The proliferation of firearms has remained a threat to the security of lives as well as a major global challenge for law enforcement agencies. These illegal possessions of firearms have led to the mass killing of unarmed individuals and groups of people at innocuous events and locations such as concerts, family gatherings and places of worship.
There’s been a rise in the illegal possession of unlicensed firearms among individuals. This has happened alongside cases of mass shooting and interception of guns being reported but with little or no arrests and confiscation of the illicit firearms; actions that could discourage the smuggling of guns through our borders for criminal use. In Nigeria for instance, we have recorded many cases of senseless killings of unarmed civilians and this ugly trend has continued to define the new face of our society with little or no regards for established laws on gun possession.
The Nigerian Customs on September 11, 2017 intercepted and seized 1,100 firearms smuggled into the country from Turkey through the Tin Can Island ports in Lagos. Similarly, a truck conveying 49 boxes containing 661 pump action rifles imported from China was also seized in January 2017. Another of such illegal importation of guns under prohibition was discovered in May 2017.
Unfortunately, the clearing and transportation of some of these firearms are being supervised and aided by corrupt customs officials and other uniformed security men. It is worrisome that more often than not the firearms get into the wrong hands and this makes it increasingly difficult for local security outfits to prevent terrorist attacks at close proximity.
The Saint Philips Catholic Church shooting, Ozubulu in Anambra State by a lone gunman can best describe the dysfunctional system where illicit small arms have found their ways into the wrong hands thus wrecking havoc on harmless citizens. Highway kidnappers arrested by men and women of the Nigerian Police are often found with sophisticated guns and other light weapons that are not authorized for use by the Nigerian firearm Act.
The lacuna in the Firearms Act has prompted the Nigerian Senate to review the laws governing guns and light weapons proliferation. On the 27th of September, 2017 Senator Gbolahan Dada’s bill titled “A Bill for An ACT to Amend the Firearms Act, CAP F28, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004” moved for the provision of an increase in fine and a provision for the destruction of firearms illegally imported into the country or individuals in possession of weapons without valid license. Senator Gbolahan Dada representing Ogun West Senatorial district in his lead debate argued that while the Newspapers have been inundated with reports on seizures of illicit firearms by various agencies of government in the last few years, it remains to be seen what becomes of these seized weapons.
With the proposed amendment to this Act, the Nigerian Senate has come up with sensible and effective firearms laws that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on illegal firearms. The amendment will seek to increase the fine imposed for offences committed under the Act from N1, 000 to N100, 000. The Firearms Act will be strengthened to provide for destruction of firearms illegally imported into the country. The Act among other things seeks to assist the government in revenue generation through recycling and reusing waste materials such as metal, wood and plastic derived from destroyed firearms. This gesture will build public confidence in overall efforts to eradicate illegal firearms and prevent firearms from finding their way back into the society.
In support of the quick passage of the Firearms Act, Senate President, Bukola Saraki disclosed that apart from the fines and other punitive measures proposed by the Bill, the Senate would also be strengthening existing laws to ensure that shipping agents and other companies involved in the importation of illegal firearms into the nation are held liable. “Now that the Bill has been sent to the Committee on Judiciary and Legal matters for further work, we will be having a public hearing on this Bill, to seek the support of experts, security agencies and the general public in coming up with a thorough legislative strategy to combat the proliferation of weapons in our country and our communities” Saraki stated.
Reports emanating from the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (UNREC) disclosed that over 500million of small arms and light weapons are currently circulating in West Africa with over 350 million (70%) domiciled in Nigeria. This has made it imperative to amend the ineffectual firearms law in existence in the phase of the modern, sophisticated trend in weapons trafficking and outbreak of violence.
In his submission, Senator Gbolahan Dada decried Nigeria’s lack of equipment to destroy illicit firearms whilst proposing that each of the law enforcement agencies should purchase the firearms pulverizer in order to have proper records on how firearms are destroyed or handled in the country. The pulverizer will assist the law enforcement agencies to destroy the increasing number of confiscated and surrendered firearms. This way, illicit guns will not find its way back into the hands of criminal elements.
We have yet to see the exact effects the passage of this bill will have on the firearms situation in the country. We do however know that it cannot make things worse and that Nigeria really does need more stringent rules on firearms.
Wale Bakare wrote from Abuja.