BY SAGIR MUSA
Proliferation of small arms and light weapons is increasingly and dangerously becoming a transnational organized crime in Nigeria with Boko Haram’s insurgency, reemerging Niger Delta crisis and escalating kidnappings, communal crisis and armed robbery in the South East serving as hubs or impetus for arms trafficking.
Some border towns particularly in the North Eastern flank serve as locus for trafficking of arms as well as centers for stolen goods, drugs and hostages perpetrated by criminals, terrorists and their collaborators. The recent kidnap of a French family at a border town between Nigeria and Cameroon is an example.
Similarly, many arms and ammunition of various types, sizes and caliber have been intercepted and confiscated by security agencies. The recurrent detection and recovery of cache of arms, ammunition and Improvised Explosive Device Materials by the JTF further buttressed the point. So also is the occasional recovery of stolen goods and hard drugs from criminals and terrorists’ camps or hideouts.
Despite efforts of security agencies, the “merchants of Death” continues to engage in arms trafficking/ trading through covert and deceptive use of porous Nigerian borders of Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Recently, the Comptroller General of Nigerian Immigration Services stated that the Service has discovered hundreds of illegal routes in Nigeria that link or lead to some neighboring African countries.
Nigeria’s borders are massive with hundreds of footpaths crisscrossing to neighboring countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger with links to Mali, Libya and Sudan. From conservative estimate by locals, there are well over 250 footpaths from Damaturu/Maiduguri axis that link or lead direct to Cameroon, Chad or Niger. These paths are mostly unknown by security agencies, are unmanned, unprotected and thus serve as leaky routes for arms and ammunitions trafficking in to Nigeria.
It is disheartening and unfortunate that the “merchants of death” have since devised methods use to beat security agencies at the borders and through the footpaths. These methods include the use of camels, donkeys and cows to traffic arms, ammunition and drugs, like cocaine into Nigeria.
The fact that the weapons are small, light and collapsible makes it easy to be concealed and moved on camels and donkeys’ back in a specially crafted skin or thatched bags mainly meant for the illegal “expedition” unexpected, unsuspected and therefore undetected.
Similarly, some cows and grains merchants in the North- East sub – region of the country, devices means of hiding cache of arms and ammunition in empty fuel tankers, under vehicles’ engines and inside bags of grains mostly undetected by security agencies at the affected border posts. The “grains” are transported in large number via trucks, trailers, Lorries and old model pickup vans and jeeps with little attention given to them by security agents.
The use of Jega type of tricycles ( Keke- Napep) as well as camels, donkeys, and cows (moving in flocks) to deceive, hide and conveniently traffic arms in some parts of the North are ways hitherto unknown, not well exposed or documented. Their capacity for arms trafficking is beginning to be uncovered and is been curtailed by security agencies.
The security situation in JTF Operation RESTORE ORDER Area of Responsibility forced the Task Force to take on additional responsibility to trace sources of arms and ammunition to Boko Haram Insurgents, how the arms are trafficked and are also taking measures to block or curtail it.
This is one way at effectively checkmating terrorism in Nigeria – destroy its centre of gravity! And this seems to be a task that has so far proved difficult but necessary to be accomplished if the war against insurgency is to be effective and successful.
Similarly, the Libyan and Malian rebels are desperate to exchange arms for money to Boko Haram Terrorists, their financiers and collaborators as the Sect has since been affiliated to Al-Qaida in the Maghreb.
This has added to the overwhelming challenge of the influx of illegal aliens, arms, ammunitions and sophisticated IED materials into the country and an efficient and effective fight against terrorism.
Additionally, the water ways/ seaports provide havens for arms trafficking through ships and speed boats on high sea and the use of canoes in the creeks. The exchange of stolen crude oil for arms/ ammunition is a well known “trading activity” nurtured and ferociously protected by militants or sea pirates and their financiers and collaborators with the possible connivance of unscrupulous law enforcement agents in the Niger Delta.
This is one major source of arms and ammunition that strengthen militants’ arms and ammunition holding not only in the Niger Delta but also in the South East and South Western parts of the country.
Security agencies at the borders and seaports have severally complained of the porosity of the nation’s borders and waterways.
Inadequate personnel, patrol vehicles, surveillance helicopters and equipments compound the problem of porous borders. Consequently, most of the borders are leaky and this makes effective control of intruders, smugglers and “merchants of death” a mirage.
The vastness of the nation’s borders in the face of these challenges bring to the fore the need for a rethink on the management and security of the Nigeria’s borders and seaports – without which effective fight against insurgency, arms trafficking and proliferation will remain an optical illusion.
There must be innovative technology; sound policies, proficient process that will help protect our borders. It is worrisome that the exact number of illegal routes and means through which illegal aliens, arms and ammunition are traffic in to the country is largely unknown by the nation’s security system.
The use of innovative technology – radars and alarm systems are major ways modern nations utilize to monitor and secure their borders. Some radar can be used as primary detection sensor for long range remote surveillance platforms.
The ability to detect slow moving targets, even in complex mountainous, thickly forested terrains and large open areas make some radars such us Blighter Radar ideal for remote surveillance and detection of vehicles and people trying to cross borders illegally. In remote areas, it is common for intruders to follow natural routes across the land, valleys, mountain paths or animal tracks.
In these instances, Mobile Surveillance System provides a cost effective way of monitoring key areas with limited resources. Similarly, Blighter Radar, unlike traditional Air Surveillance Radar can effectively surveil both the land and low air zone simultaneously.
Correspondingly, the fundamental problem of border security, arms trafficking, efficient and effective fight against terrorism in Nigeria can be linked to what Mr Olusegun Adeniyi tersely identified as institutional fragmentation, intelligence and policy non-coordination between and among security agencies.
These challenges are real and must be addressed for the fight against terrorism; arms proliferation and border security to be effective.
Sagir Musa, a Lt. Colonel in the Public Relations (DAPR) directorate of the Nigerian Army, is spokesman for the Joint Task Force [JTF] operations against the Boko Haram insurgency.