Before the 2019 general election commenced yesterday, one major concern was how to contain election-related violence against the backdrop of dangerous arms in the hands of politicians and some youths.
Before yesterday also, allegations had been rife that individuals and some organisations deliberately stock-piled guns for the purpose of obstructing the voting process in order to achieve electoral victory through violence.
The proliferation of illegal arms in Nigeria has been condemned by many people, within and outside the country.
In the last few years, the influx of illegal firearms into the country has raised the apprehension level, causing many to think that 2019 was going to be war.
A look at some of the headlines on illegal arms seizures and concerns over the development since 2015 show how precariously Nigeria is sitting on a keg of gunpowder.
Some of the headlines include, ‘Saving Nigeria from influx of illegal weapons’; ‘Too many illegal arms spell danger’; 21 million guns, ammunition shipped into Nigeria in 7 years’; One arms cache too many, a need for thorough investigation’; 470 guns seized at Lagos Port’; Customs uncovers 1,100 weapons’; Arms import: Frightening details uncovered’; Illegal arms importation: Nigeria Customs chief meets Turkish ambassador’, and ‘Why there are many illegal firearms in Nigeria – Security expert’.
In recent times, involvement of youths in nefarious activities has been on the increase. The worsening youth unemployment and scandalous poverty level in the country have been blamed for the willingness of youths to enlist in violence and other mind-boggling crimes.
For want of meaningful enterprise, a good number of youths are now yielding to the allure of illicit money by enlisting in all manner of clandestine activities. Many of them are known to easily lend themselves to be used of politicians to perpetrate election violence.
Time without number, parents and guardians have been advised by government, agencies and some other institutions to restrain their children and wards from election-related violence.
A few days ago, for instance, the Commandant, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps in Abia, Nnamdi Nwannukwu, advised parents on this. In a statement issued on his behalf by the Public Relations Officer of the Command, Ndukwe Ugwu, he said: “Parents are, by this medium, advised to warn their children and wards to desist from acts capable of breaching the public peace during the general elections.”
The culture of thuggery introduced by the Nigerian brand of politicians who always want to win at all cost may have also given birth to the excessive violence in society.
The political elite have been known to place at the disposal of the thugs, considerable amounts of cash and access to weapons.
With the return of the country to civil rule in 1999, the politicians began to see power as a do-or-die affair, and in the mad crave to win at all cost, they began to acquire dangerous weapons to out-do one another.
The advent of Boko Haram insurgency has severally been blamed on politicians in Borno State of the North East, who, after recruiting and empowering the thugs to carry out all manner of election-related fraud, decided to abandon them as soon as they achieved victory. These political thugs, who now felt being used and dumped, decided to dispense havoc in society.
A political analyst traced the genesis of gun proliferation, thus:“Nigeria was until 1999 a long-standing military dictatorship of an incoherent variety. A rapid succession of regimes through countless coups and regimes changes led to a high attrition rate in the officer corps. The retired officers are known to return to their ethnic home bases with sizeable arms which they put at the disposal of local war lords and ethnic champions. There have been cases where retired military officers have participated in the training, equipping and indoctrination of ethnic militias. A good number of these officers are retired rather prematurely. Having been spoilt by the privileges and perks of high political office, they easily become instruments of political agitation to gain some relevance.”
“Then, you talk about too many illegal guns in wrong hands; and nobody cares. From East to West, and from North to South, the story is the same. Too many arms in the hands of wrong people, and innocent citizens are bearing a huge brunt of the madness,’ he further said.
It was said that the eyes of the Niger Delta youths “got opened” after they had attended in March 1998, the Sani Abacha’s ‘2 Million Man March’ in Abuja organised by the defunct Youths Earnestly Ask for Abacha (YEAA) led by the then youthful Daniel Kanu. The youth, many of whom were militants, and most of whom had not crossed the South-South before, were mobilised by politicians at that time to go sing Abacha’s praise.
During the trip, they saw the splendor that was the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and realised that it was the Niger Delta that yielded the money used in turning a wasteland into a cynosure of eyes. Upon their return to the Niger Delta, they took their militancy to another level- kidnapping oil workers and expatriates in the region. It was also said that by the time the civilian government returned in 1999, the already “militarised” area became more volatile as political actors enlisted the services of the militants to prosecute their political ambitions.
Since then, there’s no looking back. Many of them have become many things, hiding under the struggle for self-determination and agitation for resource control. Many of them have been accused of gun-running and of high level kidnapping.
Today, many parts of the Niger Delta are “gunarised”. Some of the “warlords”, who have their abodes in the creeks, are controlling huge cache of dangerous arms, more sophisticated than even the ones being owned by the state.
In the South East, although the struggle for the revisit of Biafra was initially a peaceful move, it appears that the latter-day agitators are not all brandishing olive branches. The Nigerian Police and military have severally accused them of bearing dangerous arms. The allegation may not necessarily be dismissed by a wave of the hand considering the level of criminality going on in that region.
In the South West, some of the “area boys” (street urchins), who were vibrant in the days when the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) only depended on charms and machetes as their only potent weapons, have graduated into arm-carrying.
Many of themare said to have since been hijacked by politicians who equipped them with dangerous weapons. Today, whenever and wherever they choose to demonstrate, residents in that area go to bed while it is still day. They carry out a reign of terror and violence in society, nowadays.
The north has since been militarised by the advent of all manner of terrorists. The large number of illiterate youths in the north has made it easier for politicians to mobilise them for election-related violence.
A serious problem at hand
Many years ago, whenever robbers heard that the police were coming, they would naturally take to their heels, because they had lesser sophisticated firearms than the security agencies; not so any longer.
Lamenting the danger of the illegal arms in the hands of criminals, Chidi Amuta, a publicist and former university don, said that today, it appears that the state has lost the capacity to guarantee security of lives and property.
Amuta, who made the observation during an exclusive interview with BDSUNDAY, said: “The capacity of the state to guaranteeing security of lives and property is also a function of the state of the economy. It is the duty of the state to buy guns; to maintain a police force, military and all which is superior to those of the ones challenging them. But a situation where non-state actors are now challenging the state, in the area where the state used to have monopoly; then there is problem.”
“In those days if you hear that government is coming, you run away because government has uniform and has guns. But today, uniforms and guns are no longer a monopoly. In fact, non-state actors- the militants and all the others- have bigger guns. Theirs is even more frightening. Armies and soldiers have a protocol for deployment of forces. Now, a militant or terrorist has no protocol, they have no rule of engagement; in fact, the bigger the gun a person wields, the more the person is a commander. And as a result of that, insecurity which breeds instability becomes the order of the day,” he further said.
Giving some words of advice, Kate Abiama, a trained psychologist, said: “It is not just enough to wish that the 2019 general election will be free from violence. Mere wishing may not guarantee that. It is therefore, incumbent on government, relevant agents of government, the media, the religious bodies and everybody to see it as a challenge to ensure that desperate politicians do not turn the country into a war zone this time around.”
“This can be done through profuse mass sensitisation and education. People must be sufficiently reminded about the danger of electoral violence and the need for those prone to fall into that recruitment web to resist such temptation,” sheadded.
The need to rid the Nigerian society of illegal arms has become so urgent as no one is immune from being attacked. Recently, the Governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima, somewhere in his state as the governor was returning from a campaign engagement. Although the governor escaped unhurt, some of his aides were killed in that attack believed to have come from members of the Islamist sect, Boko Haram.
Last Thursday, reports had it that the convoy of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was shot at in a part of Kwara State during a house-to-house campaign for the presidential election that held yesterday.
Good leadership as an antidote
Analysts have said that the solution to gun-running could be found in good leadership in the country. They argue that since the genesis of the problem has to do with bad governance, good governance could hold good hope.
“As bad leadership begets bad conduct in society, it goes without saying that good leadership will beget good conduct,” Donatus Echere, who runs a youth-based outfit, said.
According to Echere, “If you look around today, you will see hundreds of unemployed youths, able-bodied, doing nothing but roaming the streets. Some of the youth, after graduating with good grades, go back home to join their mummies in frying akara (bean cakes), instead of having meaningful jobs that would enhance, not only their wellbeing, but those of their parents who have suffered to see them through university education. It is such frustration that pushes some of them to embrace all manner of anti-social behaviour in their quest to survive.”
“Although there is no justification to commit crime, bad leadership (politically) in the country has contributed so much in inducing the youth into crime. When there is good leadership that addresses the youth problem, I think we will begin to see less of these youth-related crimes,” Echere said.
Collins Abe, a Systems engineer, believes that the youth of these days are being unjustly treated by a “wicked” older generation.
“If you look at almost all the sectors, they are being dominated by the older generation. In the political scene, it is only the same older people, the same names we have heard several decades ago that are still dominating.We are in an election period now, many of these so-called leaders have since sent their families abroad. They are hoping to grab power by the votes of other children of other people. Some of them have armed some of these boys with dangerous weapons to commit all manner of electoral fraud for them to achieve their selfish ends. These youths are being paid peanuts for risking their lives. This is not fair and we insist that it must stop.”