The proliferation, misuse and illegal possession of small arms and light weapons (SALWs) among global populace is not only at an alarming rate but also seeming becoming a common culture in various societies. In the not-too-distant past, SALWs was very alien to the African society except for the crude and primitively made ones used by hunters in the hinterlands. Today, it has become like the children’s playing tools with grave negative impact and consequences on the sustainable development/growth of many African nations. The incessant tsunamis of political instability, deepening poverty, crimes of armed robberies, assassinations, militancy, oil bunkering, civil wars, ethnic insurgencies to mention just few are all traceable to and fueled by the effects of small arms and light weapons proliferation, which has made the human quest and effort for achieving good governance and poverty alleviation, a very tall order.
In West Africa, the issue of small arms and light weapons is nothing to write home about as its predominance as anti-development tool or a blockade to sustainable development, is felt in every nook and cranny of the sub-region. In capturing the situation, a Nigerian-born ECOWAS Ambassador to Cote D’Ivoire, Amb. Kehinde Olisemeka, at the West Africa International Conference on SALWs (June 2007), organized by WAANSA and ECOSAP and funded by UNDP in Cote D’Ivoire, stated thus, “if small arms and light weapons were a sign of growth and development, West Africa would have been one of the most developed regions in the World”.
Meanwhile, the ECOWAS is indeed, not giving SALWs a breathing space in the sub-region as the effort to control it proliferation, misuse and illegal possession is of critical focus. It started with the setting up of Small Arms Unit (SUA) in its sub-regional secretariat in Abuja and has been using it to initiate and implement several programmes and projects aimed at ensuring effective control of SALWs in the sub-region for many years now. The sub-regional Government, under ECOWAS Protocol on good governance, produced ECOWAS Moratorium for the Import, Export and Manufacture of Small Arms and Light Weapons which was adopted in 1998 and now transformed into a convention for the purpose of shifting the focus from mere "moral persuasion" in curtailing the spread of illicit weapons to "enforcement" of the protocol. It further evolved and implemented Programme for Coordination and Assistance in Security and Development (PCASED) from 1999 – 2005 and supported by UNDP. Just last year, a new agency known as ECOWAS Small Arms Programmes (ECOSAP) was set up as successor to PCASED, still with support of the UNDP and based in Bamako, Mali with the aim of establishing a sustainable system for the control of small arms and light weapons (SALW) in West Africa.. It seeks to achieve its mandate by enhancing the capacity of the Government of the 15-member States through their respective National Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons, commonly called NATCOM for the effective control of SALWs in their countries. ECOSAP is also saddled with the task of engaging and building capacity of civil society organizations (CSOs) in the sub-region for the same purpose through the West African Action Network on Small Arms (WAANSA) headquartered in Ghana.
In executing its mandate, ECOSAP has a strategic partnership with the Media, which it engages for the purpose of its advocacy and communication programmes in the fight against SALWs. This led to the engagement of Journalists (Press and electronics) drawn from the 15-member States through the auspices of WAANSA. Recently, in Bamako, Mali, the sub-regional Journalists were engaged in an ECOSAP-organized
“Experts Meeting to Finalize Advocacy and Communication Strategy Document in West Africa”, from 27th – 30th November 2007 with funding from UNDP Mali. The four-day Bamako Meeting, which was chaired by Col. Sirakoro Sangare – the Chairman of sub-regional NATCOMs also had the distinguished presence of Mr. Djeidi Sylla – the Programme Advisor of UNDP Mali; Mr Jonathan Sandy – the Head/Technical Advisor of ECOSAP and the WAANSA President, Baffour Dokyi Amoa, who was represented by Pepe Michelle.
The resourceful action-plan document serves as a roadmap for the effective control of SALWs in the West Africa sub-region as it defines the vision for the campaign of SALWs control in West Africa and further, spells out the roles of various stakeholders in the campaign and implementation of relevant strategic programmes to achieve its vision and set goals. The involvement of the various stakeholders is elaborately captured in the ACSD) including NATCOMs; National Legislatures; CSOs; the media; the grassroots/communities; trans-border sub-regional and national agencies; the private sector, including the manufacturers, suppliers and contractors of SALWs within and outside the sub-region etc. During the closing formalities of the Bamako Meeting, the sub-regional Journalists which was formally inaugurated as West African Network of Journalists on Security and Development (WANJSD) under the Leadership of Ahmadu Maiga of Mali as President, did official presentation of the body to ECOSAP with the commitment to contribute to improving good governance and small arms control in West Africa for the achievement of ECOWAS agenda, including poverty alleviation and sustainable development.
What is more, it is really thanks to ECOSAP for making West Africa sub-region the first among all the sub-regions in Africa (the Great Lakes region; the Horn of Africa; the Economic Community of Central African States ECCAS; the Southern African Development Community SADC; and North Africa) to incorporate, partner and consequently have a coordinated body of Journalists driving the process of combating SALWs.
In furtherance to this, the ECOWAS had evolved a regionally binding legal instrument known as ECOWAS CONVENTION on small arms and light weapons, their ammunitions and other related materials (2006) and has been signed up by all member States. It is presently undergoing ratification, which must pass through each national legislature for domestication. Uptil now, it is only Niger Republic that has ratified the Convention. In Nigeria, more is left to done, especially by the Yar’Adua Government. The Nigeria’s NATCOM has to be, first of all, domiciled in the Presidency to address issues of lack of funding and bureaucratic hinges to enable it function like other pro-development agencies such as HIV/AIDS (NACA), EFCC and NEITI. Contrary to this, the national fight against the anti-development virus (SALWs) would not be lifted off the ground. If the national fight against financial/economic crimes were left in the hand of a Department in the Ministry of Police Affairs, or that of corruption in the extractive industry in the hand of a Department in either the Ministry of Petroleum/Solid Minerals and that of HIV/AIDS in a Department of the Ministry of Health, then their successes, which have contributed greatly to national growth would not have been realistic. That, Nigeria’s NATCOM is sandwiched in a Department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, may only be misconstrued by many including the International Community, as Yar’Adua Government’s insincerity in fighting against the tool of anti-development in Nigeria. This is very unpleasant considering the influence of Nigeria as the Big Brother in the sub-region, whom the member-States usually look up to and could perhaps be waiting to follow her steps in the convention ratification process.
The 2007 report of the Small Arms Survey, Geneva upholds that
“Nigeria has national firearms legislation that is comprehensive and restrictive, but poorly enforced. The country has signed on to a number of regional and international legal instruments aimed at reducing small arms proliferation, but national committees designated to implementing these measures have been poorly resourced and ineffective. Arms continue to flow into the country, raising questions of whether there is lack of commitment or a lack of capacity to tackle the problem”. This therefore, suffices to state that the Government of Yar’Adua needs to own up to the campaign for the control of small arms and light weapons in Nigeria by bringing out NATCOM from the doldrums and promote ECOWAS effort by ratifying the convention.
Efik is the Port Harcourt Journalist/Development
Organizing Secretary of West Africa Network of Journalists on Security and
Development; working with ECOSAP.
Executive Director, Human Orientation Movement for Environment (HOME).
Member, Nigerian Action Network on Small Arms (NANSA).
Member, West Africa Action Network on Small Arms (WAANSA).
Port Harcourt Correspondent, NGO Network Magazine, Nigeria.
Member, Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), Nigeria.
Group Photograph of Participants at the ECOSAP
Expert Meeting on ACSD in Bamako, Mali.
Some of the Journalists at the Bamako
Expert Meeting on ACSD.
L-R, Kalilu Totancou of Sierra Leone, Surveyor
Efik of Nigeria & Francis Ameyibor of Ghana