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Nigeria need institutional framework to combat proliferation of small arms-PRESCOM 

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Babatunde Opalana 

To combat and reduce proliferation of small arms and light weapons which has been a major security threat in Nigeria, there is the need to put in place an institutional framework in accordance with regulations of the Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS) and other international best practices.

Nigeria, which is in the process of having a legislative backing and Gambia are the countries left without a full-fledged Commission on Small Arms and Light Weapons as required by the ECOWAS.

Mr. Dickson Orji, Programmes Coordinator for the Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons known as PRESCOM made this submission in Abuja on Wednesday at a workshop on “Physical Security and Stockpile Management (PSSM)” in the Sahel region financed by the European Union and the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA).

According to him, the ECOWAS Commission on Small and Light Weapons mandates every member state to have a National Commission on Small Arms but Nigeria is yet to have a Commission because the country does not have enabling law to either transform PRESCOM to a Commission or establish a new Commission.

“This enabling law is what we are referring to as the NATCOM Bill. It is an enabling law that will serve the purpose of ensuring that Nigeria has the institutional framework for combating the proliferation of small arms in Nigeria according to the prescription of ECOWAS. Secondly, it would also enable Nigeria to have the proper legislative backing to be able to combat arms proliferation across the borders of Nigeria”, he said.

Speaking on the delay in the proposed Firearms Bill, he said that government is yet to submit it to the National Assembly and therefore want the government to expedite action on this.

“Of course we know that government in its own wisdom have to constitute a panel to look at what we have done and see whether we did it properly before they can send it to the National Assembly. So, this is the point where we are, the government is reviewing what PRESCOM has already done and they will send it to the National Assembly to continue the process.

“To fast track this, we have gone to the National Assembly to meet the House Committee chairman on Foreign Affairs, Hon. Nnena Ukejie. We have tabled this before her and she has promised to assist in ensuring that any time the Executive sent it to the legislature, she can take it up very quickly.

On the involvement of PRESCOM in the workshop, Orji said UNREC, the organizers of the project is one of the Committee’s key partners on issues relating to combating arms proliferation, not only in West Africa but also across the globe. “We are actively involved with them to ensure that this project is well executed here in Nigeria”, he said.

Giving an overview of the project, Mr. Lewis Kanyoko, Coordinator, PSSM-Sahel Project said it is a regional project that has been conceived and co-funded by the United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) and it is implemented by The United Nations Regional Center for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (UNREC). It is in partnership with the European Union and the six beneficiary countries in the Sahel region; Chad, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, Nigeria, and Mauritania.

He said the objective aims to contribute to security and stability in the Sahel region through improved physical security and better management of government stockpiles of arms and ammunition by providing assistance to these countries to prevent the diversion of small arms and light weapons and ammunition into the illicit market.

The project, he said, was in response to lack of effective Physical Security and Stockpile Management activities in existing conventional arms and ammunition depots in the Sahel which has posed a serious challenge to peace and security in the region.

This, he said, “allowed armed and non-States actors, including terrorist groups, to loot government-owned stockpiles in Libya and Mali, generating a concrete risk that a similar situation may occur in parts of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, Niger, and Nigeria”.

The Coordinator highlighted the four components of the project to include; Conference on PSSM in the Sahel in collaboration with the Wilton Park, Review of Legislation and Administrative Procedures and Consultations on PSSM, Physical Security and Stockpile Management and Setting National Standards in Accordance with Mines Advisory Group (MAG) and Inter-Agency Support Unit (ISACS).

Kanyako who consider lack of coordination in  land borders of most West African countries, said there are different strategies being used to control porous borders.

He said “most African countries have very long and porous borders and most of these illicit weapons that we have are able to cross from one country to another. Some of these strategies include improvement of border patrol in the different countries.

“But in terms of smaller arms and light weapons, one of the efforts that we are making is on the marking and tracing of arms, we support countries to ensure that all the armaments within their territories are marked and registered. This will make it easy to be able to trace a number of the arms across borders. This provides the information that is necessarily needed by the countries authorities to be able to devise strategies to prevent illicit movement of arms”.

On his expectations at the end of the project, he said “my expectation is that we are going to be able to improve tremendously the capacity of our countries to secure and manage national stockpiles and to prevent these arms from falling into wrong hands and this will improve not only national security but also the public safety and security of our communities in the countries”.

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