A cargo ship loaded with weapons and ammunitions from the United States has been confiscated in Lagos, Nigeria. The arms loaded ship has raised concerns over arms proliferation either to the unrelenting rebel factions of Niger Delta or to political thugs ahead of the 2011 electoral polls. Experts say the Nigerian government, unable to deliver basic social services, is “plagued by corruption so endemic and monumental it is hard to separate it from state policy” and also lacks the capability or discipline to prevent threats to public safety and national integrity.
Apprehension of the arms-filled ship comes days after the end of an amnesty in the oil-rich Niger Delta, where the government has been urging militants to hand in their weapons. Officers of the Nigeria Customs Service are reported to have intercepted the 40ft container while carrying out routine inspection at Apapa port in the city of Lagos. The custom officials say it is not the first arms shipment to be found this year. Earlier in June, two ships loaded with weapons were impounded by Nigeria’s navy in the southern port of Calabar in southern Nigeria. A third vessel escaped to sea.
These events according to experts reveal the arms proliferation going on between political godfathers in Nigeria, and foreign governments and institutions. Officials are still searching for the owner of the arms. So far, one person has been arrested in connection with the ship.
Activists and observers have often accused political godfathers and their allies of recruiting and arming young men to intimidate their rivals. Sources close to the former government of President Olusegun Obasanjo said many of the Niger Delta’s militant groups were originally armed by political godfathers.
Reverend Stephen Davis, a former adviser to two Nigerian presidents on the Niger Delta expressed doubts about the amnesty, saying that the underlying political and economic landscape has not changed: “There are still no jobs for disaffected youths, powerful people in Nigeria continue to make money from oil theft and political godfathers will still need young men with guns in order to secure their positions.”
Skeptics have said with unconfirmed reports replete with certitude that a minority of militants insist on fighting on, as new leaders replace those who have already surrendered.
Index of state weakness
Within a week of an expired amnesty and impending electoral polls come 2011, the trouble of arms proliferation into Nigeria has raised new doubts of state civility, democracy and transparency in the Nigerian system. According to Ogaga Ifowodo, a Nigerian lawyer and poet currently completing a PhD at Cornell University in New York, the Brookings Institution’s index of state weakness ranks Nigeria 28 out of 141 developing countries and was co-authored by Susan Rice, President Barack Obama’s top diplomat at the United Nations. It places the self-styled “giant of Africa” in the honored company of Somalia, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Looking on the bright side, Nigeria happily sits on the cusp for countries termed “critically weak” as opposed to the merely “weak” states. But if the Brookings Institution takes a kind view of Nigeria, the American Fund for Peace, a research body, thinks otherwise. In its 2008 index of failed states, Nigeria is only two short rungs away from being in the same category as Somalia and Zimbabwe. Ironically, Nigeria has to look up the ladder at Sierra Leone and Liberia, two countries she spared no expense of life, limb and hard currency to bring out of civil wars to restore to democracy.
In the past week, the Nigerian minister of foreign affairs, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, called on the international community to check the spate by implementing existing agreements, as well as creating new and legally binding ones, in order to achieve the goal of preventing, combating and eradicating illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, and regulating the transfer of conformist weapons in general. The proliferation of arms in West Africa is fast turning the region into a major transit point for illicit drugs and facilitating the growth of criminal consortiums, some with enough munitions to challenge a country’s military force, the Nigerian foreign minister stated.
A failed state
By Purchasing hot commodities from combatants; operating timber or mining concessions offered by warlords or rebel forces; facilitating shipment of illicit raw materials; operating in countries with repressive government; helping to procure arms for rebel troops that engage in human right violations, foreign nations have facilitated and maintained Africa’s instability and conflicts, political, economic, and social inequality, crises of state legitimacy, weak state institutions, political economy where access to resources is determined by violence and greed, experts have argued.
Ifowodo, described Nigeria as a nation heading towards a failed state: “Most, if not all of the indices of failed states, declare Nigeria well on its way to joining that disreputable club. Nigeria boasts a government unable to deliver basic social services. It is plagued by corruption so endemic and monumental it is hard to separate it from state policy. It lacks the capability or discipline to prevent threats to public safety and national integrity and is assailed by active challenges to its legitimacy. While Nigerians, notoriously prickly in their nationalism, may loudly denounce any suggestions from abroad of the imminent disintegration of their country, they nonetheless admit the unflattering truth of this possibility to themselves and each other.”
On June 18, 2009, a Ukrainian aircraft carrying 18 crates with mines and ammunition was detained in Nigeria: Some observers said the arms-loaded plane was destined for the Niger Delta militants to sustain the anarchy that allows the rebels to steal oil and sell to foreign nations at black market rates, and some said it was destined for Equatorial Guinea to bolster rebellion against the government and maintain the instability that allows miscreants and foreign nations to exploit the oil wealth. This recent arms-filled ship from the U.S detained in Nigeria only highlights the business of arms proliferation by some foreign governments in order to keep African nations unsettled, so that their corporations and greedy African individuals can benefit from the nations instability.