Proliferation of small arms: A challenge to security in Nigeria - Paul Ukpabio's Blog


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Sunday, 28 February 2021

Proliferation of small arms: A challenge to security in Nigeria

Although the proliferation of arms is a major issue in tackling the security challenges in Nigeria, but the herders-farmers feud, youth restiveness, unemployment, communal clashes, cultism, kidnapping, ethnic and religious clashes and militancy can safely be addressed by good  governance and ensuring justice and equity for all, irrespective of tribe and  religion.

By Paul Ukpabio

MANY Nigerians have not been able to associate the worsening security challenges in the country with the impact of the proliferation of small arms. And one of the major reasons given by the federal government for closing the nation’s land borders for over a year was to check the influx of small arms into the country through the numerous porous and ungoverned borders. Some recent studies and surveys have blamed the influx of small arms as one of the drivers of the security crisis in Nigeria.


For instance, the report by SB Morgen states that the proliferation of small arms in Nigeria in recent years has led to mass atrocities and migration issues in the country. The report, which is based on the survey on the movement of small arms until March 2020, leading to increase in the rate of violence in Nigeria from the Southern part to the other parts of the country.


While small arms have saturated the entire country, it has taken different methods and routes to get there and has been motivated by different situations. Arms proliferation is a major problem for governments and citizens, who are concerned about its devastating impact on internal security. According to the research carried out in 2017, it is estimated that there are more than 1 billion small arms in circulation globally. The report noted that out of that number, 87.5% or 875 million of those arms are in the hands of civilians, while law enforcement agencies around the world account for a meagre 2% of that total.


The Small Arms Survey of 2018 observed that there were over 40,009,000 small arms in the hands of civilians or non-state actors in Africa, with 10,972,000 of that number concentrated in the West African sub-region where Nigeria is the dominant power and most populous state.

In Nigeria, the number of small arms in circulation and in the hands of civilian non-state actors is estimated at 6,145,000, while the armed forces and law enforcement collectively account for 586,600 firearms.


The SB Morgen report explained that the proliferation of arms in Southern Nigeria has driven the increasing rate of violence in the region, which includes but not limited to communal clashes, cultism, kidnapping , ethnic and religious clashes and militancy in the Niger Delta. And in the Niger Delta region, the proliferation of small arms has had an impact on violent agitations by the various armed groups in the region demanding for greater control of the resources of the region, with Southern Nigeria having had an established local arms manufacturing sector and a significant importation and smuggling route from international sources.


In addition, the report goes ahead to state that Illegal weapons factories have also been discovered in towns such as Enugu and Calabar and that it is difficult to estimate the volume of locally manufactured weapons produced in this region, since there are many different points of entry for internationally sourced weapons and that East European and Asian nations are the major sources of illegal arms in Southern Nigeria.


On the proliferation of small arms in Northern Nigeria, the report states categorically that a combination of proliferation of small weapons, already existing state corruption, large tracts of ungoverned spaces, and mass unemployment has largely been responsible for the rising criminality and violence in Northern Nigeria. While the issue of economics has also played a role in the Northern Central region, there have been tensions between sedentary farmers and nomadic Fulani herders, who are increasingly moving southwards due to climate change pressures to access pastureland. These tensions have led to armed confrontations, mass killings and displacement of some farming communities. There have also been cases of cattle rustling by armed groups, leading to violent clashes between rustlers and Fulani herders.


Apart from violent confrontation between Fulani herders and local farming communities, the North Central zone is rife with ethnic militias, making it a hotbed for violent ethnic and religious clashes facilitated by small arms. Making this geopolitical zone account for some of the highest levels of violence involving communal groups, with communal militias accounting for over 40% of political violence, according to the reports.


And for the small arms proliferation and related violence in North Eastern Nigeria, it is significantly different from what obtains in the North Central and North Western zones. “Here, the primary driver of violence are radical Islamist groups attempting to carve a sphere of influence or an Islamic Caliphate. The Boko Haram terrorist group operates within this axis,” the report said.


The report also observed that locally manufactured arms, which are normally fabricated in small-scale factories, without legal permits, contribute to a large percentage of arms in circulation in Northern Nigeria (especially in North Central Nigeria,) according to preliminary findings from the National Small Arms and Light Weapons Survey, NSALWS.


It noted further that about a fifth, 17 percent of civilians, rural weapon-holders countrywide possess craft weapons, and a tenth resides in urban areas. In Benue and Plateau states, both in the North Central region, locally made weapons are estimated to be used in over 50% of crimes committed 62% for Benue State and 69% for Plateau State. In Adamawa State in the North East, it is 32%.


Unfortunately, there are many different points of entry for internationally sourced weapons. Nigeria’s porous borders facilitate the sourcing of weapons from countries bordering Northern Nigeria such as Chad and Niger, which are also dealing with their own Islamist Insurgencies.


While there are challenges documenting the flow of small arms into Nigeria, says the report, analysis reveals that some weapons originate from Ivorian and Libyan military stockpiles. Ammunition from at least 21 different nations have been used in the Herder versus Farmer conflicts in North Central Nigeria (some of these nations include Israel, Poland, Brazil, Iran, USA, Czech Republic, Algeria and Egypt).


According to the research by Freedom Onuoha of the University of Nigeria, the Nigerian security agencies have intercepted arms in Bakassi, Southern Nigeria, intended for delivery to Boko Haram.


With a total population of 2.2 million internally displaced persons, Nigeria ranks ninth from a list of top 10 countries with IDPs in the world. By the end of 2018, a report written by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre put the figure of internally displaced persons in Nigeria at about 2.2 million people. The report states that in 2018 alone, 541,000 were displaced.


According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Boko Haram insurgency has displaced over 2 million people in the Lake Chad Basin area. And the drivers of mass displacement include; generalised violence, violations of human rights, high rate of insecurity, mostly in the Northern part of the country; Boko Haram attacks, the continuous Fulani herdsmen and Farmers crisis, which has spread across the six geopolitical zones in the country; communal crisis with the locals in Benue, Nasarawa, Kaduna, Plateau, and Taraba states respectively, and in Ogoja in Cross River State, which borders Ebonyi State and Cameroon.


Other reasons include, natural or human-made disasters (such as floods) and in most cases, scarcity of resources. IDPs live within the local populations, but are pressured to flee their homes and in some instances, to seek refuge in border countries.


In the Niger Delta where we have the oil-producing communities in Southern Nigeria, the spread of small fire arms spread across all the these states: Abia, Imo (SE), Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Rivers (SS), and Ondo (SW) states. And the report emphasizes that the heterogeneous nature of Southern Nigeria, coupled with the rampant corruption, unemployment, inequality and general underdevelopment, has made it a volatile region and a hotspot of armed violence since the 1990s.


Unfortunately, the arms proliferation in Nigeria has thus had an impact on Nigeria’s internal security, with various armed groups using their access to firearms to challenge the state’s monopoly of violence and lead to the deaths and injury of thousands of innocent citizens.


This has negatively impacted Nigeria’s internal security and international standing, as Nigeria is now designated the third most impacted nation by terrorism, according to recent reports, and in the unenviable company of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, says SB Morgen report.


Not also forgetting that, towards the end of the Abacha Regime in 1998, armed robbery had begun to stifle commercial activities in Aba, a commercial centre in South East Nigeria. This drove some traders to organise vigilante groups to protect themselves and their businesses. This initiative which later evolved into the Bakassi Boys eventually spread to other South Eastern states such as Anambra and Imo state, which at the time had serious crime problems.


South Eastern Nigeria which is known for entrepreneurship and the general poor security situation facilitated a trade in small arms in major markets such as the Ariaria Market in Aba and the Onitsha Main Market in Anambra State. The relative lack of economic activity in South Western Nigeria outside Lagos has resulted in high youth unemployment and resultant violence and arms proliferation, which in many ways, “helped fuel inter-ethnic violence and violent land disputes. Notable examples: Arogbo-Ijaw and Ilaje in Ondo state, Ife and Modakeke in Osun state, Saki-Iseyin and Hausa-Fulani in Oyo state. And in Lagos State, Nigeria’s economic capital, there have been frequent gang clashes and inter-ethnic clashes between indigenous Yoruba traders, and settler Hausa traders.


Violence in the Niger Delta is compounded by a combination of grievances at a history of exploitation of crude oil and natural gas reserves, which denied host communities a fair share of their resources; militancy linked to the natural resource control struggle; a history of inter-ethnic and cult violence violence and small arms proliferation.


The most far reaching effect of arms proliferation in the region is the rise of militancy which evolved to include destruction of oil pipelines and the kidnap of oil workers, at some points, threatening to bring Nigeria’s economy to a standstill.


Arms proliferation enabled the rise of armed groups such as the Niger Delta Volunteer Force, NDVF, the Niger Delta Strike Force, NDSF, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, and most recently, the Niger Delta Avengers, NDA. All these contribute to continued insecurity in the Niger Delta.


“In Southern Nigeria, a combination of arms proliferation, and high youth unemployment and underemployment, is a combustible mix, facilitating social ills like armed robbery, kidnapping, electoral violence, ethnic and communal clashes, cultism” and even mass killings.


“Arms proliferation in Northern Nigeria in the hands of nonstate actors has led to the surge in mass atrocities. The main perpetrators of these mass atrocities in Northern Nigeria are the Fulani Herdsmen, and the Boko Haram terrorists. The ability of the various armed groups to get away with armed violence repeatedly has further emboldened them.


“According to Inalegwu, the Sole Administrator of Agatu Local Government Area in Benue state, between 2013 and 2017 Fulani Herdsmen were responsible for 3290 deaths in the area.”


“Arms proliferation in Northern Nigeria has thus facilitated violent confrontation between Fulani Herdsmen and farmers, Boko Haram terrorists and the military, and banditry. This has led to significant displacement of people from their ancestral communities, livelihoods and jobs. Nigeria now has one of the largest populations of internally displaced people on Earth.”


Apart from the havoc being wreaked on the population by the proliferation of small arms in the country, some local security experts believe that some of the security issues that push aggrieved persons to resort to the use of small arms can be addressed by embracing good governance on the part of the federal government and ensuring equity and justice for all Nigerians.

Pix- Guardian ng

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