Curbing arms proliferation | The Nation News Nigeria

Many experts have identified the proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) as being behind the endless war on terror, kidnapping for ransom and the general rising insecurity levels across the country. But Nigerians have reason to be hopeful following the federal government’s establishment of the National Centre for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (NCCSALW), writes ROBERT EGBE.

 

Residents of Onitsha in Anambra State were gripped with fear last Sunday, following the fall of a truck loaded with live bullets in the area.

The Mercedes Benz 911 truck skidded off Awka Road in the early hours, when its driver lost control, spilling the cartons of the bullets into the drainage.

The Nation learnt that the driver of the vehicle was arrested and the lorry impounded, but the conductor escaped.

A few days ago, a trending video showed criminal herdsmen digging up AK-47 from where they hid it on someone’s farm.

These and several other more incidents of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) proliferation have been alarming Nigerians across the country.

For instance, a former Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar, on April 7, 2021, estimated that about 6million arms are circulating illegally.

Abubakar, who is also the chairman of the National Peace Committee, disclosed this at a dialogue session of the committee with key stakeholders in Abuja.

He lamented that the proliferation of weapons has heightened insecurity in the country and led to over 80,000 deaths and the rising kidnapping business.

Abubakar’s figures appear to be grossly conservative, because in 2019 the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (UNREC) and PRESCOM, at a conference through the National Consultation on Physical Security and Stockpile Management (PSSM) organised in Abuja revealed that Nigeria hosts 350 million or 70 per cent of the 500 million illegal arms in West Africa.

 

Why proliferation persists

 

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

Research Fellow at the Centre for Strategic Research and Studies, National Defence College Nigeria, Ugwumba Egbuta makes the connection in his 2019 book, ‘The Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons. A Nexus to Asymmetric Threats in Nigeria’.

“Though Nigeria is a signatory to a number of frameworks on non-proliferation, most of these frameworks have not been domesticated into Nigeria’s legal system,” Egbuta said.

A 2008 Disarmament Forum report for the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research titled ‘The Complex Dynamics of Small Arms in West Africa’, said surmounting the challenge of SALW proliferation required strong institutions and regional cooperation.

 

Efforts to curb the problem

 

Like in Nigeria, SALW proliferation is a problem in the rest of West Africa and much of the rest of the continent

Last Tuesday, a French national believed to be a mercenary was arrested in the Central African Republic with a large number of weapons and ammunition.

The ammunition was found at the home of Juan Remy Quignolot, a former French soldier who has lived in the capital Bangui for several years, according to local news platform Corbeaunews-Centrafrique.

Police reports said Quignolot once trained fighters of the former Seleka coalition. But now, he presents himself as a consultant journalist in Bangui, according to Eric Didier Tombo, the attorney general of the Bangui Court of Appeal,

The Seleka coalition was an alliance of rebel militia groups that seized power in the Central African Republic in 2013. After its official dissolution in September 2013, the remaining rebel groups came to be known as ex-Seleka.

In ‘Small arms and light weapons transfer in West Africa: a stock-taking’ Francis Langumba Keili noted that in principle, small arms are not supposed to be flowing into West Africa, but they are.

“In 1998 the members of ECOWAS pledged not to import, export or manufacture SALW. This moratorium has since become a legally binding and permanent convention, but both measures have been routinely flouted,” Keili said.

With the collaboration of the United Nations and civil society organisations led by the West Africa Action Network on Small Arms (WAANSA), the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons became a legally binding instrument adopted on June 14, 2006, in Abuja, Nigeria.

Three years later, the Convention entered into force with its ratification by 10 member states, drawing legitimacy largely from Article 58 of the revised ECOWAS Treaty relating to regional security.

Article 1.2. of the Convention states one of its objectives as “to build institutional and operational capacities of the ECOWAS Executive Secretariat and the Member States in the efforts to curb the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, their ammunition and other related materials”.

Article 3.7. states: “Each Member State shall…undertake to adopt strategies and policies to the reduction and/or limitation of the manufacture of small arms and light weapons so as to control the local manufacture as well as their marketing in ECOWAS region.”

However, the region witnessed an influx of SALW in the hands of non-state actors following the Arab Spring of 2011 which led to the ousting and killing of Muammar Gaddafi of Libya.

 

Enter NCCSALW

 

Worried by the problem, the Federal Government established on May 4, 2021, the National Centre for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (NCCSALW).

The centre is to be domiciled in the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA), a statement from the office said.

The NCCSALW replaces the defunct Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons (PRESCOM) and shall serve as the institutional mechanism for policy guidance, research and monitoring of all aspects of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) in Nigeria.

Domiciled in the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), NCCSALW is expected to serve as an institutional mechanism for policy guidance, research and monitoring of all aspects of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW).

The announcement was sequel to one made by NSA Babagana Monguno last August 28, after a council of state meeting, which had past heads of state in attendance.

Monguno said the centre will “work in compliance with already laid down international standards and ECOWAS moratorium on the control of small arms and light weapons.”

He added that when in full throttle, the centre will control the inflow of these weapons, while also working on mopping up and disposing of those already in use.

“This centre on control of arms will provide the strategic framework for containing the proliferation of small arms and light weapons especially those coming from across our borders especially within the West Africa sub-region and through the maritime environment.”

 

NCCSALW modus operandi

 

When fully operational, the NCCSALW will have six regional offices and 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.

The government said the establishment was part of ongoing efforts to restructure the overall security architecture of Nigeria towards tackling the emerging threats and strengthen regional mechanisms for the control, prevention and regulation of SALW.

NCCSALW will be headed by Rtd Major General AM Dikko, who will serve as its National Coordinator.

Dikko has served in various capacities in and outside Nigeria. He was a Course Director at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Centre and Chief Instructor of the Nigerian Army Peacekeeping Centre.

He was also a Military Adviser, United Nation Office for West Africa, Director Peacekeeping Operations Defence Headquarters, Commander Operations LAST HOLD as well as Commander, Operation LAFIYA DOLE, to mention a few.

The pioneer Coordinator has vast experience working with the ECOWAS and the UN system and is expected to operationalize the objectives of the NCCSALW.

Political Economist & Development Researcher Mr Adefolarin A. Olamilekan believes the President must legitimise and strengthen NCCSALW by giving it legislative backing.

In his article, ‘Nigeria: Welcoming the Arms Control Centre’, Olamilekan said: “For National Centre for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (NCCSALW) to be effective, the president needs to send a bill to the National Assembly so as to make NCCSALW more durable and sustain beyond just being a centre.

“Already there is a bill sponsored by the Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi on the Nigerian National Commission Against the Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons bill, which has scaled second reading on the floor of the Senate.

“It is hoped that the presidency can take advantage of this through an amendment to accommodate NCCSALW objectives and vision.”

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