In the past, possession of a pistol in Nigeria was an exclusive preserve of retired top military brass, high- ranking police officers and few wealthy Nigerians who could afford the usually expensive license. Then, there were armed robbers, drug barons and a few other roughnecks who used guns illegally to carry out their nefarious activities.
But the story has changed. Not only are pistols in wrong hands, machine guns and AK47 rifles as well as other highly sophisticated guns are today being freely used by wrong persons at the slightest provocation. More worrisome is the rate at which high-calibre guns are being used to settle minor disagreements among members of road transport workers union. Guns are also indiscriminately used when street boys engage in a brawl, and during electioneering campaigns, hired thugs use guns to settle scores with political opponents of their paymasters just as it is commonplace to see cult boys brandish guns in vendetta operations.
Anybody who wants to own a gun, can easily access it. In the assessment of a concerned respondent who spoke to Sunday Sun in Lagos, access to small arms for criminals who terrorize innocent citizens in the society has become as easy as buying popcorns from the streets. Thus, beside the popular Awka-made pistols that were common with criminals, high-calibre guns including Pump Action Rifles have become common with criminals and touts.
Lagos sources and price tags Checks revealed that criminals and others that need weapons for self- protection easily procure the deadly weapons from black markets. It was gathered that due to the growing demand for them, Pump Action rifle that sold for about N80, 000 a few years ago, has gone up to as much as N250, 000 and the cartridges are easily retailed in packets and pieces. The situation has become so bad that in some cases, roadside roasted plantain sellers are the custodians of these weapons for men of the underworld.
South-west routes Investigation revealed that guns illegally find their way easily into the South West area including Lagos through porous border routes. For example, they are usually brought in from Benin Republic through such land recovered large quantities of arms and ammunition. Two months later, another raid at Safarogo village in Ovia South West local government area of Edo state, the JTF arrested an ex-militant and seized from him, a machine gun, three AK 47, nine assorted weapons and 1,812 rounds of ammunition. Speaking on the seizures, the JTF media coordinator, Lt. Col Onyema Nwachukwu, assured that the security outfit remained committed, “to mopping up all illegal arms and other dangerous weapons in the possession of authorized persons in the region” A war hard to win In spite of the raids, cordon and search operations as well as snap roadblocks and checkpoints, illegal arms are everywhere in the Niger Delta region.
Checks by Sunday Sun indicated that the quantity and quality of arms within the reach of illegal bunkerers is a major factor hindering the JTF from finally closing the illegal oil business and violent crimes in the region. Top security sources said the quantity of arms in the hands of criminal elements in the region from illegal oil bunkerers to sea pirates and lately, kidnap syndicates is alarming.