The Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR) has identified the smuggling of illicit small arms and light weapons as a key factor in the escalating security challenges in Nigeria’s South-Eastern zone. Dr Joseph Ochogwu, the Director General of IPCR, voiced these concerns during a Policy Roundtable in Abuja addressing the security issues prevalent in the region.
Small arms, such as handguns and machine pistols, and light weapons, including crew-served firearms and explosive devices, have been increasingly used in violent extremism in the Southeast, comprising states like Abia, Enugu, Anambra, Ebonyi, and Imo. The region has witnessed a surge in violence linked to the militant wing of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), unidentified gunmen, and other underground groups.
Dr Ochogwu pointed out that the accessibility of these illicit weapons has not only fuelled insecurity but has also facilitated the local production of firearms. He noted that a significant portion of these arms are trafficked from the Sahel region, exacerbated by climate change-induced migrations that further militarise communities.
The proliferation of drugs in the region was also highlighted as a contributing factor to the violence, impairing the youth’s ability to resist the influence of extremist groups. The Nigerian security forces, including the National Centre for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons, the Police Force, and the armed forces, have been urged to intensify their efforts to combat this threat.
Retired Maj.-Gen. Okechukwu Ugo, the South-East Zonal Coordinator for the National Centre for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons, reaffirmed the commitment to prevent and monitor the spread of such weapons, aligning with the government’s broader strategy to address Nigeria’s security challenges.
The proliferation of illicit small arms and light weapons in Nigeria’s southeast is a crisis that demands immediate and concerted action. The IPCR’s findings are a clarion call to the nation’s security apparatus, policy-makers, and the international community to address this scourge that is eroding the fabric of society.
We advocate for a multi-faceted approach to this complex issue. Strengthening border controls, improving regional cooperation, and enforcing international arms trade treaties are critical steps towards stemming the flow of illegal arms into the country. Furthermore, the nexus between drug abuse and susceptibility to extremist ideologies cannot be ignored. It is imperative to launch comprehensive drug education and rehabilitation programmes to dismantle this pathway to violence.
The government’s role in fostering good governance and harmonious relationships is paramount. Initiatives that promote social cohesion, economic opportunities, and political inclusivity will go a long way in addressing the root causes of unrest. We stand with the IPCR and security agencies in their efforts and urge continuous vigilance and innovation in strategies to secure peace and stability in the Southeast and beyond.
Did You Know?
- Globally, there are estimated to be over one billion small arms in circulation, with the majority being held by civilians.
- The Southeastern region of Nigeria has a complex history, with a civil war that lasted from 1967 to 1970, leaving a legacy that still impacts its security dynamics.
- Small arms are responsible for over 500,000 deaths annually worldwide, including homicides, suicides, and accidental deaths.
- Nigeria is a signatory to the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, which aims to control the proliferation of these weapons in West Africa.
- The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has identified West Africa as a significant transit point for illicit drug trafficking, which is often linked to arms smuggling.