Gun Smuggling in the Niger Delta
World Press Review Correspondent
from its acknowledged role in the oil industry, the port town of Warri
in Southern Nigeria also plays a vital unacknowledged function: It
is the hub of the gun trade in the Niger Delta. The prevalence of
light arms in that part of the country is not a new phenomenon. It
has been known for
years that sailors trade in guns at the ports.
The rise in the number of ethnic clashes in the Niger Delta has
expanded the frontiers of the gun trade and sparked an increase
in the number of gun owners. Supply has since leapt to include smugglers
from countries in the sub-region of Guinea-Bissau, Gabon, and Cameroon.
Using fast boats, these
smugglers cruise to ships anchored in the high seas and obtain guns
the origins of which may be as far afield as Eastern Europe and
For many years, this trade in arms has fueled ethnic clashes between
the Ijaws of the Niger Delta and their neighbors, the Urhobos, as
well as between the Urhobos and their western neighbors the Itsekiris.
This is not to say that everyone in this area has access to weapons.
Agentswho are often prominent men in their communitiesbuy
guns from the sailors and sell them to the youths who fight the
wars. When there are no battles to fight, these weapons find their
way into the hands of robbers who terrorise people on highways and
in cities. An AK-14 rifle sells for the equivalent of 100 dollars.
And yet, very few people in Nigeria own guns legally. Regulations
on gun ownership were stringently revised after a bloody inter-ethnic
clash in Northern Nigeria in 1989. As a result of the clash, former
dictator Ibrahim Babangida recalled all licenses and enacted laws
that made it the restoration of licenses difficult. Now, the only
guns available to citizens
through a license are double-barreled shotguns for use in gaming
sports. These must be licensed by the commissioner of police of
with the following requirements: An applicant needs to be above
of good character and not prone to temper tantrums, with a permanent
address and a verifiable source of income. The level of bureaucracy
involved makes getting a gun license extremely difficult.
However, a greater percentage of those who carry firearms today
submit to any scrutiny. In the police armory in Lagos, there are
than 6,000 types of automatic guns and rifles on exhibition, representing
just a fraction of the weapons in circulation today. Many Nigerians,
particularly if they are wealthy, keep guns in their homes in case
attacked by armed robbers in the middle of the night.
Last year the police carried out a dawn raid on Orilowo-Ejigbo,
suburb, and arrested three men after seizing a cache of arms that
sufficient to outfit a 20-man army. In another incident last year,
border town of Seme, bandits overwhelmed the huge security presence
border post, laid in wait for traders and robbed them. Many lives
lost. As an officer testified after the incident, it wasn't the
of the robbers that unnerved him and his colleagues, but the sophistication
of the arms they used.
This kind of violence is the flipside of Nigeria's involvement
in the wars
in Liberia and Sierra-Leone. Although they are not being fought
soil, these wars have provided the Nigerian black market with a
source of assault weapons.