THE Federal Government has raised the alarm that unless urgent steps are taken to mop up firearms and ammunition in the country, the conduct of 2019 general elections would be threatened by conflicts.
Minister of Interior, Lieutenant Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau (Rtd), who expressed the concerns on Tuesday in Abuja, disclosed that intelligent reports have indicated that there were currently over 350 million firearms and light weapons in Nigeria.
He said in addition to this was the problem of drug trafficking in the country. He spoke at a meeting with Service Chiefs and heads of security agencies on how to tackle the proliferation of firearms and drug trafficking in the country.
Dambazau, who said it was a disturbing trend that some politicians armed militia groups to be used against the opponents, said the government was concerned with consignments of firearms coming into the country with the 2019 elections around the corner.
The Minister noted that the Tuesday meeting was a follow up to the meeting he held with some State Governors two weeks ago over the violent conflict that took place in Benue State and other places between herders and farmers.
He disclosed that one of the issues that came up in the communiqué was the issue of proliferation of firearms and drug trafficking in the country.
Dambazau said revelations at the meeting had pointed to the fact that these two issues of arms proliferation and drug peddling were responsible for the violent attacks being witnessed across the country.
He argued that without the firearms and drugs reinforcing the courage of those who partake in violence, there would not have been this kind of violence in the country.
He said there was the need to take very serious urgent action in order to ensure that this situation is brought under control, saying he invited the meeting of security agencies as a follow up to the meeting with Governors.
He said the meeting of experts would help in dealing with the situation after analyzing the situation and see how best to approach the issue.
“From records by the United States Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament, I understand that there are over 500 million assorted firearms in West Africa. Out of this 500 million 70%, approximating 350 million of them are Nigeria.
“Of course, we know from the fact that quite large consignments of firearms are being smuggled into the country. Some of them are smuggled from North Africa, particularly, Libya following the crisis in the country.
“In addition to that, the insurgency in the North East adds more to the problem because of the supplies of weapons to the insurgents in that region.
“Likewise, we have similar problems in the Niger Delta where militants are supplied weapons not only by trade by batter with stolen oil but politicians supply weapons in order to carry out atrocities against opponents.
“These are issues we have to deal with particularly that 2019 elections are around the corner. People have taken advantage of quite a lot of movement of these weapons, so it is very necessary to secure this country, the Minister stated.
Dambazau lamented that a more challenging aspect of the whole issue that facilitates the movement of weapons into the country was the porousness of the nation’s borders.
He said this was a major challenge to the Nigerian Immigration Service and Nigeria Customs Service, particularly to all law enforcement agencies.
He said: “Our borders are porous. We have about 500,000-kilometre borders that are porous both land the littoral. So, there is the need for us tackle these because we must secure our country.
“With these weapons and drugs coming into the country, if we don’t do something now, I am afraid things would be worst than it is now,” he said.
He noted that herders/farmers conflict, ethno-religious conflict, violent crimes of armed robbery, kidnapping, cultism, militancy, terrorism, all have to do with weapons and drugs.
Dambazau said it was expedient that these issues would be tackled in partnership with the state governments, religious leaders among other critical stakeholders, saying the meeting would come out with strategies on how best to handle the situation.