In September 2017, the Nigerian Customs Service seized 470 pump action rifles which had been smuggled into the country. This was one of several seizures of weapons that were illegally transported into Nigeria last year.
The illicit arms trade is a central cause of the most violent crimes we are facing in this country. The Boko Haram Insurgency, kidnapping and armed robbery are directly tied to the illegal provision of arms to those involved in these criminal acts.
The issue is one that crosses many borders, as a large number of these arms are brought from Turkey, where the exportation of rifles is legal. Smugglers then conceal the weapons on their way to Nigeria and change the documents accordingly.
The Nigerian Customs Service blames shipping companies for their failures which perpetuate the problem, but there is also a need for Nigerians to take responsibility for the illicit arms trade. Nigeria is responsible for about 70% of illicit weapons circulating throughout West Africa.
This is not one of the ways in which Nigeria should be leading the region. On the contrary, we must take a stand against the illicit arms trade which contributes to regional strife.
There is a definite need for internal regulation of arms to stop the illicit arms trade from crossing borders within both Nigeria and the wider West African region. ECOWAS attempts to boost exports between member states, and in so doing has pushed for trade liberalization which removes barriers between these states.
An unfortunate consequence of this is that weapons which are illicitly imported into Nigeria are then easily exported to other ECOWAS countries. Therefore, the best solution to this quagmire would be to implement security measures which make it impossible for illicit arms to enter or leave Nigeria.
The Nigerian Customs Service has done an excellent job in quelling the importation of illicit arms into Nigeria so far, but more must be done to stop the dispersion of these weapons within Nigeria.
Customs security checks must be extended to include interregional trade, particularly that which concerns Northern states in which Boko Haram is known to operate. Also, heavy checks need to be imposed on all goods leaving Nigeria as well in order to quell the provision of illicit arms to agitating groups in neighboring countries.
The Nigerian Customs Service needs to take initiative in preventing the spread of illicit arms inside, outside and within the country. We must extend the protective responsibilities of all parties involved in order to end the illicit arms trade.
May God Bless our beloved Country, Nigeria.
Funmilayo Adetokunbo A-A, a political and International Affairs Analyst, writes from Somerset, England, United Kingdom.