The United Nations has raised the alarm that approximately $35 million worth of authorised and reported small arms enter West Africa yearly.
The international organisation pointed out that 7 to 10 million illicit Small and Light Weapons are believed to be circulating in West Africa.
Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) stated this in Abuja, Thursday, at a Parliamentary Conference on Legislative Actions for Containment of Small Arms Proliferation and Terrorist Financing, Mohamed Ibn Chambas.
The programme was jointly organised by the ECOWAS Parliament, National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS), Africa Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Chambas who served as President of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission from 2006 to 2009, traced the root causes of conflict which give effect to small arms proliferation to deficits in governance at community and state levels.
These, he listed, to include exclusion, lack of respect for the rule of law, lack of accountability, corruption as well as unconstitutional changes of government.
The diplomat and lawyer harped on the need for practical action in tackling illicit small arms proliferation and violent extremism within a holistic, human security-centred approach.
He also called for effective coordination between the various initiatives and structures established to tackle violent extremism.
He said: “West African states are therefore necessary but not sufficient in addressing the governance of security, including illicit small arms and financial flows. Non-state actors are playing more prominent roles in the proliferation of SALW in West Africa. Ethnic militia groups, private security companies, arms smugglers, criminal gangs, bandits, mercenaries, and vigilante groups all play their respective roles in the proliferation of SALW in West Africa. Indeed, a defining character of small arms proliferation in West Africa is the increasing difficulty of states to provide and guarantee public security. There is a palpable gap between government and governance in the security space.
“We should pay particular attention to border communities, resident in our extensive and often porous borders, who are often the farthest from our capital cities and often with minimal state presence. In such places, the security sector may be both largely absent, and lacking in respect for human rights where it is present, leaving citizens and communities vulnerable to exploitation by extremists and armed groups. We should constantly be guided by the role and agency of women and the youth, with more than half of West Africa’s population under the age of 25.
“As the elected voice of the people, we have a unique and crucial role to play in addressing illicit flows of small arms and finance, and indeed in security governance more broadly. Regional approaches to security sector governance represent an invaluable and essential bridge between national and global contexts. We should therefore work together to support the ECOWAS Parliament and national parliaments to ensure that they have the requisite capacity and tools to play an effective role in security governance in West Africa”.
On his part, the Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara called on Nigeria and The Gambia to join other ECOWAS members in the creation of National Commission on Small Arms Convention.
Speaker Dogara stated that the illicit circulation and illegal possession of small arms and light weapons have contributed to nurturing hotbeds of tensions and conflicts in Africa.
In her remarks, the Director General, NILS Ladi Hamalai, said the objective of the conference is to create a forum for dialogue among parliamentarians towards effective implementation of security policies.