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Summary: Nigeria is the third most dangerous country in the world, according to the 2020 Global Terrorism Index. This is a result of repeated terrorist strikes throughout the years. The growth of illegally imported weaponry via Nigerian borders from Sudan, Syria, Libya, and Mali is linked to the ongoing security upheaval ravaging the country. According to Nigeria Security Tracker, between February 2020 and February 2021, there were 2,769 violent killings reported, including an astonishing $18 million in ransom money paid to kidnappers. To address this challenge, in 2019, the Nigerian government amplified its stance on the closure of the land borders to curb the proliferation of weapons and other illegal substances. This was a commendable step; however, it has not worked as expected. Border infiltration is still obtainable; this is mainly because of the presence of miscreants among the border security personals who aid smuggling and also the loyalty of border communities who feel abandoned by the government to smugglers.
It is apparent, there is a node between Arms proliferations coming through our vast porous borders, social unrest and the kidnapping for ransoms and other violent crimes ravaging our land. The availability of these small arms has tremendously escalated and fuelled the rate of kidnapping and other social menaces.
Nigeria is gradually becoming one of the most dangerous places to live. The 2020 Global Terrorism Index identified the country as the third most affected by terrorism. The two countries higher on the index are Iraq and Afghanistan. Though there was a decrease in Boko Haram’s activities, the nefarious activities of herdsmen and kidnappers, cattle-rustlers and bandits have tremendously increased, compared with the previous years.
According to the Nigeria Security Tracker, 2,769 violent deaths were recorded between February 2020 and February 2021 in Borno State alone. Similarly, ransom-kidnapping by armed groups has increased substantially in the past five years. Over $18 million was paid as ransom for kidnapped victims between 2011 and 2020. Premium times March 17, 2021.
All these could be connected to the infiltrations and proliferations of illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) into the country from the Sahel region especially Sudan, Syria, Libya and Mali who have become warzone down through Chad, Cameroun and Nigeria to our weak and porous borders in most part of the northern Nigeria. After the demised of Libyan president, Colonel Moammar Gaddafi, the country had disintegrated into clans and warlords. The country’s weapons have been plundered by citizens and scattered throughout the Sahel region. Many countries including Nigeria are now at the receiving end of this mistake and blunder which was spearheaded by US, UK, France and other NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) led coalition, that jointly decided to attack and invade a sovereign nation of Libya. In the first attack alone, it was reported UK alone had fired more than 110 missiles, while French planes and submarine Tornados struck pro-Gaddafi forces.
This angered Col. Ghaddafi to opened arms depots to the civilians so as to defend themselves and Libya. The coalition have overthrown a Legitimate regime under the disguise of a dictatorial and tyrant government but the rest is history, Libya is still at war with itself and the Africa especially, south of the Sahara, are seriously affected.
According to a report by one of the national dailies, the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), in 2014, through its then comptroller-general (CG), David Parradang, revealed that although the country had 84 (eighty-four) approved borders, there were over 1,400 illegal routes. The CG cited the examples of Ogun and Adamawa states, with 83 and 80 illegal posts respectively.
The porous nature of these borders had provided enabling environment for the illicit flows including the arms proliferation in the country, leading to the spread of terrorist activities and other security challenges such as banditry, farmers/herders’ clashes, communal clashes, cattle rustling and kidnapping for ransoms. In Nigeria today, it is as easy as pure water, one can simply find all sorts of arms in the hands of citizens and irregular non state actors.
To curb these menaces and tackle the activities of smugglers and gun runners, and allow local production of some agricultural produce to thrive, in August 2019, the federal government announced the closure of Nigeria’s land borders. But, due to our vast land and porous borders, the border closure yielded little result if any as arms proliferations, criminal activities and violent crimes continued to flourish. Even the contrabands items such as imported rice, used cars, food and beverages continued to find their ways in our market. In addition, the closure has met with stiff resistance from oppositions, the poor citizens and even elites. I could remember even the sultan of Sokoto had spoken about bitterly about the closure.
Recently, the House committee on Customs asked the comptroller General of customs, colonel Hamid Ali retired, about the infiltration of arms in the country. His response was not convincing enough to me. In as much as I agree with him, customs need to do better. We know that we have vast and porous borders all over yet, with the use of technology and more dedication to service from the field actors, we can reduce the arm proliferations to the barest minimum. With the money they generate year in year out and the budget they receive, deployment of technological innovation to ease and facilitate the detection of dangerous elements fuelling crises in the country should not be a herculean task for them. Innovative technology is the answer to most of the security and social predicaments bedevilling us which is mostly centred around the infiltration and proliferation of small and light arms and ammunitions.
We have a lot of bad eggs among our security operatives manning our borders. We know the amount of extortion, bribery and corruption taking place along borders. In some places, whatever contraband you come with, in as much as you can shake hand in other word, if you can give bribe, then you have no problem; you can certainly negotiate and pass through the borders with whatever you convey. One will just be wandering why customs and other security operatives wasting so much energy visiting, investigating and scrutinizing stores and warehouses to search for illicit items, while it is the same operatives that allowed smugglers to smuggle these contrabands into the hinterland? is this not chasing shadows? What stopped the security operatives from arresting these defaulters right from the borders, whether Land, sea borders or air ports?
Another contributory factor to the arms proliferations and contrabands is that, most border communities felt detached from the government. I understand that customs are making efforts to accommodate border communities through interaction and mutual relationships with host commumities and provisions of some basics amenities so as to entice and lobby them to desist from conniving with smugglers to smuggle contrabands, yet most of these host or border communities’ allegiance is with the smugglers rather than the government. They feel more attached and connected to the smugglers who dash them money, items and to some extent job than the states or federal government.
Apart from custom’s gesture towards the host communities, border agencies like the Border community development agency (BCDA) have been trying in providing basic infrastructures to communities leaving around the borders. Hundreds of projects are being executed among which include water provisions, Schools’ constructions, staff quarters, health and sanitary facilities like mobile toilets and clinics etc. The aim is to make the border communities feel sense of belonging to the country.
The National Orientation agency needs to do more in creating awareness among the host communities. This will help to enlighten them on how bad the illicit inflows of contrabands and the proliferations of small arms and light weapons contributed towards deterioration of our economy and social cohesion. And how the activities of smugglers, who’s the host communities aided to pass through the porous borders have contributed to the increase of insecurity and societal decadence in Nigeria.
The National Assembly should accelerate the ratification and passage of bill for the creation of National Commission for the Prohibition of all Illegal Importation of Small Arms, Ammunitions and Light Weapons. This will help in reducing the infiltration and proliferations of small, light arms, ammunition and the weapons of mass destruction because, the agency will dwell squarely on this subject matter as they will have no other mandate than this core mandate.
Domestic inter-agency co-operation and collaboration, as well as information sharing among security operative and other state actors such as customs, immigration, NDLEA, and other competent authorities, will always remain a key to a successful operation that will help to end the violent crimes ravaging our dear country.
- There is a need for the National Orientation Agency to raise awareness for the border communities on the dangers of illicit flow of weapons and illegal substances into the country to the security of the country
- The National Assembly as a matter of urgency is advised to review and approve the passage National Commission for the Prohibition of all Illegal Importation of Small Arms, Ammunitions, and Light Weapons bill. Doing this will help curb the proliferation of arms and other illegal substances in the country
- There is a need for inter-agency cooperation among security operatives and government actors like the Customs, Immigrations, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) as well as other agencies. This will greatly contribute to the elimination of violent crimes in the country.
About the Author: Sanusi Moyi is an anti-money laundering expert. He writes from Abuja.
Keywords: Arms, Border, Nigeria, Customs, Immigration, NDLEA