RECENTLY, the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) impounded a mind boggling cache of arms and light weapons. In a very significant sense, the country is virtually at war with itself. If the United States, a population of 300 million people, has arms put at 300 million at the ratio of one weapon per person, Nigeria with a population of 170 million people having arms in excess of 350 million is at the ratio of two arms per person, which means the country is neither safe nor secure since these arms are indubitably in the wrong hands. The contradiction is perplexing: Nigeria, where private possession of guns is outlawed, is more heavily armed than the USA where it is legitimate to privately own guns for self protection!
Certainly, the administrators of Nigeria’s porous borders have not yet realised the full implications of their lethargy. We recall that even President Muhammadu Buhari once suggested that the weapons in the hands of the ethnic militias and other insurgents in the country are more sophisticated than the legitimate arms in the possession of the country’s armed forces. This is dreadful, to put it mildly, for a country that is not officially at war. When these figures are extrapolated to include the arms in the hands of the security forces which are being wrongly or unprofessionally deployed in extra judicial killings, the picture that emerges is indeed bloody and unsettling. The issue of security challenges on the African continent largely has to do with the preponderance of arms in the wrong hands.
We recall with anguish the rate at which the polity in Africa has been militarized over the years by the military corporations of the West that are compelled to seek markets in struggling democracies in Africa from which peace and development have been banished through violence underscored by power greed and corruption amongst the ethnic nationalities seeking dominance in their respective countries. All the bitter wars on the continent were spurred by weapons in the wrong hands and fed the attrition which has virtually robbed the continent of the potential for growth and development. Apart from the activities of the ethnic militias, Nigeria’s crime terrain is also fuelled by the light arms in the hands of the angry, unemployed youths who have scores to settle with the society.
Sadly, while the countries which produce these arms have the sophisticated equipment and the responsive security infrastructure to monitor and apprehend their wrong deployment, the African continent remains the victim of uncontrolled violence because it can neither monitor nor control these weapons. For instance, only recently, the Nigerian Army court-martialed 20 soldiers for murder and arms trading. This is why the rate at which the civilian population has been militarized is too dreadful to contemplate. We think that those in leadership positions in Africa must begin to think of monitoring and controlling these light arms as a means of enforcing peace.
Matters have got to such a worrisome level that many of the light arms are concealed even in such unlikely places as funeral hearses and caskets, leading to official distrust of many distraught compatriots conveying their loved ones to their final resting places. In a society hobbled by a prostrate economy and an unemployed, restive youth population, there is indeed a conflagration waiting to be ignited.
The testy ethno-political relations amongst the geopolitical zones of the country also recommend absolute vigilance and caution, so that the Nigerian state can live up to its statutory billing of protecting lives and property, and be in a position to continue to play a leading role in African and global security. We think that it is absolute self delusion to speak of national security with guns and other light arms including improvised explosive devices (IEDs) being available at the drop of a hat.
There is therefore a desperate need for the security agencies to be equipped with modern gadgets that can spot these guns easily, so that their transporters and merchants can be apprehended. Failure to act fast can only lead to a state of nature where life is short, nasty and brutish.