BY OGUNTADE ISMAILA, Abuja
In response to the challenges posed by arms proliferation in the country, the Nigerian Navy says it is set to return to the ports 30 years after it vacated the nation’s seaports.
This is coming barely two days after President Muhammadu Buhari approved the establishment of the National Centre for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (NCCSALW) which would be domiciled at the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA).
According to the chief of naval staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo, the navy will return to the ports 30 years after it left the task of monitoring incoming goods and persons for the officials of the Nigerian Customs and Immigration Services in order to correct the anomaly at the seaports and to effectively secure the county’s sea borders against influx of light weapons.
The naval chief who made the disclosure during a webinar to mark the 100 days of service chiefs in office said, “We have realised that arms are circulating indiscriminately and their effects are devastating. Our efforts in combating their proliferation must therefore be viewed as contributing to the good, rather than a zero-sum game.
“We are pushed by the fact that killing and neutralising of terrorists while these weapons still flow in will do us no good. This is because the right to life and the right to live in freedom and dignity are rights that all Nigerians must uphold in various fora.”
LEADERSHIP reports that Nigeria is indeed beset with a lot of security problems such as Boko Harm, militancy, kidnapping, banditry, drug trafficking, illegal arms smuggling, and criminality that erode national security.
The naval boss, who acknowledged that no country can survive economically, socially and politically in a climate of insecurity, said the Navy is also worried about the role of local manufacturers, which represents a major impediment to development on many fronts, due to a thriving arms economy that feeds the interests of mercenaries, warlords and armed groups.
He said, ‘‘The Navy has been out of the ports for three decades. We are working with the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to establish port commandant at the seaports.’’
Gambo also said the military is investing more in intelligence – both human and technology-driven intelligence.
Recently, former head of state, Abdusalami Abubakar, had during a meeting of the National Peace Committee (NPC) in Abuja on April 8 revealed that the number of small arms in circulation in Nigeria, in the hands of civilian non-state actors was estimated at 6,145,000, while the armed forces and law enforcement agencies collectively account for only 586,600 firearms.
On his part, the chief of defence staff (CDS), General Lucky Irabor said the Armed Forces had made significant progress in the fight against insurgency .
“No nation, state or region is immune from the dangers posed by the illicit trade in and the proliferation of small arms and weapons,” he noted.
The CDS argued that if not for their giant strides in taming the rising spate of insecurity, the damage done to the country would have been worse.
Irabor called on Nigerians who are sincerely concerned about the terrifying and soaring wave of insecurity to help the military with vital information that will help them win the war against insecurity.
He said the armed forces will work to improve their operational strength to meet the 21st century crisis.
While chronicling current landmark achievements by the military in tackling security challenges, he said within the period under review, the Armed Forces of Nigeria had liberated communities and arrested many criminal elements (terrorists, bandits, kidnappers, cattle rustlers, etc.) across the country.
For his part, the chief of air staff, Air Marshal Oladayo Amao, reeled out some of the major achievements of the air force to include the acquisition of JF-17 Thunder Multi-Role attack aircraft acquired from Pakistan, among others.
Meanwhile, experts in the maritime sector have described as unnecessary the plan by the Nigerian Navy to resume at the seaport.
President, Shippers Association of Lagos State (SALS), Rev. Jonathan Nicol, said, “Nigeria Customs is para-military and saddled with the responsibility of opening up containers for examination and I am convinced they are up to the task.”
“The Nigerian navy should be concerned with our territorial waters and the Gulf of Guinea (GoG), where we have so much security challenges bedeviling the country.
“Already, we have government agencies at the port doing almost the same thing such that it is difficult to exit cargoes from the seaports, so why will they want to add to the burden?” he asked.
“They should concentrate on the coastal waters where piracy is expected to be combated. Also, I believe that the bulk of the small arms and ammunition are not coming in through the seaports but through the porous borders because of the hassles involved in 100 percent examination.
“There is already a technology from the Nigerian Shippers Council to track and see cargoes, so they should key into that initiative to know the types of cargoes that will be coming into the country.
“We don’t need an additional agency at the port because shippers that own cargoes coming to Nigerian seaports are already overburdened by the activities of government agencies at the port.”
The National President, Africa Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics in Nigeria (APFFLON), Otunba Frank Ogunojemite on his part said as far as he is concerned, Navy personnel at the seaports would not solve the proliferation of light and small arms into the country, rather, the government should ensure the implementation of the Cargo Tracking Note (CTN) as that will help the government to know the type of cargo coming into the country, whether small arms are in them.
“Also, the government should collaborate with countries of origin because most containers busted are due to information from the country of origin.
“Also, what is wrong with the scanners at the seaports? The government should put them into work also. They should inform us about the purchase of scanners. We should put the scanners into use and they should function accordingly.”
Ogunojemite advised that rather than compact the place, the land borders should be adequately secured and security system reviewed to make use of technology to secure the border.