GUN VIOLENCE IN NIGERIA
Proliferations of small arms and light weapons (SALWs) in Nigeria have been a source of concern to the citizenry, the Government, non-governmental organizations and the international community. Apart from the attendant loss of lives and properties, gun violence have maimed many, traumatized many more for life and continually pose several challenges to the Government including the problem of how to check the movement of arms into the country and how to control its illegal acquisition and use.
Small arms, which include rifles, pistols, and light machine guns, are filling Nigeria graves in ever-increasing numbers – from the streets of Western Nigeria to the swamps of the Niger Delta and the Sahara desert of Northern Nigeria, the story is the same; more small arms and light weapons more deaths.
The international community, over the years has searched unsuccessfully for agreement on the regulation of the international trade in small arms. Nigeria like many other African countries, the United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations are grappling with the human and development consequences of gun violence and seeking to reduce both the supply and the demand for these weapons of choice for the killers of our time.
Reducing the availability and use of small arms and light weapons in Nigeria has become increasingly important to the nation’s development prospects. The widespread abuse of weapons in the country diverts scarce resources from education, health and public infrastructure to public security.
It also discourages investment and economic growth and deprives the country of the skills and talents of the victims of small arms and light weapons.
It is estimated that the total number of guns held by civilians in Nigeria is 2,000,000. The rate of private gun ownership in Nigeria is put at 1.5 firearms per 100 people. In comparison of the number of privately owned guns in 178 countries, Nigeria ranked at number 34. The number of handguns in Nigeria is estimated to be 1,000,000; while unlawfully held guns are estimated to be 0.71 firearms per 100 people.
These light arms – lightweight, highly portable, and devastatingly effective in the hands of even very young and poorly trained users – come into the country through our borders, though mostly illegally.
The 30 months Nigerian Civil War, the Cold War coupled with the eventual collapse of the Soviet bloc brought flood of small arms and light weapons into Nigeria and many other African countries. The cut-rate-prices at which these arms were put on the international arms market by manufacturers boost demand and encourage illegal acquisition and use.
These durable killing machines find their way into the hands of insurgents, militias, criminal gangs and ordinary people left vulnerable to violence by ineffective policing and simmering ethnic conflicts. In Nigeria, the Soviet-designed AK-47 assault rifle, coveted for its simplicity and firepower can be purchased for as little as $100. The proliferation of small arms and light weapons in Nigeria constitutes a major threat to development. Their low cost, ease of use and availability have continue to fuel violence in Nigeria, undermine peace, intensify terrorism, encourage crime, impede economic and social development and hinder social stability and cohesion, and thwart democracy and good governance.
In Nigeria today, guns are not just the weapons of choice but also weapons of mass destruction. The introduction of suicide bombing into the Nigeria scene does not only revolutionaries violence but also added another dimension to the problem of mass murder in the country. The disclosure by the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, Nigeria concerning over 54,000 unlawful deaths in Nigeria since 1999 arising from ethno-religious and inter communal/intra-communal conflicts, vigilante killings, political and other socially motivated assassinations is alarming. Apart from revealing the lack of respect for human life in the country, the report painted an ugly picture of a failed state and the inability of its security apparatus to guarantee security of its citizens and residents.
The existence of intelligence and law enforcement organizations such as the State Security Service (SSS), the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA),the Nigeria Police (NP), the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), the Nigerian Custom Service (NCS), the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) have not helped matters, especially regarding the control of the acquisition and use of small arms and light weapons in Nigeria. The durability of small arms and light weapons ensures that once they are present in a country they present continuous risks, especially in societies where there are large accumulations of weapons.
The culture of violence is being promoted in Nigeria because of the low cost, ease of use and ready availability of guns. Besides, gun ownership has become a symbol of power and status in the country. Gun violence is today a first resort for the settlement of personal and political disputes. Disagreement over the ownership of a piece of land between two communities or cattle grazing land is enough for parties to pull out guns.
Recently, at Makudi in Benue State, the Chief of Army Staff General Azubike Ihejirika called for the establishment of an agency to check the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. Speaking at the end of the Combat Support Arms training week organized by the Nigerian Army Engineers, Gen Ihejirika canvassed for the inclusion of internal security as primary responsibility of the armed forces to combat contemporary security challenges bedeviling the country. While, I welcome the call for an agency to check the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in Nigeria, I disagree with the idea of making internal security a primary responsibility of the armed forces. Internal security is the basic responsibility of police. The military can only give a helping hand when formally asked to do so by civil authority. This is the arrangement in civilized countries.
The sources of these arms are known to us all. The suppliers of these weapons are with us. The purchasers of these instruments of human destruction are known to us. The users of these war machines are our brothers and sisters. Government officials, military officers, politicians, entrepreneurs, traditional rulers, religious leaders and elites in various communities are known to have encouraged and financed the acquisition and use of weapons by youths to execute ethno-religious and inter/intra communal conflicts. These weapons outlast these conflicts and are taken up again and again in the post-conflict period by criminal gangs, vigilantes, dissidents, insurgents or individuals concerned about personal security for diverse purposes. The possession of a gun is a matter of survival and protection from attack. Gun is an instrument of seizure of property, murder, kidnapping and so on. No week passes without news of gun violence resulting to loss of human life. No region or state in Nigeria is spared; no community is safe from the bullets of the killers. The situation is pathetic. Until our security agencies begin to monitor, investigate and prosecute the money-bags who procure and supply arms and use money to entice the youths into violence the problem will remain with us and will continue to increase in both scope and devastation. Private jets, fuel tankers and vehicle fuel tanks, rice and garri bags and all sorts of craftily created spaces have been used to convey arms into and within the country. The increasing number of transporting agents, coupled with the flexibility of arms mobility across our borders and within the country, calls for all hands to be on desk to check arms buildup in the country as 2015 approaches.
The Federal Government of Nigeria must rise up to check the misuse of small arms and light weapons by moving aggressively to reduce their availability, institute tougher gun control laws with more and better-trained police to enforce them. The “Money-for-Gun” strategy should be pursued aggressively to collect weapons in wrong hands. Communities and schools should be encouraged through prizes and awards to declare their community/premises gun free so as to reduce the allure of small arms and light weapons.
The strategy has worked in few communities where it has been implemented. But, this cannot be done successfully with the present arrangement of multi-agencies coupled with rising rivalries among them. There is therefore urgent need to establish National Agency for the Control of Small Arms (NACSA) charged with the responsibility of checking illicit proliferation and trafficking in arms; regulating the acquisition and use of arms; registering and licensing of gun ownership; carrying out periodic audit of guns and their possessors in the country; enforcing appropriate sanctions and doing those things incidental to the control of the legal acquisition and use of small arms and light weapons in Nigeria.
The National Agency for the Control of Small Arms (NACSA) is needed now, backed by an appropriate legislation to marshal a coordinated effort at all levels (Federal, State, Local Government, Ward and Community) to check the rising cases of illicit proliferation and trafficking in small arms and light weapons in Nigeria and its consequential loss of human lives and properties.