Inter-communal violence has killed more than 3,600 people and displaced an additional 300,000 since its resurgence in 2014.
Although they receive less international attention, they have caused more deaths in the past two years than Boko Haram in Nigeria’s North and central belt.
These organised armed groups perpetrate strategic attacks against civilian villages using small arms and light weapons, vehicles, motorbikes, assault, rifles, and general-purpose machine guns.
Since 2016, a succession of state-level arms collection programmes, supported by the Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons (PRESCOM) and the Mines Advisory Group, has sought to remove weapons from communities and armed groups involved in these attacks.
According to a report by Conflict Armament Research (CAR), which can be downloaded here, this is the only systematic effort to document and analyze the provenance of illicit weapons and ammunition that have been circulating among northern Nigerian communities and that have been used in herder–farmer violence.
Over 7,000 weapons have been collected from the Northern region in Nigeria.
Although amnesty programmes put in place for the seizure of these weapons were targeted at both pastoralists and agrarian communities, only seized weapons from the pastoralists were documented.
CAR observed seven common types of artisanal weapon in the three documentation locations: long-barrelled muzzle-loaders (locally known as ‘Dane guns’), break-action shotguns, slam-fire shotguns, semi-automatic pistols, semi-automatic revolvers, shot pistols, and shot revolvers.
Less commonly encountered but demonstrating considerable ambition on the part of their creators are artisanal sub-machine guns and one artisanal AK-pattern assault rifle.
From detailed analysis, it was gathered that the Chinese government confirmed to the United Nations that it lawfully exported rifles within this range to Côte d’Ivoire prior to 2004. It is therefore likely that other rifles within this range also originated in Ivorian states.
Three weapons in the data set are of a distinctive type of Polish-made KBK-AKMS assault rifle, manufactured between 1975 and 1978 with Arabic rear-sight markings. Although detailed records no longer exist, the Polish government has stated that it supplied weapons of this specification to only four countries; Egypt, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen all during the 1970s.
CAR has documented weapons of the same specification in Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and Niger, as well as in Libya itself.
Given these observations, it is plausible that three weapons in the Nigeria data set originated in Gaddafi-era Libyan stockpiles, although extant Polish records cannot absolutely confirm their original export to Libya.
The data set also includes a Belgian-made FN FAL assault rifle which was originally produced around 1975 in Mali and Niger. Belgian government records indicate that Libya made several large orders for FN FAL rifles, which were delivered between 1969 and 1975.
However, in the absence of a trace response, therefore, the original export destination of these rifles remains unconfirmed.
Four of the weapons documented in Gusau and in Katsina are Iraqi-manufactured Tabuk assault rifles.
Although, there is no suggestion that herder-linked armed groups in Nigeria have ties to the FLM or other terrorist group, it is certain from analysis that they evidently obtain weapons originating from the same illicit source.
Four of the weapons in the data set were previously in service with Nigerian national defense and security forces. This has been established through formal tracing and the analysis of secondary marks applied to the weapons, which identify their users.
Most weapons held by Nigerian state agencies do not bear secondary user markings, which means that other weapons in the sample may also derive from Nigerian forces (CAR, PRESCOM, and UNIDIR, 2016).
The prevalence of Nigerian-manufactured ammunition supports this observation as locally(Nigerian) made cartridges are the second most numerous also bearing the most recent manufacture date (2014) as at 2016 when the report by CAR was filed.
Bulk trafficking by sea from Turkey is another source of illicit weapons in Nigeria. Ten of the 148 weapons in the data set are Turkish-manufactured pump-action and semi-automatic shotguns; eight of them are marked with JOJEFF and BABALE brands. BABALE-branded shotgun bears markings that suggest it was manufactured in 2014.
Conclusively, it can be said that the weapons used in Nigeria’s herder- farmer conflict are derived from national, regional and transcontinental sources some of which were originally lost, stolen, or captured from Nigerian national stockpiles as well as state stockpiles as far afield as Côte d’Ivoire, and possibly Libya, before being trafficked to Nigeria.
Also, local groups and communities may be acquiring weapons that criminal networks are smuggling into Nigeria via regional trafficking routes.
THE WAY FORWARD
In order to inhibit the rapid replacement of these weapons, law enforcement and border control initiatives in Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and beyond must be put in place to stop small arms from moving across the region’s borders.
Meanwhile, targeted law enforcement and interdiction efforts in Europe and Western Asia or A Nigerian security outfit in Diaspora are required to prevent new illicit arms manufactured outside Africa from being trafficked into Nigeria.
-By Ekomobong I. Okopido