OPENING REMARKS BY RT. HON. YAKUBU DOGARA AT THE PARLIAMENTARY CONFERENCE ON LEGISLATIVE ACTIONS FOR CONTAINMENT OF SMALL ARMS PROLIFERATION AND TERRORIST FINANCING IN ECOWAS
OPENING REMARKS BY RT. HON. YAKUBU DOGARA, SPEAKER, HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, NATIONAL ASSEMBLY OF NIGERIA AT PARLIAMENTARY CONFERENCE ON LEGISLATIVE ACTIONS FOR CONTAINMENT OF SMALL ARMS PROLIFERATION AND TERRORIST FINANCING IN ECOWAS, ABUJA ON 7 DECEMBER 2017
It is with a deep sense of responsibility and pleasure that I stand before this august gathering to deliver this opening remarks at this Parliamentary Conference on Containment of Small Arms Proliferation and Terrorist Financing in ECOWAS. On behalf of the Leadership, and indeed the entire National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I wish to welcome you all to Abuja, Nigeria’s Centre of Unity.
2. Permit to start by bothering US with a quotation that I believe summarizes the subject matter that compels our gathering here today. In its 2010 annual report, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime posited that: “West Africa is a paradise for organized crime, offering ideal conditions for trafficking contraband: a strategic location, porous borders, weak governance, wide- spread poverty and extensive corruption. As a result, criminals and insurgents are exploiting the region. West Africa serves as a transit point between Latin America and Europe for US$ 1 billion-worth in cocaine, as a destination for counterfeit medicines and toxic waste, and as a source of stolen natural resources, particularly oil. Human trafficking, whether for forced labour or sexual exploitation, also occurs in the region.”
3. Consequently, the theme of this parliamentary conference cannot be more pertinent and apt. Our efforts towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are being hampered by the high level of insecurity in the West African sub-region. The sub-region has suffered from intra- and inter-communal feuds, local wars, armed insurrections, armed rebel activities and terrorism, all of which have led to the proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW). Small arms and light weapons are dangerous tools of violence in West Africa for obvious reasons. Small arms are durable, highly portable, easily concealed, simple to use, extremely lethal and possess legitimate military, police and civilian uses. In addition, the weapons are lightweight and so are used by child soldiers, who play a significant role in most crises afflicting the sub-region.
4. As legislators, one area we need to address our minds to is the enactment of laws making gun possession difficult. It has been observed that during conflicts, some ECOWAS Member States liberalized laws on gun possession in order to stimulate gun possession by civilians. Arms were directly distributed to paramilitary groups by governments in order to fight rebel forces. In addition, gun possession legislation was liberalized. This development, therefore, enhanced diffusion of small arms in the sub-region. However, after conflicts, small arms are recycled for use in new conflicts and crimes at home, or sold to other West African countries for use in new conflicts or to prolong ongoing conflicts. “When the war ends, the guns remain” is a common refrain among our people in West Africa.
5. In principle, small arms and light weapons are not supposed to flow into or circulate within West Africa. The Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS on 31 October 1998 in Abuja adopted a Declaration on a Moratorium on the Importation, Exportation and Manufacture of Small Arms and Light Weapons in West Africa. This Moratorium became a legally binding and permanent convention on 14 June 2006 when the Authority of Heads of State and Government adopted the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, their Ammunition and Other Related Materials.
6. However, eleven years after the adoption of the Convention in 2006, the issue of containment of small arms proliferation remains a challenge. It is unfortunate to note that there is a thriving trade of mercenaries in West Africa, aiding the circulation and proliferation of small arms in the region, especially along the Sahel area. Levels of youth unemployment are high and there are many able-bodied, disgruntled persons available, ready and willing to be trained and armed to fight. Some of the youth who do not serve as mercenaries illegally migrate to Europe through the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea. Some of the West African youth are currently trapped in Libya where slave trade business thrives. Still on small arms proliferation, illicit mining, oil bunkering and insurgency are also responsible for enhanced diffusion of small arms and light weapons in the sub-region.
Ladies and Gentlemen
7. A related issue that aids proliferation of small arms and light weapons within ECOWAS is terrorist financing. The March 2017 report from Global Financial Integrity, Transnational Crime and the Developing World, notes that transnational crime is a global business. It is valued at an average of $1.6 trillion to $2.2 trillion annually, out of which Small Arms & Light Weapons Trafficking accounts for $1.7 billion to $3.5 billion annually. Other illicit activities include counterfeiting ($923 billion to $1.13 trillion) and drug trafficking ($426 billion to $652 billion).
8. It is worth noting that revenues from transnational crime finance violence, corruption, and other abuses. Very rarely do the revenues from transnational crime have any long-term benefits to citizens, communities, or economies of the sub-region. Instead, the crimes undermine local and national economies, destroy the environment, and jeopardize the health and wellbeing of the public.
9. As Members of Parliament, we need to ensure that our national parliaments ratify the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, Their Ammunition and Other Related Materials. I am happy to report that as at 10 November 2017, thirteen out of the fifteen Member States of ECOWAS had ratified the Convention. I call on the remaining two ECOWAS Member States (The Gambia and Liberia) to accelerate the ratification of the Convention. Beyond ratification, I call on national parliaments to ensure the domestication of the convention into their national laws.
10. FURTHERMORE, I urge all national parliaments to ensure the application of all the provisions of the Convention including Article 21 which provides for the harmonization of legislative provisions in the Member States. The Article states:
i. Member States shall undertake to revise and update national legislation to ensure that the provisions in this Convention are minimum standards for small arms and light weapons control and their ammunition as well as other related materials; and
ii. Each Member State shall adopt legislative and other necessary measures to establish as a criminal offence in the following cases: a) any activity carried out in violation of the provisions of this Convention; b) any activity carried out in violation of an arms embargo imposed by the United Nations, the African Union or ECOWAS.
Ladies and Gentlemen
11. The National Assembly of Nigeria will continue to work with all other stakeholders, especially the security agencies, to ensure the peoples of West Africa live in secured environment. We should treat all financial crimes with zero tolerance. Let me quote the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, H.E. Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) GCON, who during the Opening Ceremony of the 18th GIABA Ministerial Committee meeting held on Saturday 18 November 2017 in Abuja, stated, “the regional commitment to Anti-Money Laundering/Combating the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) must now be backed with forceful action and visible results”. To my mind we can only start seeing visible results only when we answer some hard questions, including but not limited to, how are these cross-border criminals able to undermine law enforcement architecture in respective member States? How are they able to infiltrate the highest echelon of our security Agencies, compromise key officials and operate with impunity? Unquestionably, the solution to this problem must involve a long and hard reflection on the individuals we have entrusted with West Africa’s development, peace and security and the environment in which they operate.
12. Additionally, in order to contain the proliferation of small arms and light weapons and terrorist financing in the ECOWAS, I wish to further suggest legislative actions that:
• require that registered companies doing business within an ECOWAS Member State declare the name(s) of the entity’s true ultimate beneficial owner(s);
• flag financial and trade transactions involving individuals and corporations in secrecy jurisdictions as high-risk and require extra documentation;
• scrutinize import and export invoices for signs of misinvoicing, which may indicate technical and/or physical smuggling; and
• share more information between agencies and departments on the illicit markets and actors that exist within a country’s borders.
13. In conclusion, I wish to commend the National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS), the ECOWAS Parliament and the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) for the successful organisation of this important parliamentary conference. I want to assure you of the continued support of the National Assembly of Nigeria to the ECOWAS Parliament.
14. On this note, while wishing you fruitful deliberations, it is my pleasure to DECLARE OPEN this Parliamentary Conference on Containment of Small Arms Proliferation and Terrorist Financing in ECOWAS. May our coming together at this event and United efforts rid our dear sub-region of the unflattering assessment that it is a paradise for organised crime.
15. Thank you for listening and God bless.