As a result of the worsening insecurity in Africa, President Bola Tinubu has called on the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN) to jointly halt the proliferation of arms and light weapons in the region. The President made the call at a dialogue in Abuja on “The Africa we want and the UN we need.” The Nigerian leader is particularly worried that the unrestricted flow of illegal arms and light weapons in many African countries has led to rising conflict, insurgency, violence and loss of lives on the continent.

The President also pointed out that the democratisation of the UN system will address the challenges of global governance. According to him, “as a government, we are seriously concerned about the rising threat of wide-spread terrorism across international borders, insurgency, and the disruptive intervention of the military in governance in Africa, particularly in West Africa.”

He also enjoined the participants “to find innovative and cost-effective strategies by which the African Union would collaborate with the United Nations and the international community to stem the tide of the proliferation of arms and light weapons into Africa, end terrorism and resurgent insurgency, and check the retrogressive return of the military in governance in Africa.”

Without doubt, the unbridled proliferation of arms and light weapons in Africa has reached a frightening dimension. The menace has exacerbated the rising insecurity in Africa, particularly in West Africa which has witnessed violent crimes and resurgence of coups in recent times. Unarguably, the resurgence of coups in the region can be traced to unhindered access to arms and light weapons in the sub-region. That is why Nigeria and other West African countries have experienced recurring terrorism, banditry, kidnapping and other violent crimes in recent times. Moreover, the countries in the sub-region share borders that are not adequately policed. This can explain the unrestricted circulation of illegal weapons in West Africa.

Statistics indicate that Nigeria has international land borders of about 4,470 km (2,513 miles) with Chad Republic, Cameroon, Benin and Niger and a coastline of 774km, which are largely unmanned. A 2018 data from the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) equally showed that there were about 1,500 identified land border crossings into Nigeria, with only 114, covering 4,000 square km, approved control posts manned by merely 23,000 Immigration officials and other security agencies. These vulnerable routes are exploited by mischievous individuals to import arms into the country.

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At a time, the United Nations (UN) had raised alarm on the proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) in Nigeria, stressing that over 350 million of an estimated 500 million of such weapons circulating in the West African sub-region were domiciled in the country. The illegal weapons, UN noted, had found their way into unauthorised hands and non-state actors thus constituting huge threats to the existence of the country and the people.

Only recently, soldiers attached to Operation Safe Haven discovered an illegal weapons fabrication factory in Pakachi village, Mangu Local Government Area, Plateau State. Several weapons including five AK-47 rifles, four AK-47 magazines, 21 Dane guns, four revolver rifles, 11 pistols with five magazines, gun barrels (17), and others were recovered in the isolated incident. The circulation of small and light weapons can compromise security. The communal crises in the country and the invasion of settlements by armed gangs are fueled by the presence of lethal weapons.

In the attack in Plateau State on the 2023 Christmas Eve, 161 persons were reportedly killed, and 39,350 displaced in 84 communities in three councils, including Bokkos and Barkin Ladi. Nigeria’s porous borders enhance the importation of illegal weapons into the country. Efforts must be made to police the borders adequately. No country survives politically and economically if it is a haven for proliferation of arms and ammunition. There is an urgent need for continental and sub-regional cooperation to halt the proliferation of arms in the region. President Tinubu’s suggestion is commendable and should be endorsed by other African leaders.

Beyond halting the circulation of illegal weapons in Africa, we urge African leaders to institute good governance on the continent. The violent change of government in Africa can be traced to bad leadership and the penchant of African leaders to remain in power above their term limits.