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From: Kemi Yesufu, Abuja
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, has called for stricter laws to combat the proliferation of small arms across the West African sub-region.
Delivering the opening remarks at the parliamentary conference on Containment of Small Arms Proliferation and Terrorist Financing in ECOWAS, which held in Abuja, on Thursday, Speaker Dogara, identified the high rate of youth unemployment as the major reason young people get involved in violent crime.
The Speaker, who made reference to a report of the United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crime which described West Africa as paradise for organised crime due to weak borders, corruption and other such factors, also decried the adverse effect of widespread insecurity on efforts towards meeting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Said he, “The sub-region has suffered from intra- and inter-communal feuds, local wars, armed insurrections, armed rebel activities and terrorism, all of which have led to the proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW). Small arms and light weapons are dangerous tools of violence in West Africa for obvious reasons.
“Small arms are durable, highly portable, easily concealed, simple to use, extremely lethal and possess legitimate military, police and civilian uses. In addition, the weapons are lightweight and so are used by child soldiers, who play a significant role in most crises afflicting the sub-region”, he said.
“As legislators, one area we need to address our minds to is the enactment of laws making gun possession difficult. It has been observed that during conflicts, some ECOWAS Member States liberalised laws on gun possession in order to stimulate gun possession by civilians.
“Arms were directly distributed to paramilitary groups by governments in order to fight rebel forces. In addition, gun possession legislation was liberalised. This development, therefore, enhanced diffusion of small arms in the sub-region. However, after conflicts, small arms are recycled for use in new conflicts and crimes at home, or sold to other West African countries for use in new conflicts or to prolong ongoing conflicts”, he added.
The Speaker stated that the current situation is in direct contravention of a Declaration on a Moratorium on the Importation, Exportation and Manufacture of Small Arms and Light Weapons in West Africa which was adopted by the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS on 31 October 1998, and became a legally binding and permanent convention in June 2006.
“Eleven years after the adoption of the Convention in 2006, the issue of containment of small arms proliferation remains a challenge. It is unfortunate to note that there is a thriving trade of mercenaries in West Africa, aiding the circulation and proliferation of small arms in the region, especially along the Sahel area.
“Levels of youth unemployment are high and there are many able-bodied, disgruntled persons available, ready and willing to be trained and armed to fight. Some of the youth who do not serve as mercenaries illegally migrate to Europe through the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea.
” Some of the West African youth are currently trapped in Libya where slave trade business thrives. Still on small arms proliferation, illicit mining, oil bunkering and insurgency are also responsible for enhanced diffusion of small arms and light weapons in the sub-region”, he further said.