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Insecurity: A look at government recent attempts to curb unlawful firearms in Nigeria

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THE proliferation of small arms in Nigeria is an issue that the government  and several Inspector General of Police (IGP) have attempted to checkmate via directives and legislation to curb unlawful firearms.

In February 2018, the then IGP Ibrahim Idris directed commissioners of Police to commence the recovery of prohibited firearms in the country.

Former Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris

Jimoh Moshood, the then police spokesman, made this known in a statement.

He said the categories of prohibited firearms are artillery, apparatus for discharging any explosives of gas diffusing projectile, rocket weapons, bombs and grenades.

Others, according to Jimoh, are machine guns and machine pistols, military rifles, those of calibres 7.62mm, 9mm, .300 inches, revolvers and pistols, whether rifled or unrifled (including flint-lock pistols and cap pistols), pump action guns of all categories and any other firearms/lethal weapons fabricated to kill.

During this period, the Lagos State Police Command said it recovered 188 guns and 280 ammunition between September 2018

The then Lagos Police Commissioner Imohimi Edgal said among the weapons were those voluntarily returned by residents in compliance with directives of the IG.

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Also, in August 2020, the IG of Police Mohammed Adamu, who succeeded Idris, ordered mop up of firearms ahead of the election in Edo, Ondo, scheduled for September 19 and October 10 2020.

Former IG of Police Mohammed Adamu

He ordered the seizure of prohibited firearms and directed the Commissioners of Police in all the states and FCT Abuja to identify, isolate, disarm, arrest and prosecute individuals or groups in possession of prohibited firearms.

In June 2021, the Commissioner of Police in Imo, Abutu Yaro, warned criminals in possession of rifles belonging to the Police in the state to return them on or before June 12 or face the law.

He warned that anyone caught with the weapons would face the total weight of the law.

Yaro said many police rifles were stolen during the October 2020 EndSARS protest, as police formations were attacked.

He attributed shootings and killings in the state to illegal possession of rifles, saying that bandits in possession of rifles had been attacking police formations.

He called on parents and all peace-loving citizens to report any child in possession of a rifle.

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Government’s recent effort to curb the circulation of Illegal Firearms

Meanwhile, in September 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari sent to the Senate two bills that seek to control the proliferation of arms and regulate the importation and exportation of explosives in the country.

They are the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALWs) Bill 2021; and Explosives Bill 2021.

Buhari transmitted the bill in two separate letters dated the August 26 and 27, 2021 and read during the commencement of the plenary by Senate President Ahmad Lawan.

Buhari, in the letter, said the Explosives Bill 2021 “seeks to repeal the Explosives Act 1964 and enact the Explosives Act, to regulate the manufacture, storage, possession, use, distribution, purchase, sale, transportation, importation, and exportation of explosives and for related matters.”

In the second letter, Buhari said the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons Bill 2021 was to curb the spate of insecurity across the country.

The Senate passed the bill that seeks to establish the National Commission for the Coordination and Control of the Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons. 

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The bill consolidates three bills, including the Nigerian National Commission against the Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (Establishment) Bill, 2020(SB. 283).

Another bill is the Nigerian National Commission against the Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (Establishment) Bill, 2020 (SB. 513).

The third among the bills now consolidated into one is the National Centre for the Coordination and Control of the Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (Establishment) Bill, 2021 (SB. 794).

The passage of the bill was a sequel to the consideration of a report by the Committee on National Security and Intelligence.

Goals of the bill

The legislation aimed to combat the challenges associated with SALWs in Nigeria in accordance with the United Nations Treaties and ECOWAS Convention on SALWs.

The proposed commission, if established, will identify sources and routes of illegal trade of SALWs, enhance coordination and collaboration among Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs) to address the proliferation challenges of SALWs and disseminate information among intelligence units and law enforcement agencies.

Other functions of the proposed commission include training officers in identifying individuals involved in the illicit trade of SALWs and establishing mechanisms for prosecuting offenders involved in the illegal importation of SALWs.

Passage of the bill

Lawmakers have argued that the circulation of illegal arms across the country has increased and sustained violent conflicts and attacks; therefore, establishing a National Commission on SALWs is a legal obligation for all countries bound by these treaties for which Nigeria is a party.

Presenting the report, the chairperson of the committee, Ibrahim Gobir, said the legislation became necessary given the urgent need to address the state of insecurity in the country.

He further explained that consolidating the three bills into one adequately catered to establishing a commission to implement measures to eradicate illicit arms.

He, therefore, urged the Senate to pass the bill.

The lawmakers in the ‘Committee of the Whole’ passed the bill.

The passage of the bill comes amid rising violent attacks, including kidnapping, terrorism and banditry, across the country. It also comes amid calls from some quarters for the federal government to allow citizens to carry guns and defend themselves against terrorists.

Youths group called on President Buhari to sign the bill into law.

However, in September 2022,  some Northern youths called on Buhari to sign the bills into law, considering the insecurity in the country.

The Arewa Youth Civil Society Network commended the National Assembly for the passage of the Nigerian National Commission against the Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (Establishment) Bill, 2020(SB. 283), and others.

The other ones they were commended for signing are the Nigerian National Commission against the Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (Establishment) Bill, 2020 (SB. 513) and the National Centre for the Coordination and Control of the Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (Establishment) Bill, 2021 (SB. 794).

The youths called on President Buhari to sign the bills into law, considering the insecurity in the country.

Zakari Hashim, who leads the group, described the passage of the bills as necessary hence the need for the President to urgently sign them.

Expert view on the proliferation of illicit arms in Nigeria

Despite all attempts by relevant authorities to curb the tide of illegal firearms in the country, studies show that the spread of illicit firearms across the country has continued to fuel insecurity.

A security expert and the SBM Intelligence Security Lead, Confidence McHarry, said there are at least 6.154 million arms in Nigeria; of that figure, only 362,400 arms are in the hands of law enforcement agents. The military has 224, 200. 

“According to the Small Arms Survey, there are at least 6.154 million arms in Nigeria. Of that figure, only 362,400 arms are in the hands of law enforcement agents. The military has 224, 200. Data is from 2017. As to your question on how many are illegal, we can’t say.

On how the country can mop up illegal firearms, McHarry said, “Mopping up illegal firearms will have to start with preventing it from getting in. 

“Illegal border entry points at which at the last count, Nigeria, according to official figures, have about 1499, contribute primarily to this influx. This is exacerbated by poor or nonexistent security at the border.

“Sometimes the illegal weapons are not imported. They are stolen from law enforcement agents. Sometimes, the Police do not log reports of stolen weapons when they report the death of their officers who were killed for their rifles.

McHarry said the government had blamed the influx of illegal arms on the conflict in Libya post-Gaddafi. Still, according to him, Arms seizures at sea ports have had many origins in Turkey and Iran.

“The government has blamed the influx of illegal arms on the conflict in Libya post-Gaddafi. However, it is a simplistic way of looking at it. Arms seizures at sea ports have had many of their origins from Turkey and Iran,” he said.

Police view and data on illegal firearms in circulation in Nigeria

On his part, the Police Public Relations Officer, Olumuyiwa Adejobi, in response to The ICIR, said the Police are doing a lot in the are of mopping up of arms.

Police PRO, Olumuyiwa Adejobi

He, however, said he couldn’t ascertain the specific figure of illegal arms we have in circulation.

“We have done a lot in the area of mopping up of arms, I will send you a statistics to show our recoveries. However I can’t ascertain the specific figure of illegal arms we have in circulation. Not possible,” Adejobi said.

The Police PRO sent statistics to show how many of these illegal firearms have been recovered.

The data from the Police shows that Bauchi State, with 46,168, has the highest number of recovered arms and ammunition between January 2020 to September 2022.

This is followed by Anambra state with 31,351 and Delta State with 13,924 within the same period. 

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