For a few years now, there has been an increasing trend of attempts to smuggle arms into Nigeria through the ports, hidden in sealed containers, and in false bottoms of trucks crossing the almost inexistent borders from the Benin Republic and from the North of Nigeria, too. Nigeria is currently one of the most restricted nations in terms of firearms ownership, and it is obvious that the system is being challenged. There has been an increase in seizures at Nigerian Ports and on Nigerian Highways. And the question is, for every container intercepted, for every truck stopped on the highway – just how many got through?
What kind of firearms are we referring to here?
While there was a major interception of military-grade arms shipped from Iran and meant for unknown shores a few years ago, that was the exception. The arms included rocket launchers and mortars, and were later claimed by Iran to be a “shipping error”…
But more recently, apart from the occasional handguns and rifles hidden in imported vehicles and in containers of imported goods, larger numbers of pump-action and basic semi-auto shotguns manufactured in Turkey have been discovered in shipments at the Lagos ports.
A good example is one where two firearms were found concealed in an imported car. One of them seems to be an airsoft AR-15. Can anyone identify it?
How are they being smuggled in?
There have been several interceptions of these firearms hidden inside crates of doors and wall panels, as well as other goods. They seem to come in batches of 600 to 2,000 units of shotguns, some already assembled, but most with packaged pistol-only-grips.
In terms of ammunition, there have been several entire trucks loaded with birdshot shotgun shells being smuggled across the borders. Several have been intercepted in the past, but the question remains, how many got through?
Where and when have the interceptions happened?
For both the firearms and ammunition: most have been stopped at the ports, especially in Lagos, Nigeria, while some stops have happened mainly by the Customs and Police checkpoints on the roads.
Is this a deeper insight into the increasing desire by Nigerians to own firearms?
Frankly, almost everyone polled says they wish we could have access to firearms in Nigeria. There is no trust or confidence in the law enforcement mechanism anymore – mostly. It is the “big-wigs” who have a hundred heavily armed Mobile Police: “MOPOL” [More heavily armed and trained police.] and Soldiers guarding their convoys and homes that do not want this.
Crime seems to be increasing. The most recent issues have to do with superstitious scammers [“Yahoo+”, or “Yahoo-Plus”] who are those guys who want to send you [And I!] 50 million dollars, only if you pay a “small processing fee”. Shockingly now, there is an added dimension: they believe more in voodoo [“Juju”, also known locally as “Jazz” or “Okpo”] to make their “hustle” stronger and more successful. In their own thinking, and as instructed by the witchdoctors – this voodoo needs sacrifices. So there are increasing numbers of people who went out jogging or running errands, only to be found in the bush or in the gutters with eyes, tongues, breasts or genitals [Or all of them] sliced off. Body parts are used in rituals for these scammers, and there is fear in the land. This is all happening in the cities, as well as in the villages. Lazy young men want to drive the latest cars and wear the best designer clothes, and build massive mansions too…
If Nigerians could have guns, they would get them – just to protect themselves…
Are there other implications to these smuggling attempts?
There is a concern that there are “interests” that are also interested in stockpiling firearms and arming groups for different reasons. Elections are coming in February 2019, both candidates are Northerners, but there are a lot of interests vying for power… Nigeria is, by all means, an oil-rich nation, and there are massive resources to be controlled by those in power…Some politicians make it known officially that they would rather destroy the nation than lose elections…Militias are secretly formed in many areas.
What is the status of the availability of firearms and attendant laws in Nigeria?
Let us break it down. I need to be brief though, entire tomes have been written about the proliferation of illegal arms in West Africa, and more recently – in Nigeria.
There ARE many black-market arms in circulation in Nigeria. In this sense – I can almost ‘praise’ the Law Enforcement for making sure they are not as widespread or openly used as they could have been. Of course, the most ubiquitous of these is the venerable AK47 or variants.
Where do these arms primarily come from?
For the Northern part, including the insurgency, guns have trickled in from wars in Sudan, Mali, and even the Central African Republic. Guns have flowed down from the North, some of the contents looted from armories in Tripoli and Benghazi and Misrata trickled all the way down through Chad, the Niger Republic to Northern Nigeria. Insurgents in the North East have also been armed by clandestine supplies rumored to be from ISIS via Sudan.
Firearms have trickled down to Middle Belt areas. As many bandits are driven out from the Northeast by defeat by the Nigerian Military, they are flowing further South now and bringing their guns. Sometimes they cache these guns, and there was a case of a starving “bush fighter” who emerged and offered his AK47 in exchange for a meal in a village in the Eastern part of Nigeria.
There are nomadic herdsmen, whose cows and donkeys carry tied beddings and clothes – not all of these bundles are without the clink of metal on metal. They sell cows for guns in the bush – and are quite heavily armed. Security is porous: trucks carrying farm produce sometimes have false bottoms and are pa$$ed through the very many checkpoints on the roads. Sometimes, you cannot totally blame the cops and soldiers at these checkpoints: how many people want to dig through cow, goat and sheep sh*t to search for arms? Most smugglers do not even use the roads: there are myriad of bush paths which simply CANNOT be monitored.
What about the South?
For the Southern areas, including the oil-thieving gangsters and kidnappers – especially from the 1990’s, there have been Oil Theft Cartels, where the “Boys” claiming to be “militants” fighting for their oppressed people/communities blow up crude oil pipelines, becoming increasingly sophisticated [Even having diving equipment to dive to blow up submerged pipelines and valves]. Crude oil stolen is sold in barges to shady characters with accents as varied as Russian, Israeli, Chinese, Philipino, and Indian, off the Bight of Benin. Payment is in bundles of Dollars, crates of AK47s and some PKMs, diamonds, and bags of “white powder”. Notice that these boys have blown up pipelines? Of course, there will be spills, and the environment will suffer, and Exxon Mobil, Elf, Shell, and Total will be blamed every time…
Which other ways are arms gotten?
Thefts from violently hitting Police stations and military bases. There was an example in the North East where insurgents hit a military base and got away with a few Vickers Main Battle Tanks, some APCs, Several Anti-Aircraft guns, loads and loads of Mortars and Ammo, hundreds of RPGs, hundreds of AK 47s… It was a MASSIVE blow…
Of course, you cannot discount the fact that there are cops and even soldiers willing to sell equipment to criminals. It happens everywhere.
And one cannot completely discount the number of guns that had been “abandoned” or cached in the bush by insurgents, criminals, and even police/military. Others find these, and they sometimes get back into the underground circuit.
Who are in possession of these mainly?
Insurgents – Boko Haram, IPOB, other groups not above using arms for their purposes.
Criminals – robbers, kidnappers, bandits, cult members…
Vigilantes and other [illegal] holders in the villages. Someone once showed me an old, rusty H&K G3 rifle he found in the bush while hunting. It doesn’t work, and he doesn’t even have any 7.62x51mm for it in the first place. He did try to sell it for about $1,000.
Are ordinary people coming across these firearms?
Yes, there is an underground market for these guns and people I know have been approached by the village path corner on whether they would want to buy an AK47 [Remeber the rusted G3 above?] People have had the good old: “Pssst! Wanna buy automatic pistol?” approach at the street corner too. [And in some cases – get robbed with the same gun when they say no.]
Guns being held in “ordinary” households too?
Yes, especially in the more trouble-prone areas, and in the hinterland. But they cannot be used carelessly even for self-defense. People have been killed for holding a gun illegally.
Many people have what they call a “piece of iron” stashed somewhere in the ceiling… [We do not have attics here…]
What is the ‘Black market’ for ammo like?
Just like how the guns circulate, ammo is also available – as long as the money and readiness to risk all is available. Of course, the quantities are much lower than in places with a regulated market.
Is 7.62x39mm available? Not officially. But yes, the criminal underground has its own way to replenish itself.
Even the Police buy 7.62 [or at least collect money for it] when guarding banks, offices, estates etc…] I have seen official requisition vouchers of a bank in Lagos listing “Bullets for Police Guards: NGN6,000.oo” [NGN is Nigerian Naira. $1 is currently NGN375]
[This is not totally strange: I am aware this is done like this in India and Pakistan also.]
Of course, the regular brass case ammo is EXPENSIVE. I really do not know how much [Before I get undue attention!] but I know it is EXPENSIVE.
There are NO primers to be bought. NONE, NADA, Zilch. And the only powder you would see here is locally produced Black powder – most times being mixed by a pipe-smoking old man with 3 fingers left on his right hand in the very back-end of the village somewhere…
Almost every few days, a new report points to truckloads of mainly shotgun ammunition seized on the roads in Nigeria.
How are Self-Defense Laws here?
Simple: kill a robber and you [Ordinary John Q. Public…] end up in jail and end up having to spend so much money to get out – if you survive the arrest in the first place. Of course, there are exceptions: my friend whom I mentioned in an article sometime back, was congratulated by Police for firing on and wounding two robbers with his licensed shotgun.
Serving and retired servicemen have gotten away with killing or wounding attackers without much issue in the past.
I have heard of a case where someone [And his son] killed 4 robbers in his house and placed their [Locally fabricated] guns clearly in their dead hands and his story to Police [Well-rehearsed with family] was that the robbers argued amongst themselves over the loot and fought and killed each other. He also hinted the police that some of the loot the robbers argued over could be taken as “evidence” by the responding Police – he couldn’t even remember how much the money was…[Wink-wink]
Would Nigeria be better or worse if we had the right to bear arms as citizens?
We are barely existing together as a nation right now. More than three hundred major tribes, more than a thousand distinct dialects, about four official religions… There are simply too many variables and too many tensions – with the current availability of fists, knives, clubs, machetes: we are already killing ourselves – throw guns liberally into the mix and what you would have in Nigeria will make what happened in Rwanda in 1994 look like a picnic. As we speak, neighbors are currently scheming what they would do to each other if they could get away with it…
A key point is “Regulation”: we simply cannot regulate the widespread ownership and use of firearms by citizens in Nigeria yet.
I am definitely against restrictive firearms control – because stopping people from defending themselves is the worst thing any government could do. I would never support that. What my last paragraph means is that it is important to ensure that the right kind of people, level headed, responsible and reasonable people have licensing for firearms. It will definitely form a good deterrence and help avoid any breakdown of society. Determining who falls into this category may be a tough job, but it has been done successfully…
Here’s a video on the latest developments that show that even in the most restrictive firearm environments, good people who love and need their firearms – WILL ALWAYS FIND A WAY…