A police officer was arrested in Kwara State for selling his Station Officer’s pistol to suspected cult members less than 24 hours after report of the Auditor General of the Federation, Adolphus Aghughu, revealed that approximately 178,459 different types of arms and ammunition had gone missing from the Police armoury in 2019 without explanation. Unaccounted for weapons included 88,078 AK-47 rifles and 3,907 assorted rifles and pistols from police formations across the country as of January 2020. So we can begin to connect the dots as to why the national security challenge continues to mount.
But what I find interesting is the collective amnesia that has become our national ideology. Since the return to civil rule in 1999, every annual report from the Office of the Auditor General has detailed the number of arms and ammunitions that ‘disappear’ from police armouries. Neither the National Assembly to which the report is statutorily submitted nor the authorities concerned have ever taken steps to follow up, despite the danger this portends for our national security.
The lack of accountability in the armouries of our armed forces is an open secret and I have written extensively about it over the past two decades. In November 2017, Godwin Eteng, then a director (probably still is) in the State Security Service (SSS), told the House of Representatives Joint Committee: “We had a situation where in one of the armouries belonging to one of the armed forces, many pistols just got missing with quantities of ammunition and all the pistols are new. In the armoury, no place was broken into, but the weapons were missing.” Of course, nobody was held to account, neither was there any investigation when the Conflict Armament Research (CAR), an international conflict research group, disclosed that some of the weapons deployed in the intermittent clashes between herdsmen and farmers in the country were traced to “stockpiles of Nigerian defence and security forces”.
Figures from the Nigerian Upstream Regulatory Petroleum Commission (NURPC) last week published by THISDAY revealed that while Nigeria was expected to pump approximately 635 million barrels of oil by last November, only 441 million barrels were produced within the period. This aligns with the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) report that Nigeria annually loses about 7% of its total production to criminal cartels. We may look away at the lack of accountability in the oil and gas sector and the implications for our national well-being, but we cannot afford to do same with security without serious consequences. We already see evidence of this across several states in the North and Imo in the Southeast. That is why we must pay attention to the audit of our armouries.
In 2001 (that is 21 years ago), the then acting Auditor-General of the Federation, Vincent Azie was sacked following the release of an audit report revealing how billions of Naira were collected for purchases not made, contracts not executed and supply of what in most cases were simply listed as “various items”. But the most critical aspect of the 301-page report which did not receive much attention at the time had to do with the audit of weapons in police armouries. In my column on 13th March 2003, I brought out this critical issue in a piece titled “Murder Made Easy, By Vincent Azie”. Before I conclude, let me share some of what I wrote in that column published almost 18 years ago, which still resonates:
“…The most alarming aspect of Azie’s report is the audit of police weapons. While lack of accountability in funds management can be tolerated as Nigerians have been doing for decades, lack of accountability as it relates to weapons in the hands of law enforcement personnel portends great danger to all of us. Many people have in recent times wondered why there are so many guns in the hands of armed robbers, assassins, and the likes. Well, Azie’s report may provide some clues because guns are neither cheap nor easy to come by. However, since Azie’s report covers only the police, one can then imagine what happens in the Army, Navy, Air Force, State Security Service (SSS) etc.
“In the period under review, at the Jalingo police command, the examination of Arms and Ammunition Register indicated that the underlisted rifles and pistols were missing: 12 G.3 Rifle, one AR Pistol, one SMG Rifle, one Baretta Rifle, two Riot Gumers, five FNC Rifles, one Mark 4 Rifle, two K.2 Rifles and one Long Range Pistol. At Enugu Mobile Force, according to Azie, audit examination revealed that seven arms were missing, four of them Lar Rifles numbers 1692706, 1693708,1693891 and 1693464 while the other three were SMG Rifles with numbers 16579,165778 and 24162.
“At Federal Intelligence and Investigation Bureau (FIIB), Alagbon, the following observations were made by Azie: ‘Eight Brownie pistols issued to eight officers of the Force CID, Alagbon between 1993 and 2001 were yet to be returned to the Arms store as at the time of the audit in June 2002. Some of these officers had either been retired or re-deployed to other departments. Similarly, three Brownie Pistols issued to three officers of the FIIB, Alagbon were reported to have been lost. The circumstances surrounding the disappearance and non-recovery of these arms were not explained.’”
I went on to catalogue from Azie’s report the arms and rounds of ammunition that were either ‘missing’ or ‘snatched’ by armed robbers in suspicious circumstances. “During the examination of the accounting records maintained at the Nigerian Police Force, MOPOL 4, Ibadan, it was observed that seven officers who had been transferred to other commands left with seven Baretta pistols issued to them. ‘The anomalies have been brought to the attention of the Permanent Secretary whose response is being awaited,’ Azie stated as he listed the weapons that could not be accounted for at virtually all police formations across the country before his conclusion: “Considering the alarming rate at which arms and ammunition disappear from the various formations, it has become imperative that the mechanism for the issuance and control of these weapons be reviewed so as to enhance their safe keeping and prevent their getting into wrong and dangerous hands.”
It goes without saying that many guns are already in ‘wrong and dangerous hands’. In Zamfara and other states in the Northwest bandits have practically seized control, killing and maiming dozens almost every other day while levying heavy taxes on rural dwellers. It is also obvious that there are syndicates who specialise in selling arms from official armouries to these criminal gangs. Yet, if there were measures to instil accountability for those responsible for these weapons, we may not be in the situation we find ourselves with the nation practically under the gun!
In my book, ‘Power, Politics and Death’, I detailed how criminals operated from 1 Base Ordnance Depot Kaduna (1BODK) arms sheds, the Ordnance Sub Depot (OSD) in Jaji and the Ordnance Field Park (OFP) in Calabar, carting away heavy weapons. “The extent of the theft was so staggering and the crime so well organized that the investigating team could hardly determine the exact number of arms removed due to deliberate false accounting and destruction of stock cards by the perpetrators. But the army chief noted that the arms and ammunition removed included GPMGs, Sterling SMG, Bren LNG, AK 47 rifles, Uzis, FNs, 3G, Cetme, M12 She Berettas, grenades, rocket launchers, and several fragmentation jackets. Instructively, he said all the new UMGs, as well as the used but serviceable GPMGs, RPG 7 and AK 47 rifles were stolen,” I wrote, relying on the report of an investigation carried out by a former Chief of Army Staff, the late Lt. General Luka Yusuf, submitted to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
While problems like this may not be peculiar to Nigeria, the real challenge is in the lackadaisical manner we tackle them. In most countries, cases of missing arms are considered very serious and are treated as such. For instance, when last June the Associated Press (AP) published an investigative story that the United States military lost about 2,000 small-arms weapons within a period of ten years, it provoked an immediate response from relevant authorities. Senator Richard Blumenthal described the report as “blood curdling” during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing where he sought an explanation from Army Secretary, Ms Christine Wormuth. When Wormuth referred to the number of missing weapons getting into civilian hands as “likely to be a small number,” Blumenthal responded that 2,000 weapons that could not be adequately accounted for are “not exactly a small number.”
What is particularly instructive in that report is the line that “entire large units — sometimes entire bases — are frequently locked down when a weapon goes missing, usually leaving behind broken or damaged careers.” The implication is that there are consequences for missing arms in the United States. The same goes for several other countries. Yet, several thousands of weapons go ‘missing’ every year in Nigeria without anybody being held to account!
Unfortunately, now that we have entered the season of ‘lifelong ambitions’, audit of weapons is the least of what would worry people in authorities and those who aspire to replace them.
The Tragic Drama in Mali
Right from the day in May 2012 when thousands of Malians descended on the Presidential Palace in Bamako to give then Interim President, Dioncounda Traore, the beating of his life, the French-speaking West African country has known no peace. But the entire crisis began on 22 March 2012 with the coup by Captain Amadou Sanogo that toppled the civilian administration of President Amadou Toumani Traore. Despite a successful intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) leaders who effected a transitional arrangement led by the Parliamentary Speaker of the ousted government, disorder in the country continued due to a typical African malaise.
In January 2012, five months before the Sanogo coup, an armed insurrection had broken out in the northern part of the country where Tuareg rebels took control of a territory they called Azawad and declared their secession from Mali. The intervention of French forces eventually helped to restore a measure of peace and presidential and parliamentary elections held in 2013. But on 18th August 2020, following street protests that lasted weeks, the military again seized power and arrested President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, who resigned, apparently at gunpoint.
That was the background to Sunday’s extraordinary summit in Accra, Ghana, where ECOWAS leaders rejected the five-year transition programme announced by the Malian military government and imposed tough and unprecedented sanctions on the country. These include withdrawal of all ECOWAS Ambassadors in Mali, closure of land and air borders between ECOWAS countries and Mali, freezing of all Mali assets in ECOWAS Central Banks, suspension of all commercial and financial transactions between ECOWAS Member States and Mali, among others. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, who represented Nigeria at the summit, was effusive in his praise as to how “ECOWAS has shown that it has not lost its bite where there are concerns about issues of good governance and democratic enterprises in the sub-region.”
We wait to see whether these sanctions will move the Mali junta that has already condemned ECOWAS intervention as “illegal and illegitimate.”
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