By Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu
President Muhammad Buhari in his gun control efforts reportedly signed a law to revoke all firearm or shotgun certificates or licenses in Nigeria with executive powers recently.
The said law is proposed to take effect from June, and the implication of the law is that nobody in the country is now allowed to own or carry firearms in the country, except only authorised officers of the Nigeria Police Force and the Nigerian Army, as well as select authorized agencies.
The law also prohibits officers of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps [NSCDC], as well relevant security organisations to carry arms,and requires all arms owners are forthwith required to hand in back all types of firearm licenses or certificates issued to them in the past to the nearest police headquarter in one’s state of residence.
As usual, the law received huge knocks and have been painted in a combined colourations that portray ethnicity, religious undertones which may allegedly contravene the true spirit behind the law. The Igbo apex sociocultural body, Ohanaeze Ndigbo in its usual manner has fired a salvo condemning the order labelling it "a sign that ominous cloud was gathering in the country".
The group captures it thus:“This is ominous. The storm is gathering and will soon bare its fangs. The uninitiated continue to wallow in self-deceit until the vultures scavenge for the carcasses. The signs are clear. Why wait for doomsday?”
Gun control measures are not entirely out of place. They are initiated by countries from time to time to check illegal flow or circulation of guns and to strengthen the security fabrics of a country. But here the approach is counter- productive and ill- timed, and therefore has generated widespread suspicions. The questions that beg for urgent resolution are:" how many gun users in Nigeria operate with licences? If small number of gun users operate with licences, then how are small arms and light weapons proliferate in that unprecedented dimension in the country?
This emphasises the need to mop up these sources of small arms and light weapons. The fundamental truth is that our borders are very porous and smuggling these weapons becomes easy. Part of government's efforts that would be considered serious is to strengthen our borders to stall the smuggling of these weapons. President Muhammadu Buhari also recently realised the level of porosity of our borders when he directed security chiefs to ensure that they address the gaps that facilitate the inflow of illegal firearms into the country, as well as the porous borders.One of the international expert opinions is that "stemming the steady flow of conventional arms into vulnerable regions required proper export controls and improvements in the implementation of existing instruments".
Second is that there are locations in Nigeria that are gifted with foundry artistry. This is where the locally- made weapons emanate. Another effort would gear towards shutting down these illegal gun manufacturing outlets. Put the other way, what saner climes do would be to tap from the ingenuity of these artisans by gathering them together and deploying their ingenuity to good use.
What is happening in Nigeria currently has an international input both in funding and supply of arms. The question is how prepared are we to ensure that the international sources of these groups are plugged so that their strength could be sapped? We know of recent that some sister African countries were and currently engaged in one internal strife or the other, when eventually these strife are abated, the arms used for that purpose must find their ways into other locations. Collaborative efforts demand that our borders be strengthened to ensure these weapons don't find their ways into our country. Since we have failed in our responsibility of securing our borders, we have no other option than to pay the price.
Also, as early as 2002/2003, there has been huge outcry against the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in Nigeria,even by international bodies. This was largely blamed on selfish bids of our politicians to win the 2003 elections at all cost, thereby arming political thugs.One of the international concerns raised decried the situation thus:"The proliferation of small arms and light weapons in Nigeria in the West African sub- region exerts negative impact on socio-political and economic development. ... Despite the existence of this NATCOM, small arms and light weapons are freely circulating in the country".
Our problem is hydra-headed, internally it is alleged that even arms leak to wrong hands through the efforts of our security agencies. It is unfortunate, our messy situation is deeply owed to our inability to nip ugly situations on the bud. We always fight when we are neck deep.