Nigeria’s entry points are vulnerable, as caches of arms have been discovered by Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) mostly at the ports. Customs in 2017 recorded the seizure of shipments of 2,761 pump action rifles, and it said all the four shipments intercepted from Turkey were false declarations on the bills of landing, showing a case of smuggling.
In January 2018, a container loaded with 49 boxes of 661 pump action arms was intercepted. The rifles were laden in a Mack truck before it was intercepted along Mile 2 Apapa Road, Lagos. Three suspects who were arrested in connection with this illegal importation were: Mr. Oscan Okafor, Importer, Mr. Mahmud Hassan, Clearing Agent and Mr. Sadique Mustapha, who was accompanying the consignment to its destination. Still in 2017, in March, Customs intercepted a container-load of arms and ammunition at a bonded terminal ‘Ports and Cargo Terminal’ of the Tin Can Island Ports. Sources at the Zone A Unit of Customs had said the cargo of 440 guns was shipped in from Turkey. The consignment was earlier declared as white cement. In all, Customs said it seized nearly 4,000 guns in the various operations and catchment of cartridges at its Niger/Kwara/Kogi Command.
Smuggling of arms has been recurring over the years. In October, 2010, crates of weapons including rocket launchers and mortars loaded from Iran were seized in Nigeria. However, the French shipping group, CMA CGM, said it had been the victim of a false cargo declaration and that the weapons and ammunitions were in sealed containers which had been declared as “packages of glass wool and pallets of stone.”
The French shipping firm said the shipper had requested that the containers be re-loaded and shipped to Gambia, further round the West African coast, and that it had obtained customs documents and clearance for the voyage.
The arms were intercepted in 13 containers in Lagos containing rocket launchers, grenades and other explosives and ammunition.
At that time, Israeli media reports, citing Israeli defense officials, have suggested the weapons may have been destined for Hamas Islamists in Gaza and that a new smuggling route was being tested. Israel says its arch-foe Iran bankrolls attempts to ship weapons to the Gaza Strip by sea or land routes. Iran said its support for Hamas was diplomatic only.
The seizure came weeks after car bombs killed at least 10 people near an Independence Day parade in the capital Abuja on October 1.
There have been concerns over widespread illegal arms across the country.
National Task Force to combat illegal importation, smuggling of goods, small arms, ammunition and light-weapons, (NATFORCE), said 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. This was contained in a submission by it Director-General, Mr Osita Okereke, to the National Assembly to ratify a bill for a National Commission for the Prohibition of all illegal importation of Small Arms, Ammunitions and Light Weapons.
According to him, trafficking and wide availability of these weapons fuel communal conflicts, political instability and pose a threat, not only to national security, but also to sustainable development.
He pointed out that “the widespread proliferation of small arms is contributing to alarming levels of armed crime and militancy” and there is an urgent need to ratify the bill for the establishment of the Commission.
“The need for the timely passage of this bill by the 9th National Assembly cannot be overemphasized considering the present realities in our dear country,” Okereke said. Okereke explained that the bill, when passed and signed by the president, will bring to an end illegal arms proliferation as well as incessant banditry and kidnapping in the country. He however regretted that the inability of successive National Assemblies to pass the bill for the establishment of the Commission is hampering efforts of the organization and expressed optimism that the 9th National Assembly would accord the bill the seriousness it deserves.
The bill is in conformity with 2006 ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons and would address the problem of proliferation.
Some of the functions of the proposed Commission include: Promoting removal of arms from society through the collection, storage, destruction, management and stockpiling of small arms and light weapons; Controlling the manufacture of small arms and light weapons by monitoring and regulating activities of the local arms manufacturers; Registration of small arms and light weapons as well as arms used in peacekeeping operations; updating the register of small arms and light weapons before transmitting same to ECOWAS, African Union (AU) and United Nations (UN), establishing programmes of action to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, and sensitizing the public on the need to submit illegally-held small arms and light weapons to security services.