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The economic structure of Nigeria created room for poverty. Generally, capitalism is exploitative and survives only on its ability to subjugate the poor perpetually and internationally. At the base of small arms proliferation in Nigeria is widespread poverty despite Nigeria’s status as a major oil exporting country. A sharp contradiction therefore exists between the fact that Nigeria is the world 6th largest exporter of oil and Africa’s largest economy but the fact remains that the living standard in Nigeria is the 36th lowest in the world in terms of Human Development Indicators (HDI). According to the 2002 United Nations Human Development Index Report, life expectancy at birth is below 50 years for both men and women. Nigeria’s Human Development Index (HDI) is 0.462 placing it in the 148th position, out of a total of 178 countries (Ebo,2002:18). Nigeria falls below Ghana (0.548), Zimbabwe (0.5551), Kenya (0.513), and Togo (0.493). As a result, individuals living in poverty are more vulnerable to manipulations coupled with theft and violent crime involving the use of arms.
The 2016 World Bank poverty report confirmed that poverty levels among the Nigerians were higher in 2016 than in 1990s (World Bank,2016). Employment opportunities and infrastructures are mainly concentrated in Urban centres or constituencies that are loyal to the ruling political parties. This fuels crisis and inequality as these deprived or excluded groups express their grievances through the use of small arms against the state. The widespread poverty and limited economic opportunities in Nigeria were exploited by the Boko Harma, herdsmen terrorists, Niger Delta militants and the non-violent Indigenous People of Biafra to recruit and radicalize the poor, uneducated and vulnerable people through cash distribution. The rural-urban migration created the leeway for the Fulani settlement and claim of ownership, and at the same time, wreck havoc on many communities resulting in the killings of innocent Nigerians.
Nigeria is a vast country covering 923,768sq kilometers with more than 36450 kilometers of land and maritime borders. Nigeria shares its land borders with four countries: Benin (773km), Cameroun (1690km). Niger (1049km) and Chad (87km). Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) confirmed that there are 1487 illegal routes to Nigeria through the borders (Abayomi,2013:1). The surveillance on these vast routes poses problems. In Borno State, for example, owing to the porous nature of the border with Cameroun, the border area is easily accessible at any point by various means of transport during the dry season, thus rendering all the government’s efforts to curb the illegal aliens, bandits and smugglers of small arms and light weapons ineffective. In 2013, Cameroonian security forces arrested a man who was transporting 655 guns to Nigeria and another 5400 AK47 were also intercepted in Marona, in Northern region of Cameroun for the same destination (Oxfam,2017:12).
In this connection, Albert Akpor (2012:3) notes that most of the weapons of Boko Haram sect enter the country through the Apapa Wharf and Northern borders of Chad, Mali and Niger republics. The small arms were evacuated into tankers with the assistance of some members of the authorized security agencies who are members of the group at the borders. The tankers normally sail through all checking points until they get to their destination where the contents are again evacuated into the designated mosque. In addition, the Libyan and Malian crises compounded the nature of small arms circulation, abuse and misuse in the whole of Africa. This became detrimental to the whole of West Africa especially Nigeria as these large numbers of arms exported to West African sub-region encouraged the abuse of human rights and promoted high degree of violent conflicts and mortality rates.
Small arms proliferation in West Africa is linked to structural breakdown of institutions that have long standing pervasive political and social ills. Police officers and soldiers’ illegal sales of weapons were the major source of arms supply. These security officers have been known to sell or rent weapons illegally. According to President Olusegun Obasanjo, in his monthly chat with the National Television Authority of 2nd December 2001,
most of the ammunition, we have …come from security agencies …Police… the military. Only recently, we found that 3000 rounds of ammunition were sold here in Abuja by the police and in Jos by the military (Obasanjo,2001).
The miserable living and working conditions meted on the populace by the rulers were the factors of these ugly developments. This situation not only generates corruption but also encourages the agents themselves to turn to crime. These security agents hired out their weapons to criminal to enable them engage in law-breaking in order to shore up most of their unattained needs. This was evident in February 2016 when some Nigerian soldiers were arrested for selling small arms illegally to Boko Harams insurgents. These arms supplied consisted of I smoke grenade, 2136 live rounds of 7.62mm ammunition, 50 live round of 7.6mm ammunition, 5 magazines of AK47 and 2 browning machine gun live rounds of ammunition(Okibe2016:20).
The changing pattern of the environment caused by negative impact of colonialism created room for conflict in Nigeria. Colonialism had been fastened on Africa like a steel grid of which the debit outweighed the credit. Of all the colonial legacies established in Nigeria, the worst of it all was the amalgamation of two strange bed fellows of Northern and Southern Protectorates which is the hallmark of ethnic cleansing and religious violence. The European colonialists sowed the seed of discord and conflict by forcing two incompatible groups of divergent ethnic shades and colours to live together. The seed of discord sown by the colonialists germinated with a lot of economic and socio-political insecurity, which the benefactors used at their whims and caprices against the indigenous people.
Besides, the granting of independence by the colonialists had a corrupt tinge to it. The colonialists created a misbegotten political arrangement in which a pragmatic political power lay in the hands of a Prime Minister from the North and a figure-head called President from the South. Therefore, the departing colonialist; for some dubious and diabolic intent skewed the Nigerian configuration to favour the North politically against those who demanded for the independence. Against this background, it is observed that subtle efforts were not made by the colonialists to encourage unity or integration; rather they fanned the ember of ethnic rivalries and conflicts. This seemed to be origin of the tragic flaws in our endeavours to protect ourselves. McNezer Fashun (2009:5) notes that the land mine was well laid out for foreseeable political crises. These colonial misadventures, among others, spurred people of different ethnic groups to be at dagger-drawn and set the environment for small arms acquisition, abuse and misuse.
Small arms not only escalated the intensity of armed conflicts in Nigeria but also were responsible for the majority of the deaths, massive internal displacement of local populations and socio-economic cum political insecurity. During the indigenes/settlers crisis in Jos (2003), the Fulani population in Langtang North and South Local Government Areas was totally sacked, and only pockets of Muslim settlements remained. Similarly; non- Muslim population fled Shendam, Quan an Pan, Wuse and Langtang Local Government Areas. According to Global Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) project, at least 10,000 people have been killed and 8000,000 people displaced by outbreaks of communal violence across the country (Forguin and Berman,2005:33). Between, late December 2003-January 2004, at least 10,000 inhabitants of the towns of Babangida, Dankalawar, Geidam and Kanamma in Yobe state fled their homes owing to fighting between Al-Sunna Wal-Jamma also known as Boko Haram and government forces. In 2003, violence between security forces and federated Niger Delta Ijaw communities resulted in the displacement of an estimated 4000 people.
Between 2006-2014, statistics from Nigerian Match Data Base indicate that the country recorded a total of 615 violent deaths traceable to Fulani herdsmen in addition to 61,314 violent fatalities by the same group(Olayokun2014:3). In the same vein, the British Broadcasting Corporations report, on the farmers and Fulani herdsmen violence, claims that between 2001-2014, the crises caused the death of 50,000 people of which women and children accounted for almost 35000 people (BBC,2017). Based on UNDP estimates, 24,771 people were killed and 5,507 wounded between 2011 -2015 with most of the fatalities in Nigeria (UNDP:2017). In July 2014, Nigeria was estimated to have had the highest number of terrorist killings in the world with the recorded number of 3477 in addition to 6600 people killed in 146 attacks. Since the insurgency started in 2009, the terrorist groups have killed 20,000 people and displaced 2.3 million people from their home (Time Magazine2015:14). The import of these reports portrays Nigeria as the killing field of innocent citizens in a full glue of the state coercive agents.
The brazenness with which Fulani herdsmen sometimes referred to as the Boko Haram foot soldiers slaughtered settled communities and razed down villages is not only a sad reminder but also a crude reminder of enormous security challenges in Nigeria. The terrorist group has at its disposal a seemingly limitless amount of heavy weaponry, vehicles, bombs and ammunitions that it uses to kill with unfathomable wantonness. The activities of Fulani herdsmen, Boko Haram and government inaction have increased food insecurity, hardship and underdevelopment as many farmers have abandon their farmlands and migrated to the urban centres for their safety. Research carried out by the British Department for International Development between 2013-2016 shows that the crises have caused the country an estimated loss of $14 billion within 3 years. Also States affected by herdsmen/farmers conflicts lost an average of 47% of taxes (internally generated revenue) during the attacks (DFID,2017).
Other tragic flaws of our nationhood was the clamour for cattle colony which the federal government of Buhari tried to coerce communities to release their natural inheritance (land) for cows at the detriment of food crops and crop farmers’ source of livelihood. But we must not be in a hurry to forget that the north has a vast land mass which stretches over 80% of the land mass in Nigeria. The fall-out of poor management of the land space has put pastoralists into violent struggle for land in the South. These attacks and illegal acquisition of farm lands in the Southern Nigeria for grazing is a time bomb that will determine the future of Nigeria when it eventually explodes.
The propensity of small arms in Nigeria threatens not only the existence of the state but also the livelihoods of millions of people across the country. The situation cast doubt on the essence of government and its security or primary function. The number of arms in the custody of unauthorized persons is alarming and inspite of the fact that some seizures are occasionally made, the resupply network fills the gap by hundred folds. In October 2016, the Rivers State Police Command arrested a Nigerian importer and dealer on prohibited firearms and recovered hundreds of G3, AK47 rifles, and Berretta automatic rifles (Wellington2017:20). In Anambra State, weapons found in the amour of a kidnap kingpin created in the psyche of well -informed Nigerians that the nation is not only sitting on the keg of gun powder but could sink in armed violence if proliferation in small arms and light weapons were not checked. These weapons include: 27AK47 rifles, 1K2 rifle, 2 types of 06 rifles, one general purpose machine gun, one rocket launcher, 17 rocket rifles, six pump action guns, 3 dane guns, I beretta pistol and 13 rocket grenades. Also included were 12800 rounds of Ak47 live ammunition, 530 rounds of LAR ammunition, 95 rounds of general purpose machine gun live ammunition and 143 magazines (Ujumadu,2012;33).
Between 2012 and 2016, on 17 different occasions at various point of entry the Nigerian Custom impounded over 60,000 rounds of ammunition imported into the country from United States and Europe. Over 288 rifles, 35 rocket propelled guns and imposed explosive devices (IEDs) including pistols, mortar bombs, sub-machine guns, various caliber of ammunition, 50 Cameroonian passports and a Toyota jeep were recovered by the Cameroonian security forces from two suspected armed dealers (Adeniyi,2016:25). Another arrest of a terrorist in a green Peugeot vehicle led to the recovery of 15AK47 rifles, 12 magazines, and various unassembled rifles (Ibe,2016:40). In 2015, over 5078 arms and 11,917 ammunition were recovered from armed robbers, kidnappers, cultists by the Rivers State Police Command. In addition, 243 armed robbers and kidnappers were killed in various gun battles with security agents across the state. On April 19, 2016, the Police recovered from Delta State 20AK47 rifles, 70 daneguns, 30 double barrel guns and over 1000 live ammunition mostly from Fulani herdsmen(Oxfam2016:32). Even the arms-in-flame programme carried out by the federal government to destroy small arms recovered from criminals in various states like” Zamfara 5000 guns, Benue 600 guns, Katsina 425” guns were all more of scratching the surface compared to the weapons in circulation.
Therefore, looking at the magnitude of weapons in individual and collective possessions, it elicits questions as to whether they are solely for acts related to robbery and kidnapping or there are ulterior motives to levy war on Nigeria. Heavy caches of sophisticated weapons were paraded and publicly displayed by the militants, insurgents, terrorists, cattle rustlers and Fulani herdsmen. The rate at which these illegal rifles freely circulate, questions the commitment of government towards the security of the nation. Moreover, the proliferation of small arms is gradually eroding State sovereignty which resulted in the increased calling into question the idea whether the State has full and exclusive control over its destiny. These groups have made borders porous and state vulnerable to external pressures or challenges from her neighbours.
The faltering Nigeria economy coupled with concomitant socio¬economic upheaval and a weakened Nigerian State increase the government reliance on coercion as opposed to dialogue, to quell unrest. The repeated failures of security agencies to protect lives and property during revolts spurred the demand for weapons among citizens and communities either as deterrence against their opponents or for human right abuses. In most ethno-communal conflicts, non-state actors who have currently graduated into ethnic militias or community vigilantes, with agenda of protecting various ethnic groups or communities used small arms to wreck havoc, maim or torture and kill innocent Nigerians. These regimes that conferred status on these atrocities had become helpless over the activities of these armed bandits, hired assassins, cultists, political thugs, terrorist groups, Fulani herdsmen and Boko Haram who carried out widespread and dynamic human rights abuses. The most visible impact of small arms on human rights are human carriage, forced displacement and forced disappearance of people. In fact, more than a half million Nigerians passed through these unofficial and unrecorded data from 1985-2016. And many of them suffered disabilities and sometimes died of untreated injuries inflicted by small arms. The lives of those affected by small arms- related violence are often changed forever due to long-term disability and on-going psychological trauma.
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