Establish National Commissions on Small Arms, Light Weapons, UNOWAS Urges Nigeria, Gambia

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By Chinelo Chikelu, Abuja 

Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWAS), Mohammed Ibn Chambas has urged Nigeria and the Gambia to establish National Commissions to tackle the proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALWs), in line with the ECOWAS Small Arms Convention.

Chambas, who is the also the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, made the call at the parliamentary conference aimed at the harmonization of national and regional legislations of ECOWAS countries to contain small arms and terrorist financing.

The parliamentary conference entitled the Legislative Actions for the Containment of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALWs) Proliferation and Terrorist Financing, was organized by the ECOWAS Parliament and the National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS).

According to Chambas, of all the 15-member states of ECOWAS, Nigeria and the Gambia are yet to establish their national commissions since the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons came into effect in 2009.

Although impressed by the role played by Nigeria’s Presidential Committee on SALWs, he called on Nigerian parliamentarians to ensure a legal backing for the committee to enhance its institutional capacity and authority.

Chambas urged parliamentarians and security related officials at the conference to come-up with practical actions to address the scourge of SALWs proliferation, and violent extremism indirectly aided by SALWs. He also urged the conference to highlight the need to support the implementation of existing national and regional tools and mechanisms. “We do not need to reinvent the wheel. There is an impressive repertoire of sub-regional, continental and global policy instruments to address small arms and money laundering in the ECOWAS sub-region,” stressed Chambas.

He noted that to address the root causes of conflict which promote the widespread of SALWs, west African governments must tackle deficits in governance which breed schism in the community and state levels. “As long as there are deficits in governance, such as exclusion, corruption, lack of respect for rule of law and unaccountability, antagonistic relations and violent conflicts inevitably arise,” said Chambas.

On the issue of localized production of arms in West Africa which he said represents 50 per cent of the seven to ten million illicit SALWs circulating in Africa, Chambas advised ‘homegrown initiatives which takes into account hybrid local security realities’. These initiatives he stressed, will address links between small arms proliferation and violent extremism.

He finally urged participants at the conference to focus on border communities closer to West Africa’s porous borders. These communities furthest from ECOWAS States capital cities, “the security sector may be both largely absent, lacking in respect for human rights where it is present, leaving citizens and communities vulnerable to exploitation by extremists and armed groups,” Chambas concluded.