Another attempt – The Nation

  • Osinbajo Committee on Small Arms must succeed to save the Nigerian ship from sinking

Escalation of the war against insurgency in the North East, banditry in the North West and all forms of violent crimes around Nigeria have been traced to the easy access to small and light weapons in the country. Only last week, Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el- Rufai, bemoaned the fate that has befallen his people while condoling with families of another 51 compatriots freshly mowed down by the bandits. He promised there would be no negotiation with the criminals nor would any amnesty be granted. President Muhammadu Buhari, too, expressed his condolences. He gave marching orders to the security forces to scale up the war and save the people.

But, what is new in the strategies and tactics to secure the Nigerian people? Each time the criminals, be they insurgents, bandits, kidnappers or armed robbers, had their way, the President was  quick to sympathise with the victims. The service chiefs, as if they had forgotten their mandate too, are reminded of the mission.

Perhaps in response to the presidential directive, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Umar Buratai, sought to assure the public that the war would be won in a matter of days. This is sheer cold comfort for the people who have borne the brunt of the war. Weekly and daily, the villages suffer attacks, more otherwise vibrant wives and mothers are turned into mourning widows with no clues to what the future has in store for them. Orphans prowl the streets, some turned into unwilling recruits by the enemies.

Again, what is the way forward? Experts have blamed the internecine crisis of nationhood on proliferation of arms. The United Nations Centre for Peace and Disarmament estimates the number of small arms and light weapons in the West Africa sub region at 500 million, out of which 350 million circulate in Nigeria. This is certainly a tinderbox, an indication that anarchy and chaos may be looming unless a solution to steady weapon supply is found urgently.

One source is the porous borders – land and sea. All attempts over the years to fix these have failed as the security forces continue to blame their failure on the illegal routes into the country. Occasionally, a haul of arms and ammunition duly cleared at the sea ports are recovered along the roads, leaving one to wonder how many successfully got to their destinations. With elections approximating wars, politicians prepare less by mounting the soap box and would rather stockpile arms and recruit private armies. The poorly armed, poorly motivated and utterly corrupt official security men are no match for such private armies.

In a bid to stem the tide, President Goodluck Jonathan inaugurated a Presidential Committee on the Eradication of Small Arms and Light Weapons, but the effort was futile as it lacked the legal framework and political support to perform the function. This has given rise to current efforts by both chambers of the National Assembly to establish a commission for the purpose.

More recently, the Federal Government set up another Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons, led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. The committee comprises the National Security Adviser, service chiefs, Inspector-General of Police and heads of other security departments and agencies. While much is expected of this committee owing to the intellectual power of the vice president and operational knowledge and authority of the service chiefs, it might end up a disappointment again if the President does not back the effort fully.

The Customs and Immigration Service need modern technology to man their posts to beat the smugglers. Private “armies” by politicians must be dismantled with the rough necks apprehended and punished according to the law. There should also be conscious efforts to mop up the small arms and ammunition in circulation. One major feature of a functional state is that it enjoys the monopoly of coercion. When this is shared with non-state actors, anarchy reigns in such a country.

Previous civilian administrations had failed in this respect; President Buhari owes Nigeria the responsibility of turning things around before quitting the stage in 2023. Vice President Osinbajo and his men deserve the support of all in carrying out this onerous assignment.

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