The proliferation of small arms and light weapons has driven the rise in violence in Nigeria. This violence has led to mass displacement, and has resulted in Nigeria having a number of internally displaced people that rivals countries which are officially at war. Over the course of a year between May 2019 and April 2020, SBM Intelligence with support from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) conducted a study into the proliferation of small arms in Nigeria, and the links this proliferation has with mass atrocities and mass migration.
The thrust of this report is a survey of the movement of small arms and the relationship of this movement with mass atrocities and migration within Nigeria. These are interconnected concepts as the proliferation of small arms drives mass atrocities which triggers the movement of people within Nigeria.
In July and August of 2020, SBM Intelligence published three videos which form a documentary based on this report. The report itself was meant to have been launched at an event with Global Rights, an NGO focused on humanitarian issues in Nigeria in May 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic stopped that event.
The proliferation of arms in Southern Nigeria has driven the increasing rate of violence in the region.
• This includes, but is not limited to; communal clashes, cultism (Nigerian speak for gang violence), kidnappings, ethnic and religious clashes, and militancy in the Niger Delta.
• In the Niger Delta region, a proliferation of small arms has had an impact on violent agitations by the various armed groups in the region demanding for greater control of the resources of the region.
• An amnesty programme initiated in 2009 by the late President Umaru Yar’adua aimed to deal with these agitations. It largely succeeded in restoring oil production levels, but the underlying economic injustices that drove the agitation in the Niger Delta are yet to be resolved.
• A toxic mix of small arms proliferation, youth under/unemployment and general disaffection is likely to drive future agitation.
• Southern Nigeria has an established local arms manufacturing sector and there is also significant importation/smuggling from international sources.
• Illegal weapons factories have also been discovered in towns such as Calabar and Enugu. It is difficult to estimate the volume of locally manufactured weapons produced in this region.
• There are many different points of entry for internationally sourced weapons, East European and Asian nations are the major sources of illegal arms in Southern Nigeria.
A combination of proliferation of small weapons, already existing state corruption, large tracts of ungoverned spaces, and mass unemployment has largely been responsible for the rising criminality and violence in Northern Nigeria.
Economics has also played a role. In the Northern Central region, there have been tensions between sedentary farmers and nomadic Fulani herders who are increasingly moving southwards due to climate change pressures to access pastureland. These tensions have led to armed confrontations, mass killings and displacement of some farming communities. There have also been cases of cattle rustling by armed groups, leading to violent clashes between rustlers and Fulani herders.
Apart from violent confrontation between Fulani herders and local farming communities, the North Central zone is rife with ethnic militias, making it a hotbed for violent ethnic and religious clashes facilitated using small arms. This geopolitical zone accounts for some of the highest levels of violence involving communal groups, with communal militias accounting for over 40% of political violence according to reports.
Small arms proliferation and related violence in North Eastern Nigeria is significantly different from what obtains in the North Central and North Western zones. Here, the primary drivers of violence are radical Islamist groups attempting to carve a sphere of influence or an Islamic Caliphate. The Boko Haram terrorist group operates within this axis.
The North Central accounts for some of the highest levels of violence involving communal groups, with communal militias accounting for over 40% of political violence according to reports.
Locally manufactured arms, which are normally fabricated in small-scale factories, without legal permits, contribute to a large percentage of arms in circulation in Northern Nigeria (especially in North Central Nigeria,) according to preliminary findings from the National Small Arms and Light Weapons Survey (NSALWS).
• About a fifth (17 percent) of civilian, rural weapon-holders countrywide possess craft weapons, and a tenth reside in urban areas.
• In Benue and Plateau states, both in the North Central region, locally made weapons are estimated to be used in over 50% of crimes committed. (62% for Benue State, and 69% for Plateau State. In Adamawa State in the North East, it is 32%).
• There are many different points of entry for internationally sourced weapons. Nigeria’s porous borders facilitate the sourcing of weapons from countries bordering Northern Nigeria such as Chad and Niger (who are also dealing with their own Islamist Insurgencies).
• There are challenges documenting the flow of small arms into Nigeria, but analysis reveals that some weapons originate from Ivorian and Libyan military stockpiles.
• Ammunition from at least 21 different nations have been used in the Pastoral Conflict in North Central Nigeria.
• According to research by Freedom Onuoha of the University of Nigeria, Nigerian security agencies have intercepted arms in Bakassi, Southern Nigeria, intended for delivery to Boko Haram.
The drivers of mass displacement include, generalised violence, violations of human rights, high rate of insecurity, mostly in the Northern part of the country; Boko Haram attacks, the continuous Fulani herdsmen and Farmers crisis which has spread across the six geopolitical zones in the country, communal crisis with the locals in Benue, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Plateau, and Taraba states respectively, as well as in Ogoja, Cross River state which borders Ebonyi state and Cameroon.
SBM Intelligence also confirmed other reasons for the extremely high numbers of IDPs in Nigeria to include natural or human-made disasters (like floods) and in most cases, scarcity of resources. IDPs live within the local populations but are pressured to flee their homes and in some instances, to seek refuge in border countries.
In 2014, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) estimated that as many as 1,000 refugees a week flee Nigeria mainly because of violence from Boko Haram; crossing the border into Niger’s Diffa region to seek refuge. SBM carried out a qualitative field research to ascertain the public perceptions on proliferation of small arms and light weapons, mass atrocities and refugees in Nigeria. The survey was conducted in Nigeria’s 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
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