By Lawrence Olaoye
President Muhammadu Buhari has directed the Ministry of Defence and Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) to transform the Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons (PRESCOM) into a National Commission on the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons.
Briefing State House Correspondents after a National Security Council meeting chaired by the President yesterday, Minister of Defence, Gen. Mansur Dan-Ali (Rtd), said the Commission, to be coordinated by the NSA, will be headed by a yet-to-be-named retired Army general and will comprise of relevant security agencies in the country.
This, according to him, was to check influx of illegal weapons into the country and was line with a convention of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
The Council meets quarterly and comprises of the Chief of Defence Staff; Service Chiefs of the Army, Navy and Airforce; Inspector-General of Police; National Security Adviser; Department of State Services; National Intelligence Agency; Minister of Defence; etc., who all attended the meeting. The last session was in November 2017.
The Minister further revealed the Federal Government’s decision to invite the American Ambassador was to review the stringent conditions given by the United States government for sale of 12 Super Tucano A-29 military aircraft to Nigeria, even with a payment deadline of February 20, 2018.
The contract sum of $494 million included training, where the facilities will be accommodated and continuous servicing but he explained that some of the conditions are the refusal of the US government to allow Nigerian technicians understudy their American counterparts; as well as the insistence on release of the aircraft only by 2020.
He said “Some of the stringent measures include that we will start having them from 2020, which is two years from now. They are also thinking of not allowing our technicians to be part of the production inspection.
“But this is what we normally do in all the defence contracts – we send our personnel to go and understudy especially when it comes to specialized contracts; like in Russia, our personnel are permanently based there where the production is being done for MI-35 helicopters.”
Other issues discussed at the quarterly security meeting are: “to increase the strength of the Armed Forces to address manpower problem. The three services have in the last two years enlisted and recruited qualified Nigerians.
“The Ministry of Defence is also building befitting accommodation for members of the Armed Forces in the six geopolitical zones. Similar accommodations in Abuja were commissioned last month.
“The Military Pension Verification Exercise was conducted in all the 36 states and FCT to update its data payroll and ensure financial savings for the Government.
“The Minister also briefed the Council on the update of the Presidential visit to Royal Kingdom of Jordan from 2-3 December 2017, which provided an avenue for implementation of agreement for the procurement of Excess Defence Articles from Jordan, to modernise Nigerian military platforms.
The Defence Minister expressed the need by the relevant security agencies to as a matter of urgency tackle the propagation of hate speeches, especially through the social media particularly by some notable Nigerians.”
Asked what the government was doing to address the incessant attacks of herders on farmers across the country, the minister said the first step to address the challenge was to understand the remote and immediate causes of the problem.
The remote and immediate causes, according to him, were the blockage of grazing routes and promulgation of anti-grazing laws in some states.
He explained that cattle grazing routes routes existed up to places like Bayelsa State as far back as the 1960s and the blocking of these routes or stopping the cattle from grazing was a disservice to the herdsmen, who he insisted were Nigerians.
He said the security challenge, which has been experienced more in states like Benue, Taraba, Kaduna and Plateau, had been compounded by the existence of some armed militia groups who call themselves forest guards in some parts of the country.
On ways out of the crisis, Dan-Ali disclosed that government was considering the establishment of Agro-rangers to be coordinated by the Ministries of Interior and Agriculture.