulnerable to smuggling and other cross-border activities. Dambazau attested to this painful reality thus: “Of course, a more challenging aspect of that, which facilitates the smuggling of weapons, is the porousness of our borders.
And this is a major challenge, I believe, to the Immigration and Customs, in particular, but to all law enforcement agencies. “Our borders are porous. CONTINUED FROM PAGE 19 With about 5,000 kilometres porous, both land and the littoral, there is need for us to look at these issues, because we must secure our country, we must secure our future. But, with these weapons and drugs smuggled into this country, if we don’t do something now, I am afraid things will be worse than it is now.
“The herders/farmers’ conflict, ethno/religious crisis, violent crimes of armed robbery, kidnapping, cultism, militancy, terrorism; they all have something to do with weapons and drugs. So, we must deal with this issue.”
Could porous borders have aided ISWA’s infiltration? Recently, the Federal Government alerted of the infiltration of suspected terrorists of the Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) into some troubled states within the Benue axis.
Security experts, who spoke on the development, said it signalled alleged failure on the part of relevant security agencies.
In his submission a retired state Director of the State Security Service (SSS), Mr. Mike Ejiofor, said it was difficult for the said suspected terrorist elements, to operate freely, without a connivance with the locals.
He said: “Well, if it is true, that shows an indictment on our security architecture, because apart from our borders being porous, how can they come and be operating freely without the connivance of the locals? “There is no way the people can operate freely without collaboration.”
On the implication of the infiltration, Ejiofor said: “This will lead to escalation of attacks, especially now that we are going into elections.”
Also lending his voice to the matter was a retired senior of ficer, who sued for vigilance. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the retired officer said: “The implication is that the security apparatus is horrible; not in perfect order.
It means nobody is safe now; everybody has to be vigilant.” No doubt, the need has become compelling for a rigorous and intensified mop-up of firearms and light weapons, more so that the general elections beckon.
When contacted on what could be the result of the security meetings the minister held with strategic stakeholders and security experts, the ministry’s Director of Press, Mr. Willie Bassey, said: “They have not concluded that meeting; the second meeting is coming up soon to address all the issues raised at the first meeting.”
Bassey, however, said that he was due to handover to a new spokesperson.
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