Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara, has called for the enactment of laws which would combat the proliferation of small arms across the West African sub region. He also identified the high rate of youth unemployment and its attendant consequences – such as mercenary trading, insurgency and illegal mining – as contributory factors.

This, he said, while giving opening remarks at the Parliamentary Conference on Containment of Small Arms Proliferation and Terrorist Financing in ECOWAS, which held in Abuja on Thursday.

The Speaker, who made reference to a report of the United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crime which described West Africa as paradise for organised crime due to weak borders , corruption and other such factors, also lamented the adverse effect of widespread insecurity on efforts towards meeting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“The sub-region has suffered from intra- and inter-communal feuds, local wars, armed insurrections, armed rebel activities and terrorism, all of which have led to the proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW). Small arms and light weapons are dangerous tools of violence in West Africa for obvious reasons. Small arms are durable, highly portable, easily concealed, simple to use, extremely lethal and possess legitimate military, police and civilian uses. In addition, the weapons are lightweight and so are used by child soldiers, who play a significant role in most crises afflicting the sub-region.”

“As legislators, one area we need to address our minds to is the enactment of laws making gun possession difficult. It has been observed that during conflicts, some ECOWAS Member States liberalized laws on gun possession in order to stimulate gun possession by civilians. Arms were directly distributed to paramilitary groups by governments in order to fight rebel forces. In addition, gun possession legislation was liberalized. This development, therefore, enhanced diffusion of small arms in the sub-region. However, after conflicts, small arms are recycled for use in new conflicts and crimes at home, or sold to other West African countries for use in new conflicts or to prolong ongoing conflicts.”

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The Speaker stated that the current situation is in direct contravention of a Declaration on a Moratorium on the Importation, Exportation and Manufacture of Small Arms and Light Weapons in West Africa which was adopted by the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS on 31 October 1998, and became a legally binding and permanent convention in June 2006. He identified youth unemployment and the resultant trade of mercenaries as one of the factors responsible for this.

“Eleven years after the adoption of the Convention in 2006, the issue of containment of small arms proliferation remains a challenge. It is unfortunate to note that there is a thriving trade of mercenaries in West Africa, aiding the circulation and proliferation of small arms in the region, especially along the Sahel area. Levels of youth unemployment are high and there are many able-bodied, disgruntled persons available, ready and willing to be trained and armed to fight. Some of the youth who do not serve as mercenaries illegally migrate to Europe through the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea. Some of the West African youth are currently trapped in Libya where slave trade business thrives. Still on small arms proliferation, illicit mining, oil bunkering and insurgency are also responsible for enhanced diffusion of small arms and light weapons in the sub-region.”

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He further highlighted the link between terrorist financing and the proliferation of small arms, and stressed the need for all parliaments to ratify the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, Their Ammunition and Other Related Materials.

“A related issue that aids proliferation of small arms and light weapons within ECOWAS is terrorist financing. The March 2017 report from Global Financial Integrity, Transnational Crime and the Developing World, notes that transnational crime is a global business. It is valued at an average of $1.6 trillion to $2.2 trillion annually, out of which Small Arms & Light Weapons Trafficking accounts for $1.7 billion to $3.5 billion annually. Other illicit activities include counterfeiting ($923 billion to $1.13 trillion) and drug trafficking ($426 billion to $652 billion). It is worth noting that revenues from transnational crime finance violence, corruption, and other abuses. Very rarely do the revenues from transnational crime have any long-term benefits to citizens, communities, or economies of the sub-region. Instead, the crimes undermine local and national economies, destroy the environment, and jeopardize the health and wellbeing of the public.”

“As Members of Parliament, we need to ensure that our national parliaments ratify the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, Their Ammunition and Other Related Materials. I am happy to report that as at 10 November 2017, thirteen out of the fifteen Member States of ECOWAS had ratified the Convention. I call on the remaining two ECOWAS Member States (The Gambia and Liberia) to accelerate the ratification of the Convention. Beyond ratification, I call on national parliaments to ensure the domestication of the convention into their national laws.”

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In order to effectively combat the proliferation of small arms and terrorist financing, the Speaker suggested legislative interventions which will require that registered companies doing business within an ECOWAS Member State declare the names of ultimate beneficial owners, flag financial and trade transactions involving individuals and corporations in secrecy jurisdictions as high-risk and require extra documentation; scrutinize import and export invoices for signs of misinvoicing, which may indicate technical or physical smuggling; and share more information between agencies and departments on the illicit markets and actors that exist within a country’s borders.

He also reiterated the commitment of the National Assembly to working with other stakeholders to enhance security in West Africa.

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