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President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday lamented the rising proliferation of illegal arms and ammunition in the country, in spite of the closure of the nation’s borders more than a year ago.
Buhari restated that the infiltration of countries within the Sahel region of Africa by fleeing bodyguards and the crisis in Libya were primarily responsible for the worrisome development.
He warned that “as far as Libya remains unstable, so will the problem remain.”
The President’s lamentation elicited reactions from many Nigerians who complained that he had not taken action against those permitting illegal immigration and inflow of arms and ammunitions instead of effectively policing the porous borders.
The President spoke when the outgoing Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mohammed Ibn Chambas, paid him a farewell visit in Aso Villa, Abuja.
The Federal Government shut the nation’s land borders in August 2019, with the aim of controlling smuggling, including light and small arms, into the country.
The border closure was however reversed through a presidential order in December last year, after several calls by interested parties.
Buhari told Chambas that the first step towards keeping the Sahel region peaceful and secure is to ensure stability in the State of Libya.
According to the President, the worsening case of arms and ammunition proliferation in the West African and the Sahel region resulted from the fall of the former Libyan strongman, Col. Muammar Gadaffi.
Buhari, according to a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, said Gadaffi held a grip on power in Libya for 42 years by recruiting armed guards from different countries, who escaped with arms when the Libyan he was killed.
He said: “They didn’t learn any other skill than to shoot and kill. So, they are a problem all over the Sahel countries today.
“We closed our land borders here for more than a year, but arms and ammunition continued to flow illegally. As far as Libya remains unstable, so will the problem remain.
“We have to cope with the problems of development, as we can’t play hop, step and jump. But, we will eventually overcome those problems.”
The President described Chambas, who spent many years in Nigeria in different capacities, from ECOWAS to UN, as “more of a Nigerian than anything else.”
Buhari had in April 2018 told the Archbishop of Canterbury Rev. Justin Welby, that Gaddafi, who was killed in 2011 by United States troops, was responsible for the killings in parts of Nigeria.
He said that the arms Gaddafi provided to his supporters filtered into Nigeria where they are now being used to fuel killings, especially in the Northcentral.
Buhari had said: “The problem is even older than us. It has always been there, but now made worse by the influx of armed gunmen from the Sahel region into different parts of the West African sub-region.
“These gunmen were trained and armed by Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. When he was killed, the gunmen escaped with their arms. We encountered some of them fighting with Boko Haram.”
In February last year, the President told the African Union Peace And Security Council Summit on Situations in Libya and the Sahel in Addis Ababa that the devastating impact of the conflict in the Libya and its neighbours in the Sahel and the Lake Chad regions was alarming
He had said: “We condemn strongly all forms and manifestations of external interference in Libya, including the evident presence of mercenaries…”
Chambas thanked the President “for personal support I received from you, and from Nigeria as a country.”
He said Nigeria was playing a yeoman’s role, particularly in giving support to the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) in checking terrorism and violent extremism in the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin area.