Legal Regime for the Regulation of Firearms in Nigeria: The Need for an Amendment to Curb the Growing Threat to State Existence
Numbers are indicators of a certain phenomenon and the numbers regarding the possession of firearms, both licit and illicit, according to GunPolicy.org, supported by the United Nation Trust Facility Supporting Cooperation on Arms Regulation (UNSCAR) indicate that stricter measures need to be in place to avert security threats founded on firearms possession. The estimated number of firearms privately owned by civilians both licit and illicit is 2,000,000 which confers the rank of 34th out of 178 countries about the number of privately owned guns in a country. The Military reports that it only possesses 179,550 firearms while the police are reported to have 360,000. The estimate of unlawful guns in circulation in Nigeria range from 1,000,000 to a staggering 350,000,000. Since 1994 to 2015 81, 566 homicides have occurred through firearms. (GunPolicy 2015). In Nigeria, associations and vigilante groups have enough fire power to constantly pin down the masses hence their evolution into security threats and terror groups as we see with the evolution of the Herdsmen and the Boko Haram Terror group. Hence the need to review the existing legislation for firearms control in Nigeria.
THE FIREARM REGIME IN NIGERIA
The principal legislation for firearms control in Nigeria is the Firearms Act (Chapter 146 of the Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1990). According to the Firearms Act, section 23 provides that no person can manufacture or repair a firearm except at a public armory or at arsenals for the armed forces with the consent of the President and only the Inspector General of Police (IGP) may in his discretion, grant permission via a permit to manufacture guns and shall maintain a register according to section 24. Almost every month, illegal firearm factories are found across Nigeria in Abuja, Nasarawa, Delta, Ebonyi, Plateau, Lagos, Osun, Niger and Benue, with some claiming to have gotten the required permit from the Inspector General.
The Firearms Act in Part V limits the importation and exportation of guns specifically section 18 limits importation and exportation while section 19 allows guns listed in Part I of the Schedule to the act to be imported or exported provided the individual has a license duly granted by the president. Section 20 allows for importation of guns listed in Part II and III of the Schedule to the Act provided the individual has a license, it is part of his personal effects and the form of deceleration is filled out stating he will surrender such weapon to a public armory with the terms of a temporary permit for possession issued by the Inspector General, he is in transit to another country and will submit the firearms while he is in Nigeria to custom or the Police, he is a registered firearms dealer and lastly he gives an undertaking that he will consequently apply for a license. Shipping companies are paid to import illegal guns in Nigeria.
According to the Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service, Hameed Ali, in 2017, more than 5000 pump action rifles were seized all imported through Shipping Firm Channels. During the trial of one of the suspects involved in illicit importation of firearms, a confessional statement was made, before the trial court that ₦1,000,000 was distributed between the State Security Service and the Custom Officials to facilitate the removal of the guns from the ports. He stated emphatically that this was a norm for almost all illegal importers of firearms, another customs officer confessed that a bribe was received totaling up to ₦8,000,000 for the importation of firearms. In 2017, Ailabogie Aikpaojie was paraded by the Lagos State Acting Commissioner of Police, for various crimes committed with other alleged criminals, he revealed that the offence of unlawful possession of firearms which he was being paraded for came as a surprise to him, since he bought the three-pump action single barreled gun from the state command armory as well as a 9mm Pistol.
Gun smuggling is rampant in Nigeria, with armed group supporters within the oil industry or political parties and even members of the state government provides guns or the required funds and contacts to buy them. Nigeria is one of the nations which provides the highest amount of personnel for United Nations Peace Keeping Missions. Most of the personnel involved in peace keeping missions such as, ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), ECOWAS mission in Liberia (ECOMIL), and ECOWAS Mission in Côte d’Ivoire (ECOMICI) reportedly bring back seized arms for resale after being redeployed (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva).
Apart from the issues highlighted above other issues persist such as, mandatory back ground checks are hardly carried out, firearm safety training is hardly put in place, there is little or no public licensing records and the methods provided for tracing and marking of firearms by the Firearms Act are prehistoric.
PROPOSED CHANGES TO THE FIREARMS ACT AND SUGGESTED ACTIONS TO BE TAKEN BY THE NIGERIAN GOVERNMENT AND AFRICA
The scourge of illegal manufacturers of firearms can be treated in a more profitable method than what is being done today. Most of the guns found with illegal manufacturers are taken into police custody and are either resold on the black market or used under illegal auspices. The Firearms act should provide that apart from the minimum punishment of 10 years, illegal manufacturing plants can be put under the management of the Defense Industries Corporation of Nigeria (DICON) and their firearms adjusted properly to conform with the DICON standards. Another provision which can be in place is the destruction of firearms found in the manufacturing plants and the shutting down permanently of such sites.
Importation of Firearms into the country through illegal channels is an issue faced by almost 90% of the states on the face of the African continent. Routes such as the Sahel Trade Route, the Swaziland Trade Route, the Somalian Trade Route, the Democratic Republic of Congo Trade Route and the Turkey Trade Route have become infamous for the lack of proper personnel in place to stop such importation and the laxity of security personnel due to bribes being paid. Though the Africa Union has implemented the recommendation of the United Nations by having a Program of Action (PoA) for Small Arms and Light Weapons, it is not enough. The organization has no treaty or convention in place to crack down on arm smuggling and aid national components in strengthening their firearm regimes. A convention or treaty should be in place to fill such lacuna as well a guide member states, hold conferences on small arms and light weapons and allow information exchange by the military and their respective security agencies on how to stop the flow of firearms. The organization should also have a bilateral agreement with Interpol and other regional organizations to tackle the menace on a global level. The Firearms Act expressly forbids importation of firearms but has no provision for officers of customs or security agent who aid and abet in the importation of firearms. It is recommended that the act makes provision for such and stipulate penalties for officers and security personnel who break such laws. The Arms Trade Treaty is a laudable convention which seeks to prevent the flow of illicit weapons, Nigeria has ratified the convention but has taken no steps to domesticate it. It is advised that the treaty be domesticated and read in line with Part V of the Firearms Act.
The issue of smuggling can be solved with new methods of marking and tracing firearms stipulated in the firearms act and developed by licensed manufacturers in Nigeria including DICON. The Firearms Regulations should contain new methods for marking weapons which are in pari materia with the 21st century movement from metal to polymer and 3D printed weapons. A unique marking should be applied to an essential or structural component of the firearm, on an exposed surface, conspicuous, recognizable, readable, durable and as far as technically possible, recoverable. At the time of the manufacture of the weapon, the name of the manufacturer and the country it was manufactured should be marked on the weapon along with the year, month, serial number and firearm type.
After manufacture, importation and exportation marks should be made from the country it was exported from or imported to. When in possession of government and security forces it should be marked with a specific armory number either government or state, with the date of entry into the armory and the date of its release into a different armory or civilian possession. Firearms without proper marking should be marked or properly destroyed. Databases of properly marked gun can be used to trace weapons and cut the sources of the smuggling chain and punitive measures can be implemented. Armories without proper databases and marking methods should be prohibited from seizing and possessing weapons until their databases are corrected and established with proper marking methods.
DICON should be allowed to constantly carry out checks on armories and manufacturers especially those who purchase guns from the Industry with their distinct serial number on the firearms to be able to trace the weapons effectively. Guns not found in the respective armories stipulated by the database should be traced and if found, the armory or security agency meant to be in custody of such weapon should be properly queried and punitive measures are to be placed to ensure proper care and vigilance over such weapons.
For licenses to be given to individuals, the regulations should provide for the proper background check and mental checks needed to be in place for an intending licensee to be able to wield a weapon. A medical report from a hospital showing proper motor skills, a report from a psychologist showing sound mental health and a letter of good conduct from a notary republic should be submitted to the IGP of police for a license to be granted. The regulations should also stipulate that the intending licensee should be able to pass a proper shooting range test. The records of licenses granted should be made public and digital to enable citizens report misfeasance by licensees and to allow the police constantly to update the records as it is easily accessible. The pressure from the eyes of the polity will make the police ensure the records proper maintenance.
Most of the solutions proposed will not ensure the end of the blight of firearms in Nigeria but it will ensure its reduction. The Firearms Act and its subsidiary legislations need to be updated to keep up with the 21st century firearm smuggling trends as well as the illicit firearms market. With the threat of tribal breakdowns, religious clashes and political misadventures, Nigeria is a ticking time bomb. The presence of illicit weapons just quickens the explosion countdown and the law has a quintessential part to play in stopping the countdown. In the words of Eliot Pitzer “yes, people pull the trigger-but guns are the instrument of death. Gun control is necessary and delay means more horror and death.”