By Ikechukwu Okaforadi and Musa Adamu
The Senate has said that about three hundred and fifty million illegal weapons are currently in circulation in Nigeria, just as about 150 million other illicit weapons are circulating in other countries in the West African subregion.
Kaduna Central Senator, Uba Sani, said this yesterday during a public hearing organised by the Senate committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Navy and Marine Transport on Firearms Act 2004 (Amendment) Bill 2021 and Exclusive Economic Zones Act 2010 (Repeal and Re – Enactment ) Bill 2021.
He said that Nigeria is under serious security siege by murderous non-state actors, whose activities it said are threatening the corporate existence of the country.
While making reference to the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (UNREC), Sani said also that this represents 70 per cent for Nigeria and 30 per cent for other countries in the West African subregion, where these weapons are used for nefarious activities by criminally minded people.
While pointing out the needs for the country to urgently address the worrisome situation, Uba Sani who is the sponsor of the Firearms Act 2004 (Amendment) Bill 202, lamented that proliferation of illegal arms and ammunition in the country with little or no control by relevant authorities has profound implications for collective survival of Nigerians and Nigeria.
He said “We are gathered here to deal with a matter that has profound implications for our collective survival.
“We are under siege from murderous non – state actors. They have been acquiring arms illegally, maiming our people and threatening the continued existence of our dear Nation.
“We either take measures to deny them of the oxygen that sustains their nefarious activities , or we watch helplessly as they overrun us and our country”.
The main aim of the proposed amendments to the Firearms Act, he explained, is to curtail the proliferation of illegal arms and bring the existing law in line with global best practices.
He lamented further by stating that “the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (UNREC), recently reported that the proliferation of illicit small arms and light weapons (SALW) in Nigeria, has reached an alarming proportion.
“Analysts estimate that out of the 500 million weapons circulating in West Africa , 350 million, which represents 70% of such weapons, can be found in Nigeria.
“A pointer to this effect can be cited with the incidence of January 31st , 2017, when the Nigeria Customs Service confirmed the interception and seizure of 661 Pump Action Riffles imported from China into our country.
“More recently in Benue State, a local militia had the temerity to kill an Army Captain and 11 Soldiers not to talk of reign of terror in Owerri, Imo State by Gunmen who launched coordinated attacks on the Police headquarters and Correctional Centre.
“Something must be done urgently to curtail arms proliferation, the very reason for the proposed amendment bill on the existing Firearms Act”, he said.
He listed the five major objectives of the amendment bill to include imposition of stiffer penalties for offences under the Act.
One of such penalties is the one under section 27 (sub section 1c), which proposed increase of fine from N1,000 to N1million.
But representative of Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshall Oladayo Amao, in his submission, objected the N1million proposed fine on illegal possession of firearms by arguing for its increase to N2million.
Earlier in his opening remarks, the Chairman of the joint Committee, Senator Micheal Opeyemi Bamidele (APC Ekiti Central), said the purpose of the two bills were to further strengthen the extant laws against illegal firearms possession and proliferation, as well as make provisions for the Act on Exclusive Economic Zone to be in line with global practices as far as protection of the nation’s territorial sea or waters are concerned.