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Proliferation of small arms

Published by Guardian on Thu, 27 Sep 2012

IT is commendable that, on the one hand, Nigeria (represented by its ambassador at the United Nations, Prof. Joy Ogwu) earned global respect the other day by successfully steering the Second Review Conference on the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat, and Eradicate Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Lightweight Weapons (SALW). Consequently, the conference agreed on the key issues pendent since 2006. On the other hand, it isdistressingthat, according to reports,this country accounts forseven million of the 10 million illegalsmall andlight weaponsthatthreatenthe security ofthe African continent.It is an irony that even as the country managed with diplomatic deftness tobringthe delegates of 193nations to affirm their 'support and commitment to implement all the provisions of the Programme of Action (POA) and the International Tracing instrument, with a view to ending the human suffering caused by the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons', Nigeriais reported to be derelict in two important aspects:It is one of the aberrant countries with no established organ dedicated to address the very serious, hydra-headed problem of arms proliferation. Besides, the countrywas derelict in the submission of the Transparency Report 'which would show that it had acted on the (Programme of Action)since 2001 andthat it is committedto the overall agenda of disarmament'. Now, this report is said to be 'a vital instrument with which a nation (may) solicit support from other nations towards its programme to stop illicit trade in arms and weapons proliferation.'In answer to inquiries on these embarrassingfailings at a time Nigeria accepted to chair this conference, a foreign ministry official offered what may qualify as 'the most disingenuous response of the century'. He reportedly claimed that a Nigerian commission on SALW was in the process of being established, and work on the nation's transparency reports was in progress and would be submitted to the appropriate organ of the UN as soon as possible. It would be an answer worth laughing at, were the issue at stake notsuch a serious one that touches on the safety of people and security of a nation.Nigeria has every reason to treat with condign urgency the security problem posed by the large quantity of small and light arms in the possession of unauthorised persons and groups. And there are many dimensions to this. The nation is plagued by myriad acts of criminality ' armed robbery, kidnapping, and most heinous of all terrorism with religious colouration, all of which are perpetrated with the aid of small and light portable and easily concealed arms. The quantity and calibre of arms seized and displayed by law enforcement agents is a frightening indicator of the magnitude of the problem. Surely, rocket launchers, grenades, and assault rifles are not for use in common crimes, but for nations in a state of war. Arms in the country are flowing in and around without control. It points, firstly to the abysmal ineffectiveness of the border security agencies, the internal security agencies, and even the extant law on the possession of firearms. At another level, state governments have lately decided to import and donate arms to the Federal Government-controlled police. Under what law is this permitted' Is there something more sinister, more sophisticated in planning and more complex in this motive than Nigerians know' This is a question for the country's leaders.Nevertheless, a number of measures must be taken quickly. The law to register all firearms in private hands must be updated and enforced more strictly than ever.Thechecks on incoming ships, airplanes and vehicles must bestricter, including, both human and electronicintelligencework to discover sources and destinations ofillegally imported arms.Of course, a law is only as effective as its enforcement. Law enforcement agents must do their duty with integrity too if this problem is to be solved. Given the danger thatthe proliferation of these arms continue topose to the nation, the fight against itmustinvolvethe immigration, police, and military personnel;as well the ministries of internal affairs and external affairs, especiallywith respect to seekingexternal assistance.There are also political, social, ideological and international dimensions to the proliferation of arms. First, it may be said that a resort to the use of arms by citizens, either for defensive or for offensive purpose directly speaks for the failure of governance in the polity. In a failed or a failing state, persons or groups may feel sufficiently aggrieved to take up arms against their neighbours or against constituted authority for such reasons asdenial of legitimate rights and privileges; or exclusion,in one form or another, from political, economic, social or physical space. These signify the incapability of the leadership to manage the affairs of state equitably and justly.And the problem is worsened by a political leadership that perceives politics as a do-or-die game and seeks to 'capture' rather than win electoral votes. The solution to this is that governments should transparently cater to the needs of the people. There are also arms merchant ' individuals, corporations, and nations that deal in arms for their own benefits, but to the detriment of the larger society.It is in this context that the global collective action is required. The Nigerian government should go beyond platitudes and expression of intentions to fulfil the provisions of the POA. This will save lives in the country.
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