THE United Nations (UN) has raised
the alarm over the illicit proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW)
in Nigeria, with over 350 million and 70 per cent of estimated 500 million of
such weapons said to be circulating in West Africa domiciled in the country.

Director of United Nations Regional
Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (UNREC), Ms Olatokunbo Ige, gave
this startling statistics at the ongoing national consultation on Physical
Security and Stockpile Management (PSSM) in Abuja, organized by the agency and
Presidential Committee on Smalls Arms and Light Weapons (PRESCOM).

Ige said the country was awash with
illicit weapons which had found its way into unauthorized hands on non-state
actors that were threatening the existence of the country, as well as lives and
properties of the people.

She 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.

“Nigerian is one of the countries
that is 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,” she added.

She warned that “as alarming as
these figures seem, it is very clear that if left unchecked, this scourge will
not only jeopardize the developmental gains achieved over the last 50 years,
but will also impede the nation’s capacity to achieve its developmental targets
and therefore, negatively impact on the future generations.”

According to Ige, this had
highlighted 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 the armory and weapon stockpiles.

“It is widely acknowledged that one
the major factors contributing to the illicit proliferation of arms is the
ineffective stockpile management,” she noted.

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 the terrorists and other criminal groups like Boko
Haram and Niger Delta militants.

She said part of the activities
programmed under the PSSM  in the Sahel
project in the context of the United Nations (UN) and European Union (EU) is to
support security and stability in the region.

Ige explained that the project,
which is funded by the EU has been developed jointly by the United Nations
Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) 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,” she stated.

Also speaking, the chairman of
PRESCOM, Ambassador Emmanuel Imohe, said the Nigeria’s firearms law was
obsolete and ineffective in the face of the 21st century security challenges.

Imohe said PRESCOM had to generate
a new document in collaboration with relevant agencies for over six months to
come out with a repeal of the firearms bill that was yet to be attended at the
National Assembly.

“The 1959 Firearms Act is obsolete
and using the 1959 law to tackle the 21st century security challenges is
ineffective,” he said.

In the same vein, Resident
Coordinator of the UN Systems in Nigeria, Ms Jean Gough, said “the elaboration
of laws and procedures which are adapted to the current reality, aiming to
provide the necessary framework to better prevent the occurrence of eventual
theft, loss, diversion and explosions in national weapons and ammunition storage
has become an essential requirement.

“Through the provision of technical
assistance and the necessary resources to this effect, technical and financial
partners have committed to support the beneficiary member states of this
project in this endeavor.”

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