New Telegraph

Advancing National Security: A Case For NATCOM

Tinubu

Globally, it is a well-known fact that the proliferation of small arms and light weapons poses a significant threat to national security, stability, and economic development in any country.

As Nigeria grapples with rising insecurity, it is crucial to address this menace comprehensively without recourse to personal interest or individuals’ pecuniary gains.

Nigeria is bigger than any individual, no matter office we occupy. Therefore, as a Nigerian, in whatsoever capacity we find ourselves, let us remember that it is the country first.

Today, President Bola Tinubu’s tenure as the chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) provides a unique opportunity to establish National Commission for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (NATCOM) in Nigeria as a specialized commission dedicated to controlling the spread of illicit arms.

This has become imperative for so many reason, especially because of its potential impact on Nigeria and Nigerian economy so as to be among other member countries that have keyed into the ECOWAS convention. The ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, Their Ammunition, and Other Related Materials is a significant regional initiative aimed at addressing the proliferation and illicit trade of small arms and light weapons within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) region.

Some key points from the convention adopted by the Conference of ECOWAS Heads of State on June 14, 2006 has its primary objectives including to prevent and combat the excessive accumulation of small arms and light weapons (SALWs) within ECOWAS and to control their circulation.

The convention also seeks to address the destabilizing impact of SALWs on peace, security, and stability in the region. In its key provisions, the convention expanded the existing moratorium on SALWs to include “components and ammunition”, established a stringent waiver procedure for member states wishing to import, export, or manufacture firearms and to this end, each member state is required to create a National Commission on Small Arms and Light Weapons to implement the convention’s resolutions.

The national commissions are to play a crucial role in sharing information and experiences related to SALWs. From the international context, the convention aligns with international efforts to curb the proliferation of SALWs as it considers relevant United Nations instruments, including the UN Protocol on the manufacture and illicit trade in firearms, spare parts, components, and ammunition.

Additionally, the convention takes into account other regional and sub-regional initiatives aimed at addressing this issue. In short, the ECOWAS Convention emphasizes cooperation among member states to control and prevent the spread of small arms and light weapons, contributing to regional peace and security. In Nigeria, the urgency of addressing small arms and light weapons proliferation cannot be overemphasized, especially when we take patriotic look into the current security challenges in the country.

Small arms and light weapons – such as handguns, rifles, and grenades – have fueled violence, terrorism, and criminal activities across Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones without exception. We all feel it daily in the ongoing banditry, kidnapping for ransom, and secessionist agitations threatening lives, disrupting legitimate activities in our local communities, and hindering economic progress amid hunger and poverty in most parts of the country.

Therefore, NATCOM’s establishment would allow a better coordinated effort to curb the influx of illegal arms within and outside Nigeria’s ungoverned spaces, given by its already established structure and volunteer workforce. Secondly, looking at NATCOM’s Mandate and ECOWAS Convention, NATCOM’s primary mandate would be to coordinate and control the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.

This aligns with the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, Their Ammunition, and Other Related Materials. By ratifying this convention, Nigeria commits to regional cooperation in combating arms trafficking and promoting peace and security. Looking at the economic gains, job creation is on top of it all as NATCOM’s activities would create employment opportunities for the Nigerian youths, especially at this time when criminality is on the increase due to high rate of job losses and hash economic realities.

From arms control officers to administrative staff, the commission’s workforce would contribute to reducing unemployment rates in the country while training programmes for arms control and border security would enhance skills and employability in the country. Also key is enhanced security and investment climate in Nigeria as a safer environment attracts foreign direct investment (FDI) and encourages local businesses to expand. Investors seek stability and predictability. Therefore, NATCOM’s efforts would reduce armed conflicts, safeguard critical infrastructure, and protect businesses.

This stability would boost economic growth. Today, power infrastructure are daily vandalized, the businesses and homes in darkness due to increasing activities of unemployed young people in the country. On improving regional trade and integration, an efficient arms control facilitates cross border trade. NATCOM’s collaboration with neighboring countries would enhance regional integration. Legal arms trade can thrive without endangering security.

This benefits Nigeria’s trade relations within ECOWAS. The economic toll of insecurity – lost productivity, healthcare expenses, and infrastructure damage – is substantial and NATCOM’s preventive measures would drastically reduce these costs, redirecting resources from security responses to development projects that would yield long-term benefits through its grassroots related operations.

Having established some of the gains of establishing NATCOM, it is important to note that it must be established by an Act of the National Assembly and signed into law by President Bola Tinubu to give legal framework that ensures the commission’s authority, funding, and operational autonomy.

The National Centre for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (NCCSALW), under the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA), had recently issued a statement that NATFORCE and NATCOM, are not part of Nigeria’s security architecture and have no affiliation with any official security agency, insisting that the outfits are not backed by federal law, lack the authority to recruit, and are not approved to operate as security organizations.

The statement also noted that the National Centre for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (NCCSALW), remains the National Focal Point on Small Arms and Light Weapons in Nigeria, coordinating with all relevant stakeholders to implement the UN and ECOWAS Plans of Action on the control of small arms and light weapons, adding that in 2021, the office of the NSA directed the dismantling of illegal security outfits involved in extorting and harassing Nigerians.

This development prompted this instigative research on National Commission for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (NATCOM), leading to the above exposé on the planned establishment of the Commission and the gains of an Act of the National Assembly, presidential assent, and culminating in an official gazette of the federal government of Nigeria. Nevertheless, the public was reminded that NATFORCE and NATCOM are not part of Nigeria’s security architecture and have no affiliation with any official security agency.

However, in the course of this investigative research, it was found that the recent statement that was credited to NCCSALW on the activities of NATCOM could be seen in some quarters as an affront on the National Assembly, particularly the 10th Assembly, which listed the recommittal of the NATCOM Bill 2023 on its order paper.

The media in July 2023 widely reported that the 10th National Assembly has commenced the recommittal process of Bills passed by the 9th Assembly but were neither assented to nor assent withheld by President Tinubu before the expiration of the preceding Assembly.

Available records from the office of the Clerk to the National Assembly, according to media reports, showed that Bills that fall into this category, were 44, one of which, is the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, their Ammunition and other Related Materials (Ratification and Enforcement) Bill 2023, otherwise passed as NATCOM Bill 2023, which was earlier transmitted to former President Muhammadu Buhari in April 2023. Investigations have also revealed that NATCOM inherited a large number of volunteer workforce from NATFORCE and have recruited some of those who have expressed interest.

However, it was found that the volunteers have no terms of service or remunerations attached since NATCOM has not been existing as part of the Nigerian security architecture but as a group of volunteers seeking legal backing to help support the existing national security architecture for a safer country. These volunteers, it was found, are able bodied Nigerians, including professionals and retirees who have offered their services free of charge and funding their activities from their pockets.

Findings also revealed that the volunteers have patriotically offered themselves to provide intelligence/information on illicit arms and ammunitions in the hands of non-state actors while awaiting presidential assent and official gazetting of the NATCOM Act by President Tinubu – NATCOM has a record of collaboration/ complimentary services with the Nigeria Police Force in time past.

In the meantime, the impact of NCCSALW at the office of the NSA, which was established in May 2021 by the administration of former President Buhari, has not been fully felt, hence the security situation and the number of illegal arms and ammunitions flowing into the hands of non-state actors and into many ungoverned spaces in the country still prevails.

Therefore, NCCSALW should instead find a common ground for collaboration, encouragement, and synergy with NATCOM, which has pursued it’s legislative backing for over 10 years for enabling Act and legal teeth, which was eventually gotten when the 9th Assembly passed the NATCOM bill into law and awaiting Presidents’ assent and with the recommittal of the bill by the 10th Assembly.

It is therefore shocking to read the NCCSALW under the office of the NSA portraying itself as though it is seeking to frustrate the ongoing efforts of both NATCOM and the 10th National Assembly who are determined to address the prevailing issue of insecurity in Nigeria.

NCCSALW should explore possibilities for collaboration with NATCOM volunteers just like the Nigeria Police Force did in time past. While the NCCSALW serves as a stopgap measure, NATCOM’s establishment by an Act of the National Assembly promises a more robust, sustainable approach to small arms control.

And by signing the NATCOM Bill into law, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu would have strengthened Nigeria’s security architecture and contribute to regional stability and prosperity President Tinubu’s leadership as ECOWAS chairman presents a historic moment for Nigeria hence establishing NATCOM would demonstrate our commitment to regional security, youth empowerment, and economic prosperity.

By controlling proliferation of small arms and light weapons will pave the way for a safer more prosperous Nigeria. Let us, therefore, patriotically seize this opportunity and build a resilient future for our country and desist from unnecessary inter-agency rivalry which portends a great danger to national security and advances made thus far.

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