Cross Border Crime in West Africa. Why ECOWAS Chairman Must Act Fast

By Martin Igwe, West African Regional 1st Vice President, West African Action Network on Small Arms (WAANSA Nigeria)

The proliferation and circulation of illegal small arms and light weapons remain a significant challenge to peace and security in Nigeria and the Ecowas Region. From Zamfara North-West to Borno in North-East to Benue North-Central Nigeria, Tuaregs in Niger and Mali etc armed violence has had dire consequence on the socio Economic development, political stability and human security of the region.

FRANTZ FANON said and I quote “in any crises situation any unlooker is either a traitor or Coward” understanding the fact that courage is not the absence of fear but the triumph over it, my team took a journey to Federal University Gusau, Zamfara State where very organized criminal elements abducted scores of students. Our series of meetings with relevant stakeholders in Zamfara and Katsina confirmed a well coordinated cross border syndicates capitalizing on our porous border to abuse ECOWAS protocol of free entry and free exit. Especially this time the border of Niger Republic is shot down due to sanctions from ECOWAS.
Our Border Communities are now shadows of itself informal trade accounting for significant majority of employment of women are no more, no thank to this criminal syndicates acting like government under legitimate government. Federal University of Gusau management and student are always living in fear, this is threatening the Educational development of our youths who will remain economic risk takers and engine room of any genuine development.

Raising creativity, productivity, stimulating entrepreneurship and technology breakthrough in education institutions remains a source bet to consolidate governments effort to gradually eliminate poverty in Nigeria and West Africa as a Region.

The vision of Economic Community of West Africa States was anchored on creating a borderless, peaceful prosperous and cohesive region built on good governance where the people have the capacity to access and harness the enormous resources through creation of opportunities for sustainable development.

Today the opposite is almost the reality, Trans Border Crime in West Africa Sub-region has increase illegal proliferation of small arms and light weapons, these weapons mostly in the hands of non state actors fuel communal conflict, political instability and pose threat to Regional Peace and Stability. The truth is that as long as the Nigeria borders remain porous and inefficiently manned by reasonable security personal, prospect for efficient border management will be greatly undermined destroying private sector economic opportunities. Different studies indicates that women owns most of this businesses and profit channeled to uplifting family livelihood including buying foods and paying school fees. Maigatari in Jigawa State Nigeria, Congwalam in Katsina, Illela in Sokoto Nigeria remains examples of this confirmed large International border markets.

West Africa Action Network on Small Arms is of the view that time has come for President Bola Ahmed Tinubu President of Federal Republic of Nigeria and Chairman ECOWAS to reawaken the Spirit of the vision of ECOWAS and mobilize member state to consider opening of Nigeria-Niger Border. Doing this will be a direct additional bold step policy initiative which will quicken the realization of the budget of Renew Hope which seek to achieve among other things economic growth, greater access to social security with defence and security as top priority.

Regional and sub-regional organizations like ECOWAS must enforce existing International treaties and convention against defaulters whenever they are arrested to serve as deterrent to others.

ECOWAS need to develop an economic blue print capable of bringing certain aspect of legitimate economic activities in border communities such as infrastructure, social, environmental and human needs, strengthen institution working within the border area, provide modern facilities and control centers that can effectively detect movement of criminal elements and illegal importation of arms in the region of West Africa, Trans-border organized crime remains a serious security threat that must be forcefully combated through appropriate technology, legal, political, economic, social and cultural strategies.

A threat to peace and security in West African Region remains a threat to development, with existing realities and its possible negative consequences to regional peace security and development ECOWAS NEED TO ACT NOW AND FAST TOO.