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1.1 Background to the Study

The proliferation of small arms and light weapons is one of the major security challenges currently facing Nigeria, Africa and indeed the world in general. The trafficking and wide availability of these weapons fuel communal conflict, political instability and pose a threat, not only to national security, but also to sustainable development. The widespread proliferation of small arms is contributing to alarming levels of armed crime, and militancy.

 The increasing pace of violence across the globe, with major occurrence in Africa, has brought about renewed focus on small and light weapons control. It is estimated that there is an approximate of 875 million small arms in circulation across the globe, including those stockpiled and in private procession, produced by over 1000 companies and generating trade excess of US$8.5 billion (Karp, 2007). Out of this ominous volume, governments and state militaries possess 200 million while 26 million weapons are within the control of the law enforcement agencies. Similarly, Chelule (2014) noted that there are about half a billion military small arms around the world; each year between 300,000 to half a million people around the world are killed by these weapons and every minute someone is killed by a gun; 90% of civilians are casualties by small arms because the civilians get access to purchase more than 80% of the arms produced in the world. To establish the extent of this threat in Africa, Bah (2004) asserts that out of an approximate of 500 million illicit weapons in circulation worldwide, an estimate of 100 million are in Sub-Saharan Africa with eight to ten million concentrated in the West African sub-region alone. This portentous trend further reveals that Africa needs strategic intervention.

Small arms proliferation has been particularly devastating in Africa where machine guns, rifles, grenades, pistols and other small arms have killed and displaced many civilians across the continent (Allison, 2006). The result of this rapid expansion of weapons according to Allison (2006) is that the weapons, their parts and ammunition are more easily diverted from their intended destination. Consequently, countries with fewer and less strict gun regulations become the destination points. War-torn or post-conflict nations which are common in Africa portend a profitable market for the sale of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW). The guns have thus far fostered instability in the West African region, worsened the security of the region, weakened the power of the government and provided a motivation for poverty to thrive.

At the national level, Nigeria continues to rely on the National Firearms Act of 1959 as the legal instrument governing small arms possession, manufacture and the use in the country as amended even though the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Decree No.5 was promulgated in 1984 and later the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act. In July 2000, the Nigerian government proposed and established a National Committee on the Proliferation and Illicit Trafficking in Small Arms and Light Weapons the purpose of which was to determine the sourcing illegal small arms and collect information on small arms proliferation in Nigeria. In May 2001, the government established a second committee aimed at implementing the 1998 ECOWAS Moratorium. These two committees were later merged into a single committee. The committee has accomplished little due to lack of political will, financial support, technical expertise, and institutional capacity. Consequently, there were renewed efforts in 2007 to revive the activities of the Committee and legislation is being written to convert the Committee into a national commission. It requested support from the ECOWAS Small Arms Programme to conduct the survey and to undertake other activities in support of the implementation of the 2006 ECOWAS Convention (Hazen and Horner, 2007). Inaugurated in 2001, the NATCOM is responsible for the registration and control of SALW, and granting of permits for exemptions under the ECOWAS Moratorium (Chuma-Okoro, 2011).

Despite these national-efforts, the rate of accumulation of SALW is increasing and becoming endemic as various forms of violence and casualties are in the recent times recorded in the country. There is lack of capacity and strong legal or effective institutional frameworks to regulate SALW and combat the phenomenon of SALW proliferation in Nigeria, particularly Northern part of Nigeria (Chuma-Okoro, 2011). More fundamentally, the Nigeria is yet to deal with the demand factors of SALW proliferation preferring to dwell on the symptoms rather than the root causes. The demand factors are the root causes of SALW proliferation, because if there is no demand, there will not be supply. Consequently, Nigeria now features prominently in the three-spot cline of transnational organised trafficking of SALWs in West Africa: origin, transit route and destination. Weapons in circulation in Nigeria come from local fabrication, residue of guns used during the civil war, thefts from government armouries, smuggling, dishonest government-accredited importers, ethnic militias, insurgents from neighbouring countries and some multinational oil corporations operating in the oil-rich but crisis-plagued Niger Delta. When and where these SALWs are deployed, human security has been the main victim.

These were the motivations for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Convention of Small arms and Light Weapons in 2006. The highlights of the Convention include the a ban on international small arms transfers (except those for legitimate self-defence and security needs, or for peace support operations); a ban on transfers of small arms to non-state actors that are not authorized by the importing member state; procedures for shared information; stringent regulatory scheme for anyone wishing to possess small arms and strong management standards to ensure the security of weapons stockpiles.

It is in consonance with the highlight of the 2006 SALW Convention and other subsequent attempt of ECOWAS to tackle the issues of gun control that this study attempts to examine the challenges of ECOWAS in combating Small and Light Arms in Africa.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

The dimensions and persistence of conflicts in West Africa has created a favourable outlet for the sale of arms and other light weapons. Chiekh (2005) noted that these conflicts have had the combined effect of sucking in millions of illicit small arms, making the Mano River Basin (comprising Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and, by extension, Côte d’Ivoire) an attractive and profitable theatre for illicit arms merchants, mercenaries and other non-state actors. These unstable conditions make it difficult to regulate arms sales and movements. More so, the dealings in Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALWs) have been a source of income for countries who are engaged in the production of guns. Apart from the direct sales of guns and light weapons, weapons are traded with West Africans for natural resources such as rubber, timber and, most importantly, diamonds (Chiekh, 2005). This barter system has made the running of SALW beneficial to both parties.

In West Africa, the uneven implementation of regional agreements leaves loopholes that arms traffickers can utilize for their nefarious trade. These traffickers are usually quick to adopt trade routes where national controls are weak, and often take advantage of insufficient cooperation between border control authorities or differences in national regulation. These trends have necessitated the quest for a framework for the implementation of the ECOWAS convention and the need for a broad based inter-sectoral platform and collaboration between government and agencies, and local communities. So far, the ECOWAS convention is still undergoing harmonization with local arms law in the various national parliaments of member states.

About 350 million of the 500 million Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALWs) in West Africa are in Nigeria. This is a whopping 70 per cent of the West African sub-region’s SALWs, 90 per cent of which are in the hands of non-state actors. Yet the situation only promises to grow worse with the influx of weapons from the residue of the conflicts in Libya and Mali (This Day, 2016). What this has revealed clearly is that there is a growing market for SALWs in the country and government ought to intervene more decisively to stem the ugly tide. The insurgency in the North-East, the resurgence of militancy in the Niger Delta, the menace of herdsmen in the North-Central and the rising wave of violent crimes, including armed robbery and kidnappings, particularly in the South-East and the South-West of the country are directly linked to the upsurge in SALWs even as they demonstrate the concrete negative impact on national efforts at integration and development.

To deal with these challenges, government needs to key into the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons. In light of this, it is pertinent to note that while Nigeria is a signatory to the ECOWAS protocols, the National Assembly is yet to pass the bill concerning the establishment of the National Commission against the Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons. Indeed, Nigeria is the only West African country that does not have the commission that is saddled with the responsibility of tracking the spread of SALWs. In like manner, the archaic 1959 Firearms Act that regulates the use of firearms in the country is yet to be amended by the federal legislature.

These challenges as it applies to states in West Africa have not only hampered the economic development of the individual states but that of the region also, putting both lives and property in danger. The proliferation of these small arms and the new emergent trend in violence in the region put to question the efficacy and general commitment of ECOWAS to combating this menace (Bashir, 2014). The research is therefore an attempt to critically evaluate the challenges and prospects of ECOWAS in combating small and light arms proliferation in the region vis-à-vis the effects of small and light weapon proliferation in West Africa.

1.3 Objective of the Study

The main objective of the study is to investigate the efforts and challenges of ECOWAS in its bid to control the proliferation of Small and Light Arms in the West African region. The specific objectives are to:

1.      trace the flow and distribution of small and light arms in West Africa;

2.      assess the instruments used by Ecowas in combating Small and Light Arms in the West Africa;

  1. examine Ecowas border control methodologies and its protocol on free movement of people and goods in light of the proliferation of small and light arms in West Africa;
  2. ascertain the extent to which Nigeria has implemented the Ecowas Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons and
  3. probe the effects of domestic laws on the general objectives of Ecowas Small Arms Control Programme vis-à-vis the extent to which the Nigerian Fire Arms law has curbed the proliferation of small and light arms in Nigeria.

1.4 Research Questions

The following research questions would be addressed in the course of the research, serving as a guideline to the attainment of the research objectives:

1.      How are Small and Light Arms distributed across West Africa?

2.      In what ways do ECOWAS use its instruments to combat the proliferation of Small and Light Arms in West Africa?

3.      How does ECOWAS ensure border control without hindering its protocol on free movement of people and goods in light of the proliferation of Small and Light Arms in West Africa?

4.      To what extent has Nigeria implemented the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons?

5.      How do domestic laws, most especially the Nigeria Fire Arms Law, affect the general objectives of ECOWAS Small Arms Control Programme on the proliferation of Small and Light Arms in Nigeria?

1.5       Significance of the Study              

            The study is timely and would be significant in the following key areas. It would contribute to the existing body of literature on the proliferation of Small and Light Weapons in West Africa. Previous studies have examined the proliferation of small and light weapons in Africa; however, this contemporary perspective would examine emerging trend of the menace and serve to stir up future studies pertaining to the role of ECOWAS in combating the proliferation of small and light arms in ECOWAS.

            While ECOWAS has been engaged in tackling security and economic growth in the region, there is a need for the evaluation of its successes and challenges which would be provided by this study. It is through the evaluation of its performance that ECOWAS can identify areas of challenge especially as regards barriers to the fight against SALW. Thus, the study aims to provide information on ways ECOWAS can achieve its security objectives. The heterogeneous nature of institutions and individuals included in the study would provide ECOWAS with information that will aid effective collaboration and synergy with other institutions. Since ECOWAS cannot tackle arms proliferation alone, it needs the partnership and support of national governments and institutions to achieve its goals.

1.6       Methodology: The study is a qualitative research however it adopts the descriptive mode of analysis. The interview method was adopted as a primary method of data collection, while secondary data was obtained from sources on the phenomenon of interest such as United Nations reports, books, journals, magazines, newspapers and internet sources. The researcher adopted the content analysis method to analyse the data collected from the interview. Using the stratified random sampling, the population drawn from the ECOWAS Headquarters, Nigerian Police Force, the Nigerian Customs, the Nigerian Army and the Nigeria chapter of the West African Action Network on Small Arms, was categorized into subsets

In line with the study objectives and considering the total number of institutions that play key role in the actualization of the ECOWAS objectives, a total of twenty (20) officials were drawn from the Nigerian Police Force, Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Customs, ECOWAS Small Arms Control Programme in Nigeria and Nigerian chapter of the West African Action Network on Small Arms.  

From the Nigeria Police Force, Nigeria Customs and the Nigeria Army, four officials each were selected as respondents from the two busiest Nigerian borders Seme land border and the Apapa seaport (Ndubuisi & Eromosele, 2017). This summed up to 12 respondents. Four senior staff from the ECOWAS Small Arms Control Programme and four members of the Nigeria chapter of the West African Action Network on Small arms knowledgeable about the ECOWAS convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons were selected using the tenets of purposive sampling.

1.7       Scope of the Study

This study would be from 2006-2016. The choice of 2006 as a start point is because the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, their Ammunition and other Related Materials, which is the primal instrument of ECOWAS used in this study, was adopted on the 14th of June, 2006.

The focus of this study is to examine the challenges and prospects of ECOWAS in the control of Small and Light Weapons (SALW) in West Africa. Thus, the study examined the internal and external arms movement within and outside the region as well as the multiplicity of arms sources in the region. In addition to the foregoing, the emphasis was on the insecurity situation of the region due to the proliferation of small arms which is cheap, easy to operate and transport across borders.

1.8       Organization of the Study

The first chapter of the study presents an overview of the entire research with focus on the background of the study and the statement of research problems. The research objectives and research questions bothering on the role of ECOWAS in the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, significance of the study, scope and limitation of the study and structure of the research was presented. Also, the methodology of the research was stated.

Chapter two examines scholarly literature on various perspectives on small and light weapons, its effect within the African continent as well as the role of ECOWAS in combating the proliferation. The available literature justified the negative effects of the proliferation of SALW and x-rayed the actions taken by ECOWAS to address the menace.

Chapter three discussed how Nigeria as a member state of ECOWAS has imbued the convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons as a legal instrument in the country. The application of the convention and provisions of similar laws was also taken into consideration.

Chapter four presents the data collected from the field and analyses them according to the research questions. The findings of this study were also discussed in-depth.

Chapter five states the summary of the study. Also, the conclusion, recommendations and suggestions for further studies were duly stated

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