As long as security challenges maintain the current crescendo, Nigeria’s gun problem is an inexhaustible topic. It is hugely portrayed in the armed conflict in the northwest and northeast zones, and the unceasing gang wars in the southern region. Access to guns remains a key contributive factor to violence and conflict around the world, including Nigeria. The abundance of guns means more violence that leads to deaths, loss of livelihoods and forced displacements. According to the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), armed conflict is the major driver of forced displacement in Africa, and the problem is becoming more severe.
While military engagements are necessary to wage war against armed groups, proactive efforts must stop the easy access to guns. In 2013, African Union member-states representatives gathered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and adopted the “Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020”. Eight years down the line, conflict in the African continent has grown. There are conflicts in Burkina Faso, Burundi-Rwanda, The Gambia, Cameroon, Ethiopia and Mozambique. The ongoing Sahel violence is a tough challenge for Africa and her development partners. The Boko Haram insurgency, which started in Northeast Nigeria, has now spread to Chad, Niger and Cameroon. The task to silence guns in Africa, especially Nigeria, has become increasingly difficult.
To manage the gun surge, ISS report recommends that the African Union and its relevant organs should reinforce of existing early warning structures such as the Continental Early Warning System (CEWS) and Panel of the Wise with early action mechanisms to propel its silencing the gun agenda. In Nigeria and some of her African neighbours, non-state armed groups’ access to arms benefits from her porous borders and state structures’ weakness to enforce gun control measures. Therefore, making concerted regional efforts to securitise borders will help address the smuggling of small arms and light weapons in Africa.
Beyond gun control, African governments must commit to managing structural vulnerabilities that heighten the need for guns by non-state armed groups. The rise of non-state armed groups usually stems from structural violence, repressive policies, unbalanced allocation distribution framework, grievances, human rights abuses and flawed criminal justice system. National governments in Africa must focus on solving these inherent structural issues in their states. Regional and continental state organisations in Africa and her international development partners must push African governments to focus on these causal factors of instability rampant in the continent. The gun demand and its proliferation will reduce when there are fewer reasons to be in conflict.