By Taiye Agbaje
Abuja – The House of Representatives, on Wednesday, passed the bill for an act to establish ‘National Commission on Small Arms and Light Weapons’ (NATCOM) for second reading.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the bill is to, among others things, regulate and prohibit proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW).
It is also to sensitise the public on the dangers of SALW in order to discourage their production and combat the problem in Nigeria in line with the ECOWAS Convention on SALW and for related matters.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Yakubu Dogara, and Rep. Nnenna Ukeje (Abia-PDP) were sponsors of the bill.
Presenting her position at the plenary, Ukeje said “the bill was born out of the desire to ensure that the conditions of the ECOWAS treaty as prescribed by the United Nations Programme of Action (UNPoA) were fulfilled and hopefully fast-track the domestication of the treaty.’’
According to her, the conversation about Nigeria’s insecurity concerns are highlighted on a daily basis “as communal conflicts, religious crises, insurrection, terrorism, insurgency, militancy, revolt, electoral violence, robbery, cross border smuggling, kidnapping, sexual violence and other threats as highlighted in the National Security Strategy, have been on the increase in the couple of years’’.
Quoting the UN Centre for Peace and Disarmament’s statistics, Ukeje said that out of 500 million small arms in circulation in West Africa, 70 per cent of those arms reside in Nigeria.
She noted that obsolete laws and ineffective stockpile management were responsible for this.
She said the bill intended to address not only the security issues but also human right issues.
“The proliferation of arms, if left unabated, will ensure mutually assured destruction with women and children the most vulnerable in theatres of violence and the economy taking a large hit,” she said.
According to her, it is a common saying that small arms and light weapons have killed more people than weapons of mass destruction.
“It has been said that Nigeria is a country of origin, transit and destination of small arms thereby compounding the problem,” she said.
She recalled that the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General for West Africa and Sahel, Mr Ibn Chambers, recently said, “Nigeria and Gambia were the only countries in West Africa without national commissions against proliferation of arms.’’
Other lawmakers, who spoke on the floor, threw their weight behind the bill.
Rep. Johnson Agbonayima (Edo-APC) said it was disheartening that people were being killed in Nigeria on a daily basis.
Agbonayima, who noted that the country currently had no institution to regulate arms bearing, said ”prevention is better than cure.”
“Some of these criminals come in through the borders. And it is because we have failed as government to checkmate this.
“The bill will ensure justice, the bill will speak for you and I to protect lives and property,’’ he said.
The House Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila (Lagos-APC), described the bill as timely.
He, however, urged the House to look into other areas, which the bill should cover, like the noncompliance with the law and penalties awaiting the law breakers.
Rep. Betty Apiafi (Rivers-PDP) said there was need to put in place a good mop-up programme to address those arms left behind by Boko Haram insurgents and other criminals so that these do not go to wrong hands.
When the speaker put the question to vote, it was unanimously supported by the whole house.
It was however referred to the Committee on National Security and Intelligence for further legislative action. (NAN)