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AWKA BLACKSMITHS AND THE PROLIFERATION OF SMALL ARMS AND LIGHT WEAPONS SINCE 1970-IMPLICATIONS FOR SOUTH-EAST SECURITY
AWKA, the Anambra State capital, is known as the blacksmith city because the town used to excel in manufacturing such items as guns, gongs, pots and metal wares of all kinds. In fact, the traditional ruler of Awka bears the title of Eze Uzu (the blacksmith king) and many title holders in the town attach ‘uzu’ (blacksmith) after their names.
But the blacksmiths themselves are bitter. They are bitter because government has neglected them and they therefore look at anyone who comes to make inquiries about their trade with suspicion. Blacksmith used to be somehow exclusive to Awka people, but things have changed as not only Awka people are in it currently.
The environment where they operate is also an eye saw and, as many of them told Saturday Vanguard, they are still in the trade because they could not find an alternative job to do. The place where the blacksmiths occupy in Awka used to be a beehive of activities and customers used to come from many parts of the country and even beyond to buy the short guns that were synonymous with Awka. However, after the Nigeria civil war, production of guns, the most lucrative of all products manufactured by the blacksmiths in Awka, became illegal such that security operatives were often carrying out raids in the area. Out of fear, many of them withdrew and learnt other trades.
Over the years, however, those who endured adjusted and concentrated in making items other than the guns. But gradually, however, many of them began to lose interest in the job and finally withdrew. Recnetly,in the blacksmith center in the heart of Awka, not more than 20 people were seen and most of them were men above 60 years old. The only young people among them were apprentices from other parts of Anambra, as well as Akwa Ibom and Cross River states.
Littered at the center were the traditional blacksmith tools like tongs, anvils, chisel, hammer and charcoal. Even as ramshackle as the center looks, Saturday Vanguard gathered that many tertiary institutions were using it for their scientific researches. Though there is modern day form of blacksmith, the Awka blacksmiths still use the traditional tools due to lack of financial support to acquire modern equipment.
Because of what they described as their ugly experiences with some people who pretended to connect them with government for assistance, the blacksmiths decided to take their destiny in their own hands by registering Awka Blacksmith Association with the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, as a rallying organization to protect their interests. Chairman of the association, Mr. Obiorah Okafor, who was the only person permitted to speak for the blacksmiths, said they have become disenchanted with people coming to ask them questions about Awka blacksmith.
Okafor, an indigene of Awka, whose late father introduced him into the business at the age of nine, said the most worrisome aspect of their plight was that all those who came in the name of helping them to modernize the business, were only interested in their pockets.
1.2 Statement of the problem
In recent times, activities of crimes and criminality have snow-balled in South-Eastern Nigeria, this is accompanies by an easy-access to weapons and arms. It is alledged that that certain number of blacksmiths are patronised by criminal perpetrators who gain access to the technical competence of these blacksmith in producing guns and other possible weapons with which they use to execute and perpetrate crimes. This disturbing picture has raised eye-brows as insecurity levels in south-east though nothing compared to the humongous levels of insecurity in North-east, North-west and North-central needs much to be desired.
Therefore, there is an urgent need to come up with lasting solutions which does not eliminate the existence of Awka blacksmiths but rather encourages them in pushing the frontiers of productive technology but shunning overtures to use their technical skills to aid crime.
1.3 Objectives of the study
1. To understand the role of Awka blacksmith in the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in South-east
2. To understand the effect of activities of Awka blacksmith on south-east security.
3. To recommend solutions to mitigate or curb the negative activities of some black-smiths in awka in encouraging insecurity while boosting the technological advancements of Awka blacksmith for onward socio-economic growth and development of South-Eastern Nigeria
1.4 Significance of the study
This useful research information in this study can be implemented by the various stake-holders in south-east security, and more especially with the supervision of the governor. The recommendations to make the industry more productive and profit oriented, creating many profit channels for the blacksmith and coming up with decent, and productive polices if implemented will go a very long way and have a strong and significant positive impact on the socio-economic development of both the blacksmith industry in Awka, and South-east in general.
In addition, this research work will provide useful information for future researchers in this topic.
1.5 Research Methodology
Interviews will be conducted, this will be in addition to random to surveys from random selected areas in Awka metropolis. No less than 500 persons will be interviewed.
1.6 Scope of the study
This research work will cover Awka metropolis
1.7 Literature review
KINGSLEY Ike, 34, lived by the gun. And Raphael Nwogu, 76, lived to arm him. Like Siamese twins, the armed robber and gunmaker respectively, profited from their symbiotic relationship. Their story is the stuff of urban legend perhaps. Nwogu, a self-confessed Biafran war hero, a.k.a Shore Battery, operated a steel forge, where he manufactured craft weapons for Ike and several other clients. That was his night job. From morning till dusk, Shore Battery operated a small shop in Awka, Anambra State, where he sold spades, shov els, cutlasses and cooking utensils for domestic use by his customers. Through the night, however, the blacksmith retired to his forge, located several kilometres away from his stall and scene of his day job.
There, he crafted weaponry because it was very lucrative and he really loved to make guns. But like the proverbial bomb maker, who eventually gets mangled by his own craft, Shore Battery’s brilliance and ingenuity was eclipsed in the brute glow of his gun art. Soon after receiving a cache of deadly weapons from Shore Battery, Ike embarked on an operation during the Yuletide. Unfortunately for him, he ran into a crack team of anti robbery police officers, who killed him in a gun battle. Just one member of Ike’s squad allegedly survived the encounter. News got to Shore Battery and he shut operations to avoid any trail that would lead back to him. Months after Ike’s death, however, Shore Battery reopened his forge. With the elections approaching, he hoped to make a lot of money crafting guns for politicians, kidnappers, armed robbers and gun runners. To his chagrin, Ike’s colleagues stormed his hideout, accusing him of making a faulty weapon for the deceased.
These sub-machine gun prototypes were crafted by a local gunsmith
They said Ike’s gun got ‘hooked’ in the heat of his gun battle with the police thus rendering him a cheap casualty to the law enforcers. Shore Battery protested his innocence, claiming his weapons could never “hook” because they were high grade, but his assailants were unconvinced. They told him to explain to Ike “in yonder” and shot him in the head, with a gun produced in his forge. There is no gainsaying Ike, the armed robber, and Shore Battery, the gun-maker, suffered the brute end of their art. While they present a cautionary tale, their story resonates the gravity of Nigeria’s Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) conundrum. Small arms proliferation destabilises Nigeria and has increased the intensity and human impact of conflicts in the region, according to regional arms experts. Disturbed by the malady, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) recently issued a oneweek ultimatum to illegal firearm holders to surrender their weapons. The police said it had perfected plans to embark on a massive nationwide joint arms mop up operation. The measure becomes imperative as the police plots to rid the streets of illicit weaponry and forestall armed violence in the forthcoming general election. The Inspector General of Police (IG), Mohammed Adamu, called on Nigerians currently in unlawful possession of such weapons to voluntarily return them to police stations or any public armoury nearest to them.
“The IGP has also, with immediate effect, placed an embargo on the issuance of new licences for designated arms throughout the country,” said Force spokesman and Assistant Commissioner of Police, Frank Mba. Mba, said the measure was consequent “upon intelligence indicating the presence of huge quantity of arms in unlawful possession of some Nigerians, the desperation of some citizens to acquire more arms, and the continued proliferation of illicit weapons in the polity, with the attendant negative and security implications.” Few months earlier, the Force Headquarters’ Joint Task Team, led by the Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Joshak Habilla, recovered 2,753 illegal firearms from 13 states.
Early 2018, Nigerian troops launched ‘Operation Deep Punch II’ in Borno State, taking the fight against the Boko Haram insurgent group deep into the Sambisa Forest; this led to the killing of 33 Boko Haram insurgents and the recovery of an important weapons cache, including 15 craft-produced weapons.
The crime fighter: A muzzleloading rifle forged from scrap metal by vigilante gunsmith, Eshayo Eno, in a village south of Adamawa State. Enos craft weapons are deployed in fighting crime.
That was, however, one of an ongoing series of seizures by the armed forces fighting terrorism in the northeast and crime on Nigeria’s streets. Recently, the police nabbed Benjamin Obi, a 72-year-old gun manufacturer and his three sons, Tochukwu, Chuks and Chetachi in Anambra State. Parading them in their Awka headquarters recently, the then state Commissioner of Police, Garba Baba Umar, said the police acted on a tip-off from one of the armed robbery suspects arrested recently. The suspect and his sons were reportedly arrested with a large number of guns and gun-forging machines in their home in Uli, Ihiala Local Government Area of the state. The 72-year-old suspect, Obi, however, denied the allegations stating that he was a blacksmith. He said that he belonged to the Anambra Hunters Association in Umuoma village, Uli, and that the guns discovered in his house belonged to fellow hunters for whom he repaired guns. Gun trafficking and illicit circulation of small arms and light weapons (SALW) are often discussed in the context of fuelling instability and insecurity in the country, but rarely, is the issue of locally manufactured weapons given appropriate attention in the discourse, noted William Assanvo, ENACT Regional Observatory Coordinator for the Institute for Security Studies (ISS)West Africa. Tailor-made, deadly “In Awka, every blacksmith is a potential manufacturer of small arms,” argued Nonso Ekenta.
The security analyst and entrepreneur noted that the predominance of Awka in the production of craft weapons is evident in the common reference to craft weapons as ‘Awka-made’ or more simply ‘Awka.’ The weapons, produced clandestinely, are sold to their trusted allies or patrons in a form of network, and this clandestine aspect of the trade has so far contributed to the survival of the industry despite its illegality. The indigenous production of small arms has consequently become an underground activity, which is more profitable for the manufacturers and dealers, he explained. Although there are a number of wellknown craft production markets in Nigeria, including Katsina, Kaduna, Niger and Calabar, Awka has been a centre for craft production since the Nigerian-Biafran civil war in the late 1960s, when the town produced explosives.
Over time, the expertise for local production has remained a family business, with knowledge of fabrication techniques passed down through generations. True, The Nation findings revealed that the manufacturing network is a very closed circuit and shrouded in secrecy. The weapons manufactured are relatively cheap and the existing market for firearms is a motivation for local producers to manufacture guns for a wide range of customers who would use them for hunting, traditional ceremonies, sport shooting, self-defence and, more lucratively, robbery and assassination. Production techniques, however, remain rudimentary. No machines are used in the production process. Vices, steel saws, manual drills and files are employed in the fabrication process, with small make-shift furnaces used to heat the metals. The fabrication of craft weapons usually takes place in producers‘ homes or backyards.
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The materials used in the process are sourced locally and the weapons are often duplicates of existing firearms. They include pistols, shotguns (including single-barrel and double-barrel), automatic rifles and ammunition. While some of the components are often brought in from foreign sources for assembly in the country, some are sourced from scraps of faulty and condemned weapons. Boniface Enelamah, a blacksmith, and craft gun producer, “produces guns to support vigilante groups in his village and neighbouring towns in their fight against cultism, kidnapping and armed robbery.” The widower and father of four, however, said that he is reluctant to pass on the knowledge to his children because he is worried that they might be influenced to deploy the skills in service of crimi nals. Enelamah, however, maintained that none of his craft weaponry ever gets into the hands of “bad people.” Unlike some shameless people, “I don’t make weapons for bad people,” he said. Describing the production techniques employed, a local blacksmith/gunsmith explained that the process begins by cutting a number of ‘frame forms’ out of sheet metal and welding them together. The slide is subsequently, crafted out of iron (like that found in old beds) and a nail is filed into shape to serve as a firing pin. Wire mesh from truck tires produces recoil and magazine springs.
The barrel is a piece of pipe that is widened by drilling to accommodate the chamber. Production takes less than one working day. Another gunsmith, however, revealed that he sources original Beretta magazines—because these are difficult to reproduce— and builds the rest of the weapon around them. He described the process of hardening a piece of pipe with gas to make it strong enough to serve as a barrel. Craft weapons are cheaper to acquire than industrially produced weapons. The prices of high end weapons in the black market vary; an AK-47-type assault rifle costs N300,000– N400,000 while a selfloading pistol sells between N150, 000 and N250,000. Hand made weapons, in contrast, cost an estimated NGN 20,000 for a single-barrel shotgun and N10,000 for a ‘Dane gun.’ While ammunition is generally thought to be readily available in Nigeria, prices per round fluctuate from N150 to N500 for a shotgun shell and from N250 to N500 for a 9 mm or 7.62 mm round. Further investigations revealed that the average price for a shotgun shell is approximately N400, while 9 × 19 mm and different types of 7.62 mm rounds average around N500. Craft weaponry may, however, be acquired at ridiculously lower prices, depending on the magnitude of sale and the stature of the gun maker.
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