President Buhari, mop up arms from terrorists and non-state actors

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A former Minister of Internal Affairs, General Abdulkadir Dambazau’s recent advice to the Federal Government, to take decisive steps to mop up arms and drugs from Fulani “herdsmen” strikes the right chord amidst the senseless killings going on across the country. Nigeria has become a huge graveyard for more than a decade because of the spread of brazen killings, with both state and non-state actors displaying brazen contempt for the sanctity of human life in Nigeria. Today, the people are gripped by fear and mass hysteria, knowing that anybody could be the next target.

Despair and grief, as witnessed in the aftermath of the killing of about 40 worshippers at St Francis Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State, when gunmen stormed the place of worship, also reign supreme at this point. The sermons of the clerics at the requiem mass dripped with implacable rage and invectives over the collapse of the Nigerian state and its inability to protect the lives and property of citizens. A government, which cannot guarantee these, needless to say, has lost its legitimacy.

Dambazau, who is also a former Chief of Army Staff, at a security lecture in Abuja, which explored the contemporary challenges facing the Fulbe pastoralist, noted that “while in the past he was easily identified by his stick, with which he controlled the movement of his cattle, today he is identified with AK-47 and other light weapons he uses to attack rural communities and also ambush to kidnap passengers and motorists travelling on highways.” They also rape women and children. Given Dambazau’s wealth of experience in the army and position in public service, his wise counsel should be taken seriously by the relevant authorities.

Undoubtedly, many former herders have abandoned their vocation for banditry and kidnapping, and part of their motivation is the lucrative nature of these newer activities. These actors are believed to be at the centre of the orchestrated banditry, killings and mass atrocities in Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara, Niger, Sokoto, Benue and Plateau States. In its response, the Federal Government has deployed troops in these areas to restore law and order but they have had limited success. A recent security report presented to the Kaduna State government stated that at least 360 persons were killed in the first quarter of this year. In 2021, a total of 1,192 persons were untimely dispatched to their graves, while 3,348 others were kidnapped. The Abuja-Kaduna highway has become notorious for these attacks. It is highly distressing that many of the 62 Abuja-Kaduna train passengers kidnapped in March by gunmen are still in captivity. These criminals have also been implicated in killings and kidnappings in the South-West and in Enugu and Ebonyi States in the South-East, with their perennial encroachment on the farmland of rural communities.

The herders are not alone in striking fear in the heart of Nigerians. The circulation of small arms and light weapons has become an equal opportunity activity by youth groups in virtually all parts of the country. The South-East is becoming ungovernable due to the activities of “unknown gunmen” often associated with secessionist militants. In 2014, the trial of three suspected kidnappers in Anambra State produced a huge display of sophisticated weapons in court as exhibits, such as AK47 rifles, GPMG rifles, rockets, rocket propellers/launchers, 5,830 AK47 ammunition and 1,135 rounds of ammunition for GPMG rifles. Cult groups and criminal gangs have been procuring weapons all over the country. In the North-East, the Boko Haram insurgency has been raging for the past twelve years and the activities of the insurgents have been spreading, as splinter groups such as Ansaru and the Islamic State for West African Province (ISWAP) seek out new territories for their terrorist activities.

The real problem has been the uncontrolled inflow of arms and ammunition into Nigeria from its northern borders with the Sahel through Niger and Chad; with Central Africa through Cameroon; and even with coastal West Africa through Benin Republic. Regular reports of interceptions of arms by security agencies also clearly indicate the significant increase in smuggling through Nigeria’s ports. Troubled by the level of arms in the hands of non-state actors, a former Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, directed Police Commands in the states and Abuja, to simultaneously mop up illegal weapons to give effect to the Firearms Act 2004, which prohibits certain categories of arms and ammunition in the hands of individuals and the unlawful possession of lethal weapons. Almost every Inspector-General issues such a directive with no result seen.

In March 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered that anybody bearing an AK-47, other than security agents, should be shot on sight in response to calls to arrest the brazen use of such weapons. What we have seen, however, is that often it is the agents of our security services that are shot on sight. The Nigerian state has allowed non-state actors to build such vast arsenals that the President’s directives are increasingly seen as laughable wishes that are not backed by the building of the strength and capacity of the security agencies.

The alarm bell has been ringing since a 2016 United Nations Office on Drug and Crime report indicated that 350 million (70 per cent) of the 500 million illicit small and light weapons (SALW) circulating in West Africa, are in Nigeria. Equally petrifying is the country’s abysmally porous land borders. An official tally unfurled by a former Minister of Internal Affairs, Abba Moro, indicated that 1,497 illicit routes exist through which contrabands flow into Nigeria, which, of course, include arms and ammunition. Officials of the Nigerian Customs Service had intercepted 13 containers laden with illegal arms at a Lagos port in 2013, a scenario that strongly suggests that an incredible quantum of illegal arms routinely enter the country with the connivance of corrupt security personnel.

Therefore, a country faced with the nightmarish challenge of violent armed attacks virtually from every corner, ought to have responded decisively with a granite-like mechanism to buck the trend. Easterner believes that the constant mopping up of arms and their destruction in full public glare is the best starting point in the country’s bid to overturn this blood-curdling national narrative. President Buhari’s approval in 2021 of the establishment of a Centre for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons came rather too late. However, immediate results are urgently required; otherwise, the agency would become just an avenue for governmental waste.

Consequently, President Buhari, who is in the twilight of his administration, should vigorously pursue a pragmatic programme of recovering arms that have fallen into wrong hands to prevent further bloodshed and sorrow in families. His recent June 12 broadcast in which he stated that he was “living daily with grief and worry for all those victims and prisoners of terrorism and kidnapping” created more concern than reassurance. In his over seven years in power, the insecurity of Nigerians has only deepened considerably, clearly indicating that he is not doing his work.

 

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