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ECOWAS EFFORT IN COMBATING SMALL AND LIGHT ARMS PROLIFERATION IN WEST AFRICA: CHALLENGES AND PROSPECTS

POLITICAL SCIENCE PROJECT TOPICS AND MATERIALS

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

1.1 Background to the Study

The proliferation of small arms and light weapons is one of the major security challenges currently facing Nigeria, Africa and indeed the world in general. The trafficking and wide availability of these weapons fuel communal conflict, political instability and pose a threat, not only to national security, but also to sustainable development. The widespread proliferation of small arms is contributing to alarming levels of armed crime, and militancy.

The increasing pace of violence across the globe, with major occurrence in Africa, has brought about renewed focus on small and light weapons control. It is estimated that there is an approximate of 875 million small arms in circulation across the globe, including those stockpiled and in private procession, produced by over 1000 companies and generating trade excess of US$8.5 billion (Karp, 2007). Out of this ominous volume, governments and state militaries possess 200 million while 26 million weapons are within the control of the law enforcement agencies. Similarly, Chelule (2014) noted that there are about half a billion military small arms around the world; each year between 300,000 to half a million people around the world are killed by these weapons and every minute someone is killed by a gun; 90% of civilians are casualties by small arms because the civilians get access to purchase more than 80% of the arms produced in the world. To establish the extent of this threat in Africa, Bah (2004) asserts that out of an approximate of 500 million illicit weapons in circulation worldwide, an estimate of 100 million are in Sub-Saharan Africa with eight to ten million concentrated in the West African sub-region alone. This portentous trend further reveals that Africa needs strategic intervention.

Small arms proliferation has been particularly devastating in Africa where machine guns, rifles, grenades, pistols and other small arms have killed and displaced many civilians across the continent (Allison, 2006). The result of this rapid expansion of weapons according to Allison (2006) is that the weapons, their parts and ammunition are more easily diverted from their intended destination. Consequently, countries with fewer and less strict gun regulations become the destination points. War-torn or post-conflict nations which are common in Africa portend a profitable market for the sale of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW). The guns have thus far fostered instability in the West African region, worsened the security of the region, weakened the power of the government and provided a motivation for poverty to thrive.

At the national level, Nigeria continues to rely on the National Firearms Act of 1959 as the legal instrument governing small arms possession, manufacture and the use in the country as amended even though the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Decree No.5 was promulgated in 1984 and later the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act. In July 2000, the Nigerian government proposed and established a National Committee on the Proliferation and Illicit Trafficking in Small Arms and Light Weapons the purpose of which was to determine the sourcing illegal small arms and collect information on small arms proliferation in Nigeria. In May 2001, the government established a second committee aimed at implementing the 1998 ECOWAS Moratorium. These two committees were later merged into a single committee. The committee has accomplished little due to lack of political will, financial support, technical expertise, and institutional capacity. Consequently, there were renewed efforts in 2007 to revive the activities of the Committee and legislation is being written to convert the Committee into a national commission. It requested support from the ECOWAS Small Arms Programme to conduct the survey and to undertake other activities in support of the implementation of the 2006 ECOWAS Convention (Hazenand Horner, 2007). Inaugurated in 2001, the NATCOM is responsible for the registration and control of SALW, and granting of permits for exemptionsunder the ECOWAS Moratorium (Chuma-Okoro, 2011).

Despite these national-efforts, the rate of accumulation ofSALW is increasing and becoming endemic as various forms of violence and casualties are in the recent times recorded in the country. There is lack of capacity and strong legal or effective institutional frameworks to regulate SALW and combat the phenomenon of SALW proliferation in Nigeria, particularly Northern part of Nigeria (Chuma-Okoro, 2011). More fundamentally, the Nigeria is yet to deal with the demand factors of SALW proliferation preferring to dwell on the symptoms rather than the root causes. The demand factors are the root causes of SALW proliferation, because if there is no demand, there will not be supply. Consequently, Nigeria now features prominently in the three-spot cline of transnational organised trafficking of SALWs in West Africa: origin, transit route and destination. Weapons in circulation in Nigeria come from local fabrication, residue of guns used during the civil war, thefts from government armouries, smuggling, dishonest government-accredited importers, ethnic militias, insurgents from neighbouring countries and some multinational oilcorporations operating in the oil-rich but crisis-plagued Niger Delta. Whenand where these SALWs are deployed, human security has been the main victim.

These were the motivations for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Convention of Small arms and Light Weapons in 2006. The highlights of the Convention include the a ban on international small arms transfers (except those for legitimate self-defence and security needs, or for peace support operations); a ban on transfers of small arms to non-state actors that are not authorized by the importing member state; procedures for shared information; stringent regulatory scheme for anyone wishing to possess small arms and strong management standards to ensure the security of weapons stockpiles.

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