From ALOYSIUS ATTAH, Onitsha
In Anambra state, guns are literally everywhere but no one cares to know the sources. Criminals have easy access to both the local and the sophisticated weapons of death in the black markets while vigilante groups in communities wield guns procured mainly from local manufacturers.
On September 20, 2012, one Paul Odunze and a driver were arrested by the police in a compound at Umudioka in Dunukofia local governmemt area while loading 100 bags of ammunition and 27 guns into a vehicle. On interrogation, Odunze confessed that the guns comprising 15 Pump Action and 12 double-barrel guns were to be sold to local vigilante groups and that he had been in the business for a long time. During the same period, a notorious armed robber and kidnap kingpin, Olisa Ifedike a.k.a Ofeakwu, was arrested. In the course of a house search, a cache of arms and ammunition were discovered.
They included 27 AK47 rifles, one K2 rifle, two 06 rifles, one General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG), one Rocket launcher, six Pump Action rifles, three Dane guns, one Beretta pistol and 15 grenades. Also recovered were 12,800 rounds of AK47 live ammunition, 530 rounds of LAR ammunition, 95 rounds of GPMG live ammunition, 1000 rounds of K2 live ammunition and 143 magazines totaling 14,425 rounds. Also, some communities in the state have been involved in communal clashes that led to free usage of arms and ammunition.
Communities like Aguleri-Umuleri, Nkerehi and Umuchukwu as well as Ogbunka and Owerre Ezukala had issues at one time or the other where guns were procured and used at will. Though there is no open market where guns are purchased, Sunday Sun can authoritatively reveal that gun trade is a booming business in the state. Apart from a popular licensed firearms dealer in Okija in Ihiala local government area, arms are imported and sold freely in various markets in Onitsha.
An organized syndicate runs the business with trained agents who know the language and the terrain so well while new entrants into the line of business must undergo strict tutelage with a trusted dealer who can vouch for the new entrant. The most popular and fast-selling guns in circulation in Anambra are the pump action, pistols and double barrel guns.
Other brands like AK47, Military Kara, Mark 4, Fellet, GPMG, and the locally made guns popularly known as “Awka made” are also in circulation. Investigations by Sunday Sun reporter revealed that most traders who shuttle between African countries often buy the guns and conceal them inside containers with legally recognized products. Apart from war-ravaged countries of Liberia, Mali and Libya that are ready sources for illegal arms, other countries like Ghana, Benin republic and Niger are transit routes from where the deadly weapons enter Nigeria down to Anambra state..
At the popular Old motor spare parts market in Obosi, it was gathered that the dealers conceal guns inside car engines while shipping their legally approved products into the country and such engines are usually offloaded in the night. “They remove the engine crankshaft and other accompanying accessories and carefully arrange the guns in compact form inside the engine case. After loading it inside, they tighten the bottom plate and it will look like a normal engine.
The Peugeot engine sellers also remove the propeller and conceal the guns inside the area and tighten up. They normally mark the particular engine and when they begin to offload, they would keep the marked one away from prying eyes and inside the warehouse from where the contents are removed when the buyers arrive”, said a source that pleaded anonymity. The story was similar at the Onitsha main market regarded as the unofficial headquarters of illegal arms deal in the state.
However, investigation revealed that the arms dealers use textile materials to conceal the guns. Here, ammunition is known as “groundnut” while guns are coded as “iron”, “machine” or “igwe”. Though they are not displayed openly in the market, the popular Ogbo mma (matchet) line tops the chart among places where guns are sold. Inside the main market, those who are into the system employ various tactics, languages, signs and methods to carry out the business undetected.
Another source who is a clearing and forwarding agent gave Sunday Sun reporter further insight into how the business is done inside the market “Most of the dealers bring the thing through the Ghanaian border. We call it Afulawo border and from there they enter Togo. Most times, they don’t disclose their contents to the travel agents. They tie it mostly in this Okirika (second hand clothes) bales. I was once a victim when one of my customers gave me some bales but I didn’t know that groundnuts (bullets) were inside.
It was on transit that the bale had a crack and some groundnuts fell on the ground. At this point, we were almost at our destination but when I discovered the contents, I insisted that they must pay me the amount spent to carry the hard stuff and they did not hesitate to comply. “As for the sales, it is a daily business here but they can’t sell it to a stranger.
There is no strange language in the business per se but as an agent, I know the dealers and once I meet them for a supply, they will not hesitate to sell to me because they see me as a member and believe that I cannot betray them. New entrants into the business must first of all attach themselves to a dealer who will sell the products for you before you will be fully indoctrinated.
Those who served apprenticeship for a number of years in the business but fell out with their master are not allowed to continue in the business to avoid spoiling show for others” he said. The source further stated that there are attendant risks in the business because of law enforcement agents but stressed that those caught in the deal could buy their freedom.
Also, a vigilante operative told the reporter that some bad eggs in the security agencies sometimes steal from the armory and sell AK47 rifles to business men while some guns seized from Mobile Policemen during the MASSOB uprising are in circulation in the state. He also revealed that rocket launchers and gunboats could be purchased in the state through some militants.
The source gave further details on how the business operates. “The importers bring in so many types of guns made in different countries like China, England, Italy and France. This is a business that has no specific place of sales. It can be negotiated on phone even faraway from places where they are parked. Trick is another name of the business. It’s just like a native doctor or ritualist who wants to buy human parts. He won’t mention the body parts when he meets those that sell traditional medicine materials; but once they speak their language, the seller decodes the message immediately and provides what the buyer wants.
Some of the dealers here are highly connected that sometimes they even invite police for protection when they want to offload their goods. Gun business also flourishes in the local manufacturing sector. Local blacksmiths in and around Awka manufacture short guns and local pistols that are mostly purchased by robbers and other miscreants. The blacksmiths of Awka originated from Umuzocha and Umuaga Umuonaga communities and the elders in the trade concentrated in moulding objects like metal gongs, hoes, cutlasses and Dane guns for hunting.
However, the skill turned into something else when young men entered the business and began to manufacture weapons for criminals. When Sunday Sun reporter visited Umogbunu and Umudioka villages in Awka, scores of men were seen engaged in the blacksmithing work. Though there was no gun on display, one of the workers, Nwabufo (not real name) confirmed to the reporter that they manufacture guns of between one to 12 rounds within the price range of N10,000 to N30,000.
He said they usually probe people who approach them for such weapons but admitted that some armed robbers had been caught with locally made guns. Reflecting on the situation, a human rights activist and Chairman, Board of Trustees for International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, Comrade Emeka Umeagbalasi, described the proliferation of arms as worrisome.
He described the army of vigilante operatives who carry guns sourced from local manufacturers in the state as “tomorrow’s armed robbers and kidnappers.” He said: “It will be right to say that one out of 20 residents in Anambra are in possession of illicit small arms, no thanks to monstrous vigilantism fed from Onitsha arms black markets. From our calculation, over 300,000 illicit arms are in circulation in Anambra and the continued proliferation of armed vigilantes is a time bomb.”