Any serious interrogation on the wave of crime and violence in Nigeria and especially the northern part of the country would not fail to include the challenges posed by the proliferation of arms in the country.
This is because various independent investigations into the causes of conflicts and violence have shown that the surfeit of arms and other weapons has largely been responsible for the upscale of violence.
This is not unconnected with the fact that people instead of reporting cases of perceived provocations to the authorities resort to self help.
Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State, tried to highlight the enormity of this problem when he spoke about how different groups have armed themselves leading to serious threats to security being witnessed in the country but some, driven by impulse have without waiting to analyse his submission in the context of what he said, have come down heavily on the govenor.
The governor in the interview had explained that he was one of the first Governors to kick against the RUGA program when it was introduced because the concept was literally sneaked in for reasons he did not understand.
He said: “For me as Governor of Plateau State, I just heared that they have erected signposts in some sites within some local Governments. How can you earmark such a project without my knowledge and buy-in of the people in my State? I had no interest in it because it was far below the NLTP which was more robust and passed through series of engagements with critical stakeholders”.
The Governor then condemned the resort by groups to carry arms and called for strong measures to end the ugly trend lamenting that there are many non-state actors who are in possession of arms, a situation that must be addressed.
He said, “Today, we are now seeing the hazard of allowing people do open grazing here and there. But they (herders) also want solution; by the time you explain to them, they also want to stay in one place, they would also want to keep away from carrying AK-47. I’m not justifying anybody to carry AK-47 but don’t forget that in the course of our deliberations and investigations, it was not only Fulani herdsmen that were carrying AK-47, even farmers were carrying AK-47.”
To understand the issue in the context of what the governor was saying, it will be apt to review the content of other reports on conflicts on the Plateau. This I believe would vindicate the position of the Governor as someone who has chosen to be on the side of truth.
In the book, “Janjaweed in Middle Belt” written by veteran journalist and one of the repestected columnists on the Plateau, Mr. Jonathan Ishaku in far back 2015, the writer in trying to identify the causes of conflict in Nigeria, dedicated a whole chapter to the issue of proliferation of arms in the entire country.
Ishaku had in Chapter Two of the book titled ‘Armed Groups in Nigeria: A Geographical Distribution; made the following observations:
“Nigeria’s weakened sovereignty, fractured through years of military rule and frequent relapse into violent convulsions, ensured that by the turn of the millennium the nation witnessed a proliferation of armed groups spread across the land.”
He then went on to categorize the problems according to the existing regions in the country and further observed that the trend in the Northcentral revealed elements of premeditation and organisations in the bloody invasions which appears to have given rise to other ethnic militias which emerged a vigilante groups.
He said specifically wrote that in
In May 2013, the Ombatse cult group in Nasarawa state, caught national attention when it ambushed a convoy of about 65 security officials killing 46 of them.
Then on October 26, 2020, the Guardian published a report on the proliferation of arms in Nigeria and stated that the proliferation of small arms and ammunitions is driving the increasing rate of violence in Nigeria.
The report said, “The number of small arms in circulation in Nigeria, in the hands of civilian non-state actors is estimated at 6,145,000, while the armed forces and law enforcement collectively account for 586,600 firearms,”
This emphasised the fact that the trend of arms proliferation in Nigeria has had an impact on Nigeria’s internal security which has led to violence and the deaths and injury of thousands of innocent citizens.
The report observed that in the Nothern region, the proliferation of small weapons coupled with “existing state corruption, large tracts of ungoverned spaces, and mass unemployment has largely been responsible for the rising criminality and violence in Northern Nigeria.”
It said, “While the Northern Central region has seen clashes between “sedentary farmers and nomadic Fulani herders”, the North Central zone is rife with ethnic militias, making it a hotbed for violent ethnic and religious clashes facilitated using small arms.
It further stated that…” clashes between the farmers and herders have witnessed ammunition from at least 21 different nations. Some of these nations include Israel, Poland, Brazil, Iran, USA, Czech Republic, Algeria and Egypt.
Another preliminary findings from the National Small Arms and Light Weapons Survey locally manufactured arms illegally contribute to a large percentage of arms in circulation in Northern Nigeria especially in North Central.
It stated that “In Benue and Plateau states, both in the North Central region, locally made weapons are estimated to be used in over 50% of crimes committed – 62% for Benue State, and 69% for Plateau State.”
All these buttress the fact that Governor Lalong was speaking from a position of authority when he made the statement.
The truth is that people have been driven by anger into taking the laws into their hands and this has led to illegal acquisition of fire arms .
The Federal government was well aware of this when in 2018, as part of its efforts to mop up prohibited and illegal firearms from wrong hands, revoked all firearms licenses in the country.
And in 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari signed an executive order to remove, revoke, banish all firearm or shotgun certificate or license in Nigeria.
Governor Lalong being an acknowledged peace ambassador, is not one to play political correctness when the issue involves the security of lives and property.
The Governor always says it as it is because he believes that only truth can heal wounds and bring lasting solution to our quest to live in harmony.
This is why we must commend our governor for the bold stand he has taken over the issue of arms proliferation and the steps he is taking to control it.
By – Yakubu Dati