Just How Many Guns Do You Think There Are Around You?

Short answer, a lot. And that’s not something that helps with security in these here parts. As a matter of fact, and quite surprisingly when other heavily armed countries like Finland, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia are considered, it works the other way round. Nigeria does not have a second amendment right in her constitution; the one that says we have a “god given right to bear arms”, you know, like the Americans, neither does the country have any bit of legislation promoting the ownership of firearms but arms still abound anyway. The amusing thing about the second amendment is that it was instituted as a means to promote civil uprising against bad governance and it does seem striking that the US, the country with the heaviest armed civilian population, remains to date, the country with the strongest military. I do not intend this point any further but, yeah right, “constitutional rights”. Imagine a situation where Nigeria had a version of the second amendment and the citizens could arm themselves against ineffective governance, wouldn’t life be a lot different for all of Africa and probably even the whole world?

From what we must have regarded as instruments of amusement in earlier days, watching children chase others around playing the gleeful game of cops and robbers and armed with toy guns; plastic items with shiny lights and annoying noises. Most of these children would grow up and set their toys aside while a few others would trade their toy guns for the real deal; some as soldiers, some others as policemen and others as officers of the law who would wield these arms at the risk of their own lives and in noble contribution to the safety of the society at large. But others, being more nefarious in their desires would trade their toys in for real weapons and live among others as living, breathing manifestations of terror. In Nigeria, tales and experiences of armed violent encounters are not uncommon with peace in many places being the period between expectations of violence, while calm, serenity and security are merely the silences between the first bangs on unsuspecting doors and when they give way to assailing intruders. During the day, in many places, the people treat their wounds, take inventory of their lost property and in circumstances of greatest misfortune, bury their dead; at night, they pray. Mention it; robberies, gang violence, kidnaps and insurgencies, insecurity is rife. Gunshots and explosions go off at odd hours of the night but one learns to subconsciously judge their distance and the directions from which they come, as at times, that becomes the only way to sleep through the madness. The level of armed violent crimes like robberies and kidnaps in the country might be high as they are not because people are inherently devious but perhaps due to the ease of access to these weapons of terror with economic predisposition playing no small role in many perps’ willingness to be used as vessels for perpetrating these inhumane actions; in some sense, the supply is only feeding the existing, self-created demand.

Bringing the issue closer to credible facts, in 2017, the UN estimated that there were around 500 million small arms and light weapons (SALW) flowing within West Africa with around 70% of them residing in Nigeria. 350 million firearms (est. 450 million if locally produced weapons are considered) in a country with a population of 182 million is an alarmingly considerable lot. There practically are at least illicit two light weapons in Nigeria for every man woman and child in the country and this condition exists despite the country’s strict legislation controlling the ownership and licensing of firearms. Without even creating a contrasting highlight, this should come off to anyone as a very unhealthy number but to underscore the sheer weight of the situation, with illicit arms alone, Nigeria has a higher illicit arms volume to population ration than even the United States, the population with the heaviest legally armed civilian population in the world (the US has a gun ratio of 101 guns to 100 people; Nigeria has one at 218 guns per 100 residents) and this is without the mention of warring countries such as Yemen, Syria and Libya that has been identified as one of the notable sources through which weapons, especially those used during the Arab Spring of 2011, find their ways into Nigeria with the Northern and South Southern regions coming in as favourite destinations.

The reasons why the country is such an attractive prospect for illicit weapons trade are not entirely far-fetched. From economic reasons like low income per capita and its income inequality index to others like its continuing struggle against unemployment; to a non-cohesive form of religious and ethnic diversity and the inherent proclivity for violence that persistently follows it; to even other issues concerning law enforcement like porous borders and complications with tracking weapons trading, logistics and enforcing anti-firearms legislation as have been cited by law enforcement agencies. Perhaps still, they have more sinister political imperatives fuelling arguments that these weapons are being made available to the country’s lower class to increase the volatility of historically enduring ethnic and religious tensions with an ultimate aim of keeping most of the population distracted and unable to band together to demand better for their welfare and that of their country (e.g. herdsmen, Niger Delta Militants). While remaining largely political, another possible reason may also revolve around the international politics and the country’s ability to maintain a relatively functioning economy and social system while hanging on to a latent environment of violence. This situation may have fostered a situation where “arming countries” and other interested parties like multinational corporations with business interests in conflict ridden regions have fostered or sponsored a system that has effectively transformed Nigeria into a regional reservoir of weapons waiting to be handed their next orders. To simplify, the Nigerian socio-political environment is volatile enough that an influx of small arms and light weapons makes sense but also stable enough that the attracted weapons are relatively sparingly used. Logistically, it makes more economic sense to retain weapons which may be potentially used in Africa, within the African continent rather than ship them down from Eastern Europe, South America or Asia whenever they are required and back to their points of origins after use. One may argue also that it was in recognition of the gravity of the problems with SALW on their hands that informed a possible suggestion by the Nigerian government allowing members of vehicular traffic regulatory body, Federal Road Safety Corps, wield weapons as tools to aid their operations and as a possible means of having more of these “illicit weapons” being brought under some form of monitoring and control.

If the population of illicit weapons currently around the country is to be used as any kind of determinant for the level of insecurity or the war against thereof, then Nigeria perhaps has a bigger confrontation on her hands than she recognises. While the means of controlling the proliferation of SALW locally would be expected to continue especially as the country currently faces trying times security-wise with continued attacks from suspected herdsmen and as the militants of the Delta restate their grievances while promising to resume attacks, another equally or even more so effective means of aggressively checking the influx of these arms would be adopting a more proactive stance towards the country’s foreign policy and the associated security issues that are embedded in it. Although the Nigeria’s foreign policy on security currently sees the country in joint efforts and cooperation with others from the US to neighbours like Cameroon, Chad, etc. especially in the fight against boko haram, the situation with the influx of illicit weapons is perhaps more indicative of a need for better effort and more forward thinking ideas than are currently being applied. It is of utmost importance to promote investing in developing the local capacity to monitor related mechanisms especially within local and regional affairs as they may provide a better platform from which the transference of these arms and the financial components and information resourcing associated with them can be better understood and perhaps controlled, at least as far as the security within the country’s borders is concerned. This of course goes without highlighting the impacts of insecurity to the economy especially as Nigeria currently seeks to capitalise on its current rebound from its recession of 2016. The fight against insecurity is one of utmost strategic importance if many of the country’s economic goals are to be met.

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