The political class, the elite, and indeed all Nigerians should be worried that such arms are fuelling the daring spate of well-coordinated attacks on police and military commands, which is a testament to pervading anarchy threatening to consume all, including politicians that weaponise street urchins for election purposes, and the politically-exposed and ruling elite that have kept mum on the ticking time-bomb. Unless concerted, drastic, and urgent measures are taken to pull back from the brink, Nigeria, more than before, risks spinning out of control.
Typical of a failing State, the country is walking the dangerous path of widespread violence with weapons all over the place. Former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, spoke the obvious the other day, as he raised the alarm on six million-plus of assorted weapons in the hands of jobless, hungry and angry civilians.
Unofficial estimates suggest that the toll could be more and in excess of 30 million guns and light arms nationwide. The huge figure is not farfetched considering the rate at which street urchins readily fetch firearms and rattle off rounds at every public fracas. Most worrisome is that the number of 6,145,000 illegal weapons offered by the General far outnumbers the estimated 586,600 firearms in the possession of armed forces and law enforcement agencies collectively. The grim statistics portend a society at war with itself.
The prevalence of illegal arms can be traced to fallouts of armed conflict in neighbouring countries straddling Nigerian porous borders, as President Muhammadu Buhari mentioned recently. Another is the growing insiders’ threats welcoming arm influx with open arms. Sadly, Philistines among the political class, bent on winning elections by hook or crook, are still in the crude business of weaponising supporters to cause violence, with no regard to what becomes of the weaponised community after election day.
Similarly, with the total loss of confidence and trust in the Federal Government and its security architecture to protect the Nigerian citizenry, the locals are getting more creative defending themselves against machine gun-wielding bandits and kidnappers masquerading as herders.
Merchants of the lucrative and largely untrammeled arms business are also having a field day, with supplies going to all manner of militias and criminals in the country. For instance, in 2017 the Nigeria Customs made a seizure of 440 guns of various sizes and designs shipped from Turkey to Lagos. Subsequently, the Tin Can Island Command also uncovered a container with another cache of arms imported from Turkey. That discovery came barely a week after the command intercepted a 20-foot container laden with 1,100 pump action rifles. These are only the known incidents; it is feared that more cases of illegal arms importation are not made public or even discovered.
In reality, the only thing that flourishes in such settings of free arms-bearing is chaos and carnage: daily gun battles and deaths, jailbreaks, invasions and ransacking of police outposts, kidnappings, and banditry, all signposting a country going out of control. The Global Terrorism Index 2020 report ranked Nigeria as the third most terrorised country in the world. The indices have worsened in 2021 with some 80,000 Nigerians estimated to have died in recent months with close to three million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) spread nationwide.
But Nigeria can and should avert a rapid cascade in the direction of Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria that are languishing in a total breakdown of law and order. But that is if State actors at all levels collectively brace up in firm decision against all illegal weapons, irrespective of the holder. To achieve that, the first task is to fix the low rating approval of the Federal Government. A government lacking in public trust and confidence to fairly uphold law and order in accordance with Section 14(2) (b) of the 1999 constitution (as amended) is an incentive for citizens and indigenous groups to take up arms in self-defence. The Buhari-administration needs to come alive in security duty and clean off ethnic chauvinism to reinforce public confidence in its ability and competency to secure Nigerians and discourage self-help that can only accelerate country disintegration.
Security agencies, especially the Department of State Security (DSS) have the statutory duty to deploy more intelligence to burst movements of arms and their masterminds. If both the Police and Customs Services have been able to impound so much illegal arms and ammunition, who are those behind the shipment, and how many out there have found their way into private homes and hideouts? Thorough investigations on this should get to their logical conclusion, to fish out those behind these activities and bring them to justice. At the grassroots, both the state government and Police should do regular arms mop-up of hideouts, as they were done in the past. To be effective, this should be accompanied by incentives in the form of socio-economic benefits to de-radicalize youths from the culture of drugs, cultism, guns, and violence.
Clearly, a country in which everyone strives to have a gun in anticipation of threats cannot be at peace. There is much leaders of Nigeria can do to avert a ruinous path. The elite should speak up and against arms proliferation and the complicit political class that continued to indulge them. As the rule of the thumb has it, one cannot play with fire and not get burnt. A free flow of firearms will ultimately set every house on fire. It is time the president and his team takes charge of Nigeria and restructure critical government mechanism in the interest of Nigerians.