A. A. GADZAMA

The interception of containers loaded with pump action guns recently by Nigeria Customs Service brings to the fore once more the implications of smuggling of dangerous weapons to the country’s National Security. The latest interception is incidentally the fourth of such seizures made this year.

There were previously three similar incidents this year. Preliminary investigations show the same importer is responsible the four cases. It is important to note that, these incidents are just the tip of the iceberg as, about eighty percent of smuggled weapons reportedly pass undefected. It is important to note that, on the spectrum of threat assessment based on gravity and risk potentials, proliferation of dangerous weapons is high on the scale. The Controller General of Nigeria Custom Service, Hameed Ali Col. Rtd. must therefore be supported urgently to deal with this threat to our National Security.

The country is believed to be a popular destination for dangerous weapons on account of several reasons. The most prominent is, poor border control. This is not surprising as the country has about the longest border on the continent. No section of these borders and coastal waters is at the moment monitored electronically and technically. The porous borders are easy to breach by smugglers of dangerous weapons. This underscores the importance of deploying other strategies to deal with the issue of smuggling. There is also the problem of weak security and enforcement of laws dealing with illegal possession of dangerous weapons in the country. Attempts have been made in the past to curtail and mop up dangerous weapons in circulation in the country. Regrettably, this effort has not been successful. Other contributory factors are, the huge demands for weapons for self protection.

The loss of confidence in the ability of security and law enforcement agencies to provide adequate security to the citizenry compels many to resort to self protection, hence the huge market for guns. The situation is compounded by myriad of intercommunal and inter religious flair ups, as well as, separatist agitations and recently the insurgency in the North East. Insecurity and instability especially those fueled by mistrust usually provides reasons for acquisition of dangerous weapons. The emergence of militancy in parts of the country is another factor that has hugely contributed to increase in the volume of dangerous weapons in circulation in parts of the country. What this portend is, National Security is under serious threat as the result of easy access to dangerous weapons among other things.

There have been observations that, violent attacks on communities and places of worship in parts of the country of recent are direct consequences of easy access to dangerous weapons. Similarly, the insurgency in the North East from available intelligence is a major cause of inflow of smuggled weapons into the country, second only to the militancy in the Niger Delta in the last ten years. Some years ago, most of the dangerous weapons in possession of the insurgents were from sources who had connection with death merchants from countries like, Libya, Chad and Mali. There were also substantial quantity of the arms seized from Law enforcement personnel and government armouries in the hand of criminally minded people. Armed robbers are known to patronize criminals who seize weapons from Security and Law Enforcement agents. These are the reasons why any strategy to curtail illegal arms circulation in the country must include, stringent control and checks on the weapons in the possession of security and law enforcement agencies.

There are also reports that, massive smuggling of dangerous weapons through the coastal waters account for the largest quantum of dangerous weapons in circulation in sections of the country. This development incidentally is, not unrelated to the outsourcing of maritime security to some vested interest some years ago and the militancy in the Niger Delta. The failure to effectively man border points known to be notorious routes for smuggling today represents the weakest link in our National Security infrastructure. The point must however be noted that, despite the efforts of the agencies charged with border security, effective border security control capable of intercepting dangerous weapons and persons whose activities could be inimical to National Security remain daunting. It is believed that, dangerous weapons and persons of security interest still find their way into the country through the coastal waters and borders in most parts of the country.

The point needs be noted that, virtually all border areas in the country are today routes for smuggling of dangerous weapons among other things. The truth however is, smuggling of dangerous weapons is successful only with the connivance of security agencies at the points of entry and those checking imports. This is why, any efforts at successfully checking of arms smuggling into the country must include putting stringent checks and supervision in the ports of entry. Hundred percent inspection must also be adopted henceforth if the importation of dangerous items is to be curtailed. It is also expedient that proper investigations are conducted on the seizures made if the trend is to be stopped.

For example, there are intelligence reports that, the smuggling of dangerous weapons into the country are intrinsically linked to illicit drug trade. This should be looked into. The Custom Service must therefore put heads together with the State Security Service and NDLEA to look into these assertions. Other areas that needs to be looked at carefully are, the likely linkages between the arms interception and recent agitations in parts of the country. This is the only way of ruling out the interceptions are not for subversive purposes.

That is not all, a category of dangerous arms such as, the pump action guns could also be bought easily from traders in parts of the country. One might want to ask, what arrangements are in place to monitoring the importation and sale of such weapons? and, how effective is the present gun licensing arrangement? Investigations into recent arms smuggling into the country one would suggest should be multi disciplinary. The National Intelligence Agencies and State Security Service should be brought on board. This, is to ensure the external source of the weapons and reasons for importing them are not subversive. Infact, the country deserves explanation from Turkey on the presence and demonstrations of the members of proscribed IPOB in the country and the hostile utterances of some of her nationale. The Nigerian authorities will also be justified in demanding explanation for importing of large quantities of the seized weapons without end users certificates.

The dangers posed by continued smuggling of dangerous weapons is not in doubt as these weapons could be used to arm insurgents, separatist agitators and those opposed to the corporate existence of the country. The ease with which armed robbers and kidnappers have access to dangerous weapon will also continue to be a nightmare to security agencies and the citizenry. The point should not be lost on stakeholders that, easy access to dangerous weapons is what today accounts for the violent nature of criminal activities in the country. Something definitely needs to be done. Fast and foremost is, there is the need to equip and enhance the capacity of agencies charged with border security. The agencies with border security responsibilities need vehicles and technical surveillance capabilities to monitor the borders. The agencies are at the moment low on these capabilities. In addition, there is also the need to install more technology based monitoring devices to screen all containers coming into the country especially at the ports and borders.

The acquisition of more container scanners is advised. It will merely amount to stating the obvious that, the ports in the country are too strategic to National Security to lack such capabilities. Regular checks and accounting of arms in the possession of all agencies should also be encouraged. The measure is necessary to plug leakages. Also, a well thought out plan for the mopping up of dangerous weapons already in the country is necessary. In the case of insurgency in the North East, an elaborate arrangement for arms retrieval should be incorporated into the ongoing counter insurgents operations. This is important as one of the likely fallouts of the insurgency could be heightened acts of criminality. It could be said with good measure of certainty that, the North East is likely to be faced with violent armed robbery, especially highway robbery when the current insurgency is eventually defeated.

Stringent measures also need to be introduced in the Maritime security architecture. The Nigeria Navy should be equipped to degrade to the barest minimum smuggling through the coastal borders. The same capabilities fortunately could serve the dual purpose of checking oil theft. Relatedly, to minimize the possibility of dangerous weapons being used during political activities, which is just around the corner and attacks on places of worship and markets as witnessed recently, a more robust plan for retrieval of the dangerous weapons in circulation in the country is not out of place. Also, collaboration with countries in the sub-region is necessary if the dangers inherent in the smuggling and proliferation of dangerous weapons in the country are to be contained. The instrumentalities of the ECOWAS should therefore be explored in this regard.

The gravity of the implications of proliferation of dangerous weapons in the country underscores the need for the Government and relevant stakeholders to accord this threat the desired attention. The country definitely cannot afford to neglect this vital aspect of the National Security architecture.

– Gadzama mni, OFR, is former D-G, Directorate of State Services

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