Former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd), recently raised the alarm about the staggering quantity of different calibres of weapons in circulation among non-state actors in the country. The General emphasised that over six million arms are not only circulating illegally, but that they vastly outnumber those in the hands of the armed forces. He said: “The number of small arms in circulation in Nigeria 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.”
Speaking at a dialogue session of the National Peace Committee (NPC) with key stakeholders in Abuja on Wednesday, April 7, General Abubakar, who is also the chairman of the NPC, stressed that the proliferation of weapons had heightened insecurity in the country and led to over 80,000 deaths. He stated further that the challenge facing the country was not insecurity in the narrow sense of the military definition but that it had assumed a broader and more embracing nature. He listed aspects of the security challenges to include the Boko Haram insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, increasing poverty, calls for balkanisation of the country from different quarters, and hunger and starvation arising from insecurity that farmers have faced and continue to face.
There is indeed an increasing sense of collective despair and despondency among the populace. Furthermore, Abubakar noted that the security forces are over-stretched and underfunded, and require more training and sophisticated weapons and equipment to perform effectively and efficiently. It is certainly reassuring that the NPC is concerned about the persisting, dangerous security situation and the need to bring stakeholders together to deliberate on it. We agree with Abdulsalami and the NPC that “Nigeria must find a way out of these problems by building up confidence among citizens in order to work together to address the challenges.” As Abubakar himself aptly put it, “our hope is that we shall not only share our collective lamentations about the current situation but propose some concrete suggestions that can point the way forward, suggestions that can inspire more confidence among our people and ensure that our country remains one.”
The presence of statesmen like General Yakubu Gowon, traditional rulers, religious leaders; the chairman of the chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), Dr. Kayode Fayemi; and the chairman of the Northern Governors Forum, Simon Lalong; the service chiefs, top officers of the Nigeria Police and other security agencies in the dialogue session raises hope that the country will make a headway out of the current web of insecurity that has entangled it. Nonetheless, we think the challenges should not be underestimated. We know that it is much more difficult to deal with the consequences of weapons proliferation than to prevent the entry of such weapons into the country in the first place. Why has it become so easy to move weapons illegally across the borders? What has happened to the Nigeria Customs Service? These are questions that call for answers.
It is not acceptable for the government to reward and commend military and paramilitary organisations for work done when the results remain dismal, and the situation continues to worsen. Such behaviour suggests to citizens that the government is not worth taking seriously. The resort to self-help and the calls for the dissolution of the country are partly fuelled by frustration arising from this perceived flippancy by the government. The government has gone after critics more swiftly than criminals and outlaws. It seems that its intelligence apparatuses are more focused on critics of its policies than criminal and felons. It has to demonstrate leadership and a sense of purpose to Nigerians “irrespective of religious and political differences, to see the nation’s challenges, including insecurity, as ones that must be tackled and resolved collectively,” as desired by former Head of State, General Gowon.