Abuja — The United Nations (UN) has raised the alarm over proliferation of illicit small arms and light weapons (SALW) in Nigeria, saying there are no less than over 350 million in circulation in the country.
It said out of the estimated 500 million of such weapons said to be circulating in West Africa, 70% of them is domiciled in Nigeria.
Director of UN Regional Center for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (UNREC), Mr Anselme Yabouri, disclosed this startling statistics at the ongoing Physical Security and Stockpile Management Standard Operating and Administrative Procedures Validation Workshop in Abuja.
Speaking at the workshop organised by the UNREC and Presidential Committee on Smalls Arms and Light Weapons (PRESCOM), Yabouri stated that the country has been flooded with illicit weapons, which have found their way into unauthorised hands of non-state actors threatening the existence of the country, as well as lives and properties of the people.
He said, "The illicit proliferation of SALW has had a dramatic impact on peace and security in Africa, threatening not only the existence of the state, but also the livelihoods of millions of people across the continent.
"Nigeria is one of the countries experiencing some of the most devastating effects of the proliferation of SALW as a result of spillover effect of the recent crises in Libya and Mali as well as unresolved internal conflicts in different parts of the country, especially in the North East, Niger Delta and southern regions.
"While reliable data on the numbers of these weapons circulating freely in the country is unavailable, analysts have in recent times estimated that of the about 500 million weapons that may be circulating in West Africa in 2010, some 70 per cent of these could be found in Nigeria."
He warned that as alarming as these figures seem, if left unimpeded, the menace will endanger the developmental gains achieved over the last 50 years, impede the nation's capacity to achieve its developmental targets and negatively impact on generations to come.
Suggesting ways to nip the scourge in the bud, Yabouri said, "As my predecessor reiterated here in August 2016 during the National Consultative workshop, good laws, procedures, goodwill and even abundant resources are by themselves not sufficient to win the struggle against the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.
"A strong, effective, resourced representative and appropriately created and constituted national coordinative mechanism is essential if Nigeria is to emerge victorious in this effort."
The UNREC director noted that the situation underscores, more than ever before, the critical need not only to control the flow of arms in the non-state sector, but also the state owned actors through the effective management of armoury and weapon stockpiles.
"It is widely acknowledged that one of the major factors contributing to the illicit proliferation of arms is the ineffective stockpile management", he said.
The UNREC boss stressed that unsecured stocks and ineffectively managed stockpiles were a major contributing factor to the trafficking and diversion of arms into the illicit market and their subsequent flow to terrorists and other criminal groups as Boko Haram and Niger Delta militants.
He said that part of the activities programmed under the PSSM in the Sahel project in the context of the UN and European Union (EU) was to support security and stability in the region.
Yabouri explained that the United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) had developed the project, which is jointly funded by the EU, for the benefit of the six Sahel countries of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Nigeria.
"This project aims to support states in the region to prevent diversion and trafficking of SALW and their ammunition, by improving the PSSM of national stockpiles", he added.
Meanwhile, the Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons (PRESCOM) has disclosed that the federal government has concluded plans to destroy over 5000 illicit weapons recovered in Zamfara State, North West of the country.
The chairman of the committee, Ambassador Emmanuel Imohe, also revealed that about 425 weapons were also recovered from criminals and destroyed in Katsina State, while Benue State had over 600 weapons destroyed.
He stressed that PRESCOM do not just recover these weapons but wants to also "trace their origins and hold the countries that are responsible accountable, using the International Tracing Instrument."
He, however, listed some of the things that impede the committee's work, including the legislative approval to turn it into a commission and repeal of the Firearms Law of 1958.
He said: "We take a stock of these weapons and have a data base of them. In 2016, we destroyed 425 weapons in Katsina. We presently have over 5000 weapons waiting to be destroyed in Zamfara. They were recovered from cattle rustlers and all sorts of criminal elements. We also have some weapons to be destroyed in Katsina. Last year, we destroyed over 600 weapons in Benue State.
"So, it is a continuous process of destruction. We cannot for now say that any state is endemic, because we are still expecting a report of our survey. All the geo-political regions and the states do not have the same problem.
"The survey was conducted in the 36 states and we are collating the report. This workshop is to review the proposed standard operating and administrative procedures on stockpile management and physical security.
"What we mean is that we have many illicit arms in circulation but some of them are already in government's stockpile. We believe that if the government manages its stockpile very well, there will not be leakages from the government's stockpile to non-state actors."