The Federal Government, as part of its broader strategy to stop the illicit flow of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) into the country has moved to strengthen the Firearms laws in the country through the proposed amendment of the 1959 Nigerian Firearm Act and the Firearms Act CAP F28 LFN 2004.
This was the focus of the Two-day Experts Roundtable on the Repeal of the Nigerian “Firearms Act” organized by the Presidential Committee on SALW (PRESCOM) to examine administrative mechanisms and laws controlling the proliferation of SALW in Nigeria.
Speaking at the opening of the event in Abuja, the Chairman, PRESCOM, Amb. Emmanuel Imohe, said that the roundtable would also examine the adequacy of the Firearms Act, the enforcement mechanisms established therein for the control of the flow of SALW, and to make recommendations for the harmonisation of the Act with the new convention.
According to Imohe, the 1959 Act is both obsolete and does not reflect the realities and challenges associated with SALW proliferation, which has been feeding the dastardly acts of terrorist and insurgent groups like Boko Haram.
He noted that the effectiveness of the implementation of the ECOWAS Convention on SALW depend largely on the potency of the member states national gun laws, the potency of the institutional framework for the implementation of the convention (notably the National Commission) as well as the conformity or harmonisation of the national gun laws in Member states to the provisions of the ECOWAS Convention.
The former Director General of Nigerian Intelligence Agency (NIA), however lamented that the “law is not strong enough to constitute a deterrent on the nefarious activities of such criminals” and the “existing Act lacks the bite to hand over commensurate sanctions to culprits or breaches of the Act.
“The said law was actually crafted in 1959, during Nigeria’s colonial era and at a time the country had not begun to experience serious problems in connection with proliferation of illicit weapons”.
“Although there had been one or two amendments to this law since then, in the opinion of PRESCOM and within informed circles, this law, essentially, remains weak and therefore inadequate for dealing with the modern, sophisticated trends we see today in weapons trafficking and allied offences”.
“In the first place, the law, done in the colonial era, did not anticipate some of the trends of offences that are now beginning to emerge under the rubric of proliferation. Secondly, the penalties contained in the existing Act are weak, consequently offenders continue to get away with light sentences and then return to jeer at the system and to resume their nefarious business”, the added.
Speaking further, the former Nigerian Ambassador to the Unites States (US), said that since President Goodluck Jonathan inaugurated PRESCOM last year, they have agonized about the problem posed by the proliferation of illicit weapons to national peace and security, especially the role of illegal arms in strengthening non-state actors and reinforcing criminal networks like Boko Haram terrorist group.
He remarked that the Presidency has considered that in addition to a regime of suggested measures to resolve the weapons proliferation, such as improved border security, aggressive public awareness and sensitization campaigns, and the enhancement of the capacities of security agencies to deal with the problem through focused training and deployment of modern technology, amongst others, there would continue to be a missing link, until the weak law for dealing with such offences is re-done.
Meanwhile, he said, the proposed amendment was carried out by PRESCOM in conjunction with the Federal Ministry of Justice, and technical and expert inputs the security agencies, Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF), ECOWAS Commission, ICRC, and UNREC amongst others.
The current Firearms laws are contained in the exclusive legislative list provided in the schedule to the 1999 constitution of Nigeria, meaning that only the Federal Government can make laws regulation SAWL. In addition, the central law for the regulation of SALW in Nigeria is the Firearms Act, 1959, Chapter F28, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, which made provision for regulating the possession of and dealing in firearms and ammunition including muzzle-loading firearms, and for matters ancillary thereto.
Other laws are the Robbery and Firearms Act, 1984, and the Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria (DICON) Act, 1964, Chapter.D4, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.