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Disarming West Africa

The African continent is not immune from the proliferation of illicit weapons. In 2016, the United Nations raised the alarm over the increase in illicit small arms and light weapons (SALW) in Nigeria. Although exact numbers cannot be determined, the then-director of United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (UNREC), Olatokunbo Ige gave an estimate that about 70 percent of 500 million weapons found in the region are in Nigeria [1]. In her statement, she warned that this could have a dramatic impact on peace and security in the region and also affect the livelihoods of millions of people across the continent [2].

Where do these weapons come from?

The proliferation of SALW in Nigeria as well as other West African states is a result of other conflicts in the region. In 2011, the Libyan Civil war brought many weapons to the region as well as the Northern Mali civil war from 2012 to 2015. A significant portion of the weapons found in Nigeria and the Economic Community of West African States came from the Cold War.

Insufficient tracking measures and corrupt officials

Despite ECOWAS's pledge in 1998 to not import, export, or manufacture these weapons. The efforts have been disregarded due to lax arms export measures in countries that supply these weapons as well as people who covertly finance transnational arms trafficking. It is possible for one to pay off embargoed buyers that use misappropriated funds from commodities such as diamonds or timber concessions for arms.

An example of this is the conflict in Liberia in 2003. During the conflict, the government of Guinea imported weapons from Iran. These weapons were declared on cargo documents as detergent and technical equipment. From Guinea, the weapons cargo was forwarded to allied rebels in Liberia who used the weapons to attack civilians in the capital, Monrovia.

It was reported that child soldiers as young as age 11, used the mortars that were found in the cargo [3].

Impact of Loose Weapons

The most significant problem the proliferation of SALW brings is its impact on the livelihoods of civilians. The unregulated illicit arms trade has led to the African continent having the highest number of IDPs this century, more than any other continent.

There have been attempts to destroy some of the illicit weapons in Nigeria. Though some have been successful, it is not enough considering the amount of weapons that are in the country. The Nigerian Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light weapons (PRESCOM) announced in December its plans to destroy 5000 weapons that were recovered from Zamfara, a state in the North West region of the country. Katsina state has destroyed 425 weapons, and Benue state has destroyed over 600 weapons this past year [4].

In a press conference, a representative of UNREC expressed concerns about the weapons in the country.UNREC aims to support states in the region prevent diversion and trafficking of SALW and their ammunition by improving the physical security and management of national stockpiles.


[1] Nigeria accounts for over 70% of 500 million illicit weapons in West Africa, 2016,

[2] Ikenna,“Nigeria accounts for 70% of 500 million weapons in West Africa” , Vanguard Nigeria, August 2, 2016

[3] Don Michael Adeniji, “Nigeria: Boko Haram and National Security” Lulu 2015

[4] Senator Iroegbu, “Nigeria to destroy 5000 illicit weapons in Zamfara” ,The Nigerian Voice, December 12, 2017

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