'Politicians and criminals don't register weapons'

Nigeria’s police are cracking down on illegal firearms that, they say, are threatening Africa’s most populous country.

Tafa Balogun, Nigeria’s police chief, issued an order to crackdown on the illicit firearms three weeks ago. Since then, large numbers of weapons have been retrieved and 105 suspects arrested.

Balogun has ordered the gun owners to submit their weapons voluntarily to the police or risk being apprehended.

“It has been a massive success as large numbers of illegal weapons were recovered from armed robbers, political thugs and firearm manufacturers,” said Chris Olakpe, a police spokesperson in the Nigerian administrative capital of Abuja.

Olakpe said 211 weapons were recovered by the Task Force on the Recovery of Illegal Firearms since the order was introduced on March 14.

The weapons recovered comprise 64 pistols, three pump-action guns, two sub-machine guns, 126 AK-47 riffles, five double-barrel guns and 11 single-barrel guns as well as 3 547 rounds of live ammunition.

The police also impounded large numbers of arms and ammunitions that were smuggled through neighbouring Ghana and Benin.

Last week the police in western Nigeria’s Oyo state capital of Ibadan paraded three suspects for allegedly importing a large consignment of ammunitions through the porous border between Nigeria and Benin.

The suspects were arrested at Saki, a town between the two countries, along with three trucks. The trucks were carrying 105 000 live cartridges packed in 80 sacks, mixed with bags of maize and sawdust to beat detection. Preliminary investigations show that the consignments were smuggled from Kpobe in Benin.

Recently a 24-year-old gunrunner, Ugochukwu Okeke, was arrested with 16 firearms concealed in a bag containing second-hand shoes, after beating security at Togo and Benin borders.

The guns—all made in Russia—were bought at Tudu arms market in Ghana and transported through Togo and Benin to Nigeria.

Okeke confessed to the police that he visited the market several times to import guns and ammunitions. His customers included politicians, petty criminals, assassins and robbers in Onitsha, eastern Nigeria.

The street value of a Russian-made single-barrel gun is 25 000 naira (about $250) in Onitsha. A double-barrel gun sells for 35 000 naira (about $350) and a pump-action gun fetches 75 000 Naira (about $750), according to the gunrunner.

Olakpe could not tell the number of illegal arms in circulation in Nigeria, but it is believed to outnumber those in police armouries nationwide.

“I don’t know the total number of illegal firearms in circulation. I am not a magician,” he said.

Another police officer, who declined to be named, said: “Firearm licences are issued only for hunting but a lot of prominent Nigerians acquire guns for self-protection or for selfish political interests. Criminals also buy guns illegally for their nefarious activities. In fact, both politicians and criminals never register their weapons.”

A few years ago the government announced a ban on the licensing of firearms to curb criminal activities.

To apply for a hunting gun, the applicant must fill all the necessary forms and get a letter of “good conduct” from a senior police officer, an army officer, a judge or a member of the clergy. A doctor must also attest that the person is fit to carry a gun, and final approval for the license is given by a police commissioner.

Last month [March] security operatives uncovered an illegal arms manufacturing factory in northern Nigeria’s Katsina state.

At least 10 persons, including a dismissed sergeant, were arrested during a raid on the factory following confessions by some arrested armed robbers in the state. The ex-sergeant’s factory was alleged to be a major source of arms to bandits that have terrorised members of the public in Katsina and other neighbouring states.

“The ex-sergeant did not only produce locally made pistols but converted them to automatic firearms that can use automatic bullets,” explained Alhaji Fakai, Katsina state commissioner of police.

Two weeks ago the police in Abuja paraded 19 suspected local manufacturers of illegal arms and ammunitions with large caches of firearms worth millions of naira. The suspects were arrested in Abala, a village in Abia state, eastern Nigeria.

The weapons recovered from the suspects, who will soon appear in court, included 96 AK-47 riffles, 93 magazines and pistols.

“The arrest of the 19 firearms manufacturers, which followed a tip-off, in Abia state marks a breakthrough in efforts at mopping up illegally acquired firearms,” Olakpe said.

He appealed to Nigerians to continue to provide the police with information on criminals and their hideouts. He said the police would not rest until sanity was brought to the proliferation of illegal arms and ammunitions in the country.

The police are also targeting politicians. It is widely believed that top politicians raise private armies during elections. Sometimes they use them to eliminate political opponents.

Twenty guns and live ammunition were recovered by the police from politicians in Delta state during March’s local government polls. The weapons recovered included AK-47 rifles and pistols.

Most of the weapons given out to thugs to intimidate political opponents during last year’s elections, according to police, were never recovered. They were used for criminal activities.—IPS

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