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Elections, arms and the country

While presenting the report, the Chairman of the Commission, Professor Chidi Odinkalu called on Nigeria’s leaders, politicians, communities, citizens, and friends to take urgent action…

While presenting the report, the Chairman of the Commission, Professor Chidi Odinkalu called on Nigeria’s leaders, politicians, communities, citizens, and friends to take urgent action to ‘turn the page on a long and worsening history of election violence. He warned that ‘to continue on that trajectory would seriously endanger not just Nigeria or the human rights of its citizens but the peace and security of an entire region whose stability and fate is tied inextricably with that of Nigeria.”
Another report, which was presented last year titled ‘The Violent Road’, and conducted by the National Working Group on Armed Violence (NWGAV),  revealed that all parts of Nigeria are ravaged with armed violence, which has been detrimental to the socio-economic well-being of the country, with 80 per cent of weapons in private hands having been acquired illegally. Apart from the pervasive proliferation of illegal arms in the country, other disturbing developments listed in the report were, communal militias being involved in over 40 per cent of incidents of political violence and over 75 per cent of conflict related fatalities in some states, the high rate of impunity involved in committing armed violence and illegal arms dealers operating in the country unchecked. The report also underscored the fact that the high percentage of violence was being repeatedly perpetrated by those who have done it before without being prosecuted.
With this worrisome forecast, various organisations are doing more to ensure that we have free, fair and peaceful elections. Two days ago, I had the privilege of participating in Tuesday Live, an audience participation programme at Nigeria Television Authority NTA. The programme was anchored by an accomplished journalist, Muhammad Kudu Abubakar and the panel of experts discussed proliferation of arms and its impact on violence and insecurity in an election year.   The panellists were Professor Oshita O Oshita, the Director General of the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Mr. Dixon Orji, Programme Coordinator, Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons, Ambassador Suleiman Dahiru, a diplomat, analyst and public commentator. My humble self represented civil society organisations.
The panel discussion began with a definition of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW). The panellists agreed that there is no universally accepted definition of a ‘small arm’ or of a ‘light weapon’.  However they adopted a Small Arms Survey based on a UN Panel of Governmental Expert’s report which defines SALW as portable ‘weapons that fire a projectile which may be carried by an individual, a small number of people, or transported by a pack animal or a light vehicle.  Among them are: revolvers and self-loading pistols  rifles and carbines, assault rifles, sub-machine guns and light machine guns. For light weapons, they listed hand-held under-barrel and mounted grenade launchers, portable anti-aircraft guns, portable anti-tank guns recoilless rifles, portable launchers of anti-tank missile   and rocket systems.
In their discussion, the panellists expressed concern that armed violence had damaged the economic and social well-being of the country. I stressed the adverse impact of armed conflict on civilians, many of them the vulnerable members of society, women, youth, children and the aged. Panellists also noted that some factors promote arms proliferation. Among these are porous borders, particularly in the North East zone and other parts of the country, arms smuggled from insurgencies in other countries like Mali, Libya, etc. Some socio-economic factors that fuel insecurity and violence that were mentioned by the panellists include:  pervasive poverty and unemployment, drug abuse and gang wars, particularly among the youth, lack of effective parenting, urbanization and breakdown of traditional  community values, simmering  ethno-religious disputes, recruitment and use of thugs by politicians. They expressed concern about the high level of impunity manifested in non application of existing laws to check acquisition of illegal weapons by citizens and non prosecution of those caught with illegal weapons.
Mr Dixon Orji highlighted some of the measures being taken by government to check the proliferation of SALW. Among them is drafting of a bill on the requirements of the Arms Trade Treaty and the Nigerian domestic law. The treaty requires parties to prevent the illicit trade in conventional arms, comprising small arms and light weapons, tanks, missiles, etc., as well as their ammunition, and to prevent their diversion by regulating their transfer. On August 13 2013, Nigeria became the first African country to ratify the Arms Trade Treaty, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on April 2, 2013.
There were contributions from the audience who phoned in to make comments on the topic. Many of them shared the concern of the panellists on issues of socio economic dislocation of our communities, impunity, and non-implementation of signed conventions on arms proliferation, particularly in ECOWAS countries.
The recommendations from the panellists and the audience include advocacy for efficiency in monitoring weapons stockpile and management; marking and tracing of small arms; promoting transparency in Nigeria’s  disarma-ment process and ending  impunity  by bringing perpetrators of violence to justice irrespective of their status in the society. Others are a rigorous analysis of the existing judicial system to ensure its effectiveness in prosecution of cases of illegal arms acquisition. The programme generated immense interest from citizens.

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