Last week Tuesday, Nigerians awoke to the news that the Tin-Can Island Port Command of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has again intercepted large quantities of guns of various sizes and designs as well as gun accessories. The 440 pieces of assorted types of pump action rifles were said to have come into the country from Turkey and were concealed in a 1×20-ft container declared by the importer as chemical formula with 50kg bags of pop cement. Four months ago, in January 2017, the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) of Customs also intercepted 49 boxes loaded with 661 pieces of pump action rifles said to have been imported into the country from China. Alarmingly, in December 2016, the same Bashar Yusuf-led Tin-Can Island Port Command of Customs also intercepted another set of guns concealed in an imported used vehicle and some set of gun accessories hidden in a container loaded with used vehicles. Alongside this particular import were some military camouflages and large quantity of gun accessories such as gun pellets and riffle paunches.
Surprisingly however, since all these discoveries – which are generously splashed on the pages of newspapers and carried as news all over media houses – started, Nigerians have not been told who the importers of these arms and ammunitions were and no one has yet been charged to court. Normally when these arms shipments are announced, it is claimed the investigations are on to unravel the true owners, destination and motif behind the importation of the arms. However, neither the police nor the Department of State Security (DSS), upon whose shoulder rests the responsibility of carrying out these investigations, are yet to tell Nigerians the outcome of their investigations and who the real owners of these imports are. Announcing arms seizure always without correspondingly arresting and prosecuting those who surreptitiously and illegally import these arms raises a whole lot of questions on the ability or even willingness of government to maintain law, order and security in Nigeria.
Many Nigerians see a clear nexus between these illegal arms shipment and the Boko Haram insurgency, Fulani herdsmen killings, rising cases of kidnapping and armed robbery in Nigeria in recent years. A key question Nigerians have been asking and for which no government has yet been able to offer a satisfactory explanation is: where do the Boko Haram militants, the rampaging and murderous Fulani herdsmen and armed robbers procure their weapons from since there is no free market for arms and ammunition in Nigeria like in the United States?
Now, in the absence of credible explanation(s), many Nigerians are not only linking the arms shipment to the insurgency and killings that have bedevilled the country for so long but also to the upcoming 2019 election circle. Some very fertile minds have even sought to link it to the coup the Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Burutai warned about some weeks ago. We cannot blame Nigerians making these conjectures. In the absence of credible information, rumours, conjectures and even false news predominate.
While not totally subscribing to these views, we fear these rumours may contain some elements of truth. If not, why has the police or DSS refused to make public results of its investigation into these illegal arms shipments?
Governments all over the world work to secure the trust and respect of their citizens. These are not earned on the cheap. The way the Nigerian government and its agencies operate makes it difficult for citizens to trust or believe them. This also makes it difficult to galvanise the public for patriotic actions.
The government must be transparent in all its dealings and the law should be allowed to take its full course all and not some of the time. Nigerians deserve to know the identity of illegal importers of arms and ammunitions into the country and if a crime is established, these groups or individuals should face the law.