Mission to recover missing 178,459 firearms begins

The House of Representatives has resolved to investigate the alleged missing 178,459 arms and ammunition in the Nigeria Police Force as contained in the 2019 report of the Auditor General for the Federation.


This followed a motion of urgent Public importance moved by the Deputy Minority Leader, Rep. Toby Okechukwu.


Recall the Auditor General for the Federation said in a report that over 88,000 of missing arms are AK-47 assault rifles which could not be accounted for by the Police.


Moving the motion, Okechukwu drew attention to the ongoing fight against terrorism and banditry, pointing out that these arms could have found their way into the wrong hands.


Deputy Speaker Ahmed Idris Wase however said that the Adhoc Committee already set up by the House should be allowed to carry out the criminal aspect of the investigation while the House Committee on Public Account should be allowed to investigate the where about of the arms in accordance with its constitutional mandate.

Wase, who said there were lots of information that he is keeping to himself, said the issue of missing arms may not be limited to the Police alone.

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In a country already awash in arms, a raging insurgency and widespread criminality, reports that 178,459 firearms went missing from the police armoury adds a dangerously explosive dimension to the general insecurity. Apart from the established reality of illegal importation of arms, it is horrifying to realise that many of the guns and bullets deployed by terrorists, armed robbers and thugs against Nigerians potentially come from official ordnance stores. Literally, the taxpayer is arming his own executioners and tormentors!


If Nigerians needed further evidence that they are incompetently governed, the Office of the Auditor-General for the Federation has provided it: the police armoury, like those of other security forces, has been leaking for years with no determined or effective countermeasures to stop it.


In its 2019 report recently made public, the AuGF disclosed that about 178,459 different types of arms and ammunition went missing from the police armoury that year “without any trace or formal report on their whereabouts.” Of this figure were 88,078 of the ubiquitous AK-47 assault rifles, while 3,907 other assorted rifles and pistols disappeared from different police formations nationwide. None had been accounted for as of January 2020. The sheer quantity of these missing rifles is sufficient to arm four full-sized divisions of infantry troops. Add this to the known fact that Nigeria hosts 70 percent of the illicit arms in West Africa.

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The report accused the Nigeria Police headquarters of lacking comprehensive details of unserviceable weapons, lamenting that such ordnance could fall into unauthorised hands for illegal use. This is an understatement. Indeed, seizures of arms caches from criminals have frequently yielded weapons with police or military identifying marks.


Pointedly, the AuGF noted that the action (actually, inaction) of the Nigeria Police contravened the regulation which stipulates that in the event of any loss, the officer-in-charge of the store in which the loss occurs shall report immediately to the head of department or unit, but not later than three days, by the fastest means possible if the loss occurs away from headquarters.


This is a sickening outrage, an indictment of the police and the government. Curiously, the authorities had not responded to the alarming report several days after it was made public. The National Assembly, the Inspector-General of Police, and the National Security Adviser are yet to make statements to allay public anxiety. The President, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has also not commented publicly. With the quantum of weapons and the insecurity ravaging the country, Nigerians deserve words of reassurance that concrete steps are being taken to recover the arms, identify the careless or complicit officials and bring them to justice.

According to the AuGF, the police authorities failed to respond to a query to explain the circumstances of the missing arms. This is egregious. The IG, Usman Baba, should be made to account for the firearms. The NASS should not allow this matter to be swept under the carpet. National security is at stake. Islamic terrorists, bandit/terrorists, killer Fulani herdsmen and assorted criminals, armed to the teeth, are laying waste to large swathes of territory, overrunning some towns and villages, and running parallel governments. The country is slipping further into state failure.


According to the Council on Foreign Relations, 10,398 persons were killed in 2021; over 300 were killed in the first 10 days of 2022, 200 of them slaughtered during a three-day killing spree by bandits/terrorists in Zamfara State. Terrifyingly, some of the weapons used may have been purchased with public funds and spirited away from official armouries. Buhari must act decisively.


Sadly, the cankerworm of arms trafficking runs deep among state agencies. In November 2017, a director in the State Security Service, Godwin Eteng, told the House of Representatives how corrupt security operatives were selling arms to bandits. According to him, a large quantity of weapons, including new pistols, disappeared from the armoury of a unit of the Armed Forces. “We have conducted more than 27 operations and arrested more than 30 persons involved in the supply of arms and ammunition and some of them are serving security men,” he stated.


Recently, one Haruna Yusuf (a sergeant), attached to the traffic department of the Omu-Aran Police Division, Kwara State, was paraded by the Osun State Police Command for stealing a pistol from an inspector. Yusuf confessed that he sold the weapon to a disc jockey for N47,000. The notorious case of over 7,000 weapons stolen from the Nigerian Army and sold to Niger Delta militants some years ago is still fresh.


Using formal tracing and analysis of secondary marks on weapons, Conflict Armament Research, a UK-based non-profit, established in January 2020 that many weapons recovered from bandits in Zamfara belonged to Nigeria’s security forces. “Countries that are experiencing conflict or widespread armed violence tend to lose control of ammunition in their national stockpiles, be it through theft, loss, or battlefield capture,” it observed.


In June, the Senate passed the Firearms Act (Amendment) Bill 2021, increasing the fines and other punishment for illegal importation and sale of firearms. Effective implementation would help in curbing arms proliferation in the country. The Police Service Commission which has supervisory oversight of the police needs to do more. Admittedly, it has routinely punished errant police officers for stealing or selling weapons, it should collaborate with the police management to eliminate weapons theft and loss.

Buhari should order an immediate investigation into the missing weapons. Very strong sanctions, including dismissals and prosecution, should be imposed on complicit officers. Urgently, the police, Army, Navy and Air Force should put stringent measures in place to safeguard and account for all arms and ammunition. The authorities should review internal control standards designed to help ensure that assets, including firearms, are protected against damage, loss, theft, and unauthorised use.


The United States General Accounting Office, for instance, recommends that agencies have written policies and procedures for issuing agency firearms to individuals, units, and functional areas; conduct periodic inventory counts and limit access to secured firearms storage areas and facilities to authorised personnel. Adopting such standards in Nigeria will go a long way in preventing theft. Under a new law passed in December, the US military is required to provide an annual report on weapons loss and security to Congress.


Nigeria needs to adopt similar measures to secure arms and ammunition and prevent them from getting into the hands of rogue security agents and non-state actors. Meanwhile, every effort must be made to recover the missing arms and punish those who facilitated their disappearance.


[Contribution from The PUNCH]

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