Nigeria's Coat Of Arms

Nigeria’s socio-political canvas is coated with violence across all six regions of the country. This violence is most perpetrated using guns, some made locally, others imported through several illegal means.

To understand this violence, the impact on people, and how different people have adapted to it over the years, we spoke to people across Nigeria and have 30 voices for you to listen to — the voices are those of victims, actors (state and non-state), and advocates (for and against gun ownership).

You can read our long form editorial or click on the Coat of Arms below to listen to these unique thirty voices as they talk about gun violence in Nigeria

Victims Advocates Actors

Click on a circle to listen to stories of 30 Nigerians on gun violence.

Victims Advocates Actors

Nigeria’s Coat Of Arms

Fifty-year-old Sa’adatu Abubakar’s husband, Abubakar Maishanu, was sleeping when terrorists attacked their home in the Maishanu village of Niger State. Disabled on one leg, he would beg Sa’adatu to run away with the children and leave him behind.

It was the last time she saw him alive.

[Audio of Sa’adatu talking]

[I believe this will stop if the government can control people from holding guns. You see, many of them are young boys, if they do not have these guns, they will be powerless. People can even bring them down with bare hands. But with the guns in their hands, you will see older people running away from somebody young enough to be their child or grandchild because he is holding a gun.]

As the terror sun set on Sa’adatu’s household, it rose on Maimuna Salihu’s in Magami, also in Niger state. Like Sa’adatu, the gun-toting terrorists had met her husband at home. Like Sa’adatu, they left with Maimuna’s husband’s life.

[Audio of Maimuna talking]

[We are ready to go back to our community if security personnel can defeat the bandits. And they can only do that if they are given the right weapons because the kinds of firearms in possession of the bandits are not small ones. They are not using the ones that will fire just once and go silent. They go sporadically, and that is how they kill plenty of people nonstop. The guns in the hands of our security personnel are no match to those of the bandits.]

Sa’adatu and her children struggle in the absence of their patriarch. Likewise, Maimuna and her children all live with the trauma of watching their provider’s murder while struggling to make ends meet.

The death of both men is a footnote to a bigger problem in Nigeria that’s barely spoken about: gun violence.

Gun Violence In Nigeria

Nigeria has a gun violence problem. This may not seem as obvious as in the United States, where mass shootings are recorded often, but it is almost as pressing.

Over the past few years, arms proliferation — especially after Libya’s fall, leading to the country serving as a route for small and light arms across the Sahel and Sahara — continues to rise.

With different levels of insecurity in Nigeria, the spread of these arms has contributed massively to gun violence, with most either unreported or underreported. 

Perhaps more striking is that this call for attention to Nigeria’s gun violence, especially small arms and light weapons (SALW) like pistols and rifles, is not new. 

Getting accurate data on local gun violence is almost impossible due to underreporting. “The homicide rate, for example, is reported as only 1.5 per 100,000 but is likely many times greater,” one research study noted.

“Although 30 per cent of Nigerians report having been a victim of crime in the past year, only 25 per cent of these crimes are reported to the police.”

The paper added that there’d been a significant increase in gun violence, gun-inflicted injuries in urban areas had increased “as much as 1o-fold”, most murders were committed using small arms, and more people were using private security as well as carrying arms for personal protection.

The issue of arming up for self-defence remains pressing to this day. We have seen a state governor ask citizens to arm themselves against terrorists, a defence minister advocating for civilians to pick up guns, a national security adviser making a case for more guns for self-defence, and so much more. But this is only a fraction of the problem.

In 2016, the United Nations said 70 per cent of 500 million illicit weapons in West Africa are in Nigeria. A 2017 report compared the number of privately owned guns in 206 countries; Nigeria was 16 on the list.

Gun Policy, an NGO observing arms globally, mentioned in a 2016 report that “unregistered and unlawfully held guns cannot be counted, but in Nigeria, there are estimated to be [between] 1,000,000 to 350,000,000.”

“As long as security challenges maintain the current crescendo, Nigeria’s gun problem is an inexhaustible topic,” NexTier SPD observed in 2021.

“It is hugely portrayed in the armed conflict in the northwest and northeast zones and the unceasing gang wars in the southern region.

Access to guns remains a key contributive factor to violence and conflict around the world, including [in] Nigeria. The abundance of guns means more violence that leads to deaths, loss of livelihoods and forced displacements.”

One would think that the gun problem is limited to non-state actors, but state actors (Police, Military, Civil Defence, Department of State Security, and others) have also been known to be negligent, unaccountable, and often malicious with gun use.

The ‘Gun Violence in Nigeria’ report mentioned as part of its findings that security agents frequently use small arms to maintain order with little concern shown about civilian casualties.

“The rules governing their use of firearms are extremely permissive. Police may use guns in almost any circumstance with impunity.

The police motto until early 2005 was ‘Fire for Fire,’ earning them the monikers of ‘kill and go’ and ‘spray and pray’ … A 2003 study in Ilorin found that after armed robbery, the police were the second most common cause of injuries due to [small arms].”

Recent evidence of this is the extra-judicial killings by the Police, especially those attached to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, leading to #EndSARS protests in Nigeria. Yet, these killings have not ceased.

–Edwin, Police gun violence victim. Video by Adejumo Kabir, Lagos, Southwest Nigeria/HumAngle.

Guns in Nigeria can be found almost everywhere. They are a prominent part of insurgencies, militancy, banditry, armed robbery, kidnapping, and cultism.

The use of unlicensed firearms by civilians is a source of worry, especially for the authorities. But equally pressing is how the Police and Army lack accountability for the weapons provided to them.

Nigeria has been ripe for gun control laws that exit papers into practice. And this needs a conscientious approach which can only be tackled by looking at how all the guns in Nigeria pass through skilled and unskilled hands to kill many Nigerians.

While laws like the Firearms Act exist, the reality of gun proliferation is best heard from victims and perpetrators (state and non-state actors). This is the point of HumAngle’s Coat of Arms report; to show what guns mean to different people across Nigeria.

Why (Not) Guns?

“I am using the gun for security purposes,” an Eiye confraternity leader who calls himself Stone tells HumAngle at the group’s hideout in Ogun state, Southwest Nigeria.

“I have had a gun for more than 15 years, but I hardly ever take it out. It’s been seven years since I used it to harm anyone,” Stone adds.

Nigeria’s Firearms Act prohibits indiscriminate gun access and outlines how gun licences can be obtained. But that is not a concern for the Eiye man as he insists that “even if there is a ban on guns, I will still carry guns.”

Although his gun type is usually not licensed by the state, Stone claims to hold it for personal protection. Locals complain that people like this often use guns for land-grabbing and other criminal activities. Photo by: Adejumo Kabir/HumAngle.

Mallam Sanusi, chairman of a local vigilante group in Zamfara, Northwest Nigeria, defends gun usage by arguing that the community “struggles and looks for arms to protect ourselves just like how the terror group also scrambles for the firearms to kill us.

We do not fear the terrorists because we rise to procure deadly arms and repel attacks.”

No person shall have in his possession or under his firearms control any firearm of one of the categories specified in Part II of the Schedule to this Act (hereinafter referred to as a personal firearm) except in accordance with a licence granted in respect thereof by the Inspector-General of Police, which licences shall be granted or refused in accordance with principles decided upon by the National Council of Ministers.

– S4, Firearms Act

Gun ownership for them is about survival. And it seems to be working so far.

“Any village or community known to have procured firearms, that community can hardly be attacked by the terrorists,” he tells HumAngle proudly.

Throughout this investigation, we learned from local gun makers and users that it costs about ₦60,000 ($138) to get a pistol gun in Southwest Nigeria and between ₦3,500 ($8) and  ₦700,000 ($1,610) to get guns for self-defence purposes in the Northwest. And if you cannot afford one, you can get guns for hire.

While the Firearms Act prohibits the transfer of licensed guns, unlicensed guns made by local gunsmiths have a growing economy.

No person shall by way of trade or business buy or sell or transfer or expose for sale or transfer or have in his possession for sale or transfer any firearm unless he is registered as a firearms dealer.

– S10 (1) Firearms Act.

But while some have faith in the power of guns to protect, many do not. Jummai is one of them.

Jummai is a humanitarian worker who recently escaped from Islamic State West Africa (ISWAP) terrorists in April this year after spending 18 months in captivity.

She has seen a gun at a threateningly close distance and has seen guns repeatedly deployed throughout her abduction in the Northeast. She permanently lost some of her hearing because of gunshots fired close to her head.

She believes that “if holding guns would make people safe, I think the military personnel would be safer than anyone else; rather, they are the victims. So I don’t feel safe because someone is holding a gun.”

Although her work provides her with the occasional safety of travelling in a convoy, Jummai feels safer when she is not in a cluster of gun-wielding people, whether acting for the state or not.

The need for guns, or dislike for it, ranges across Nigeria’s regions and is based on the intensity of the security infrastructure. In Kaduna state, which reports pockets of violence from time to time, Civilian Joint Task Forces (CJTF) are arming up to protect their homes from terrorists.

A CJTF member identified simply as Godwin tells HumAngle that the volunteers covering the Chikun Local Government Area (LGA) get support from the Police and Military to tackle insecurity.

This was necessary because “bandit attacks are always carried out with the help of informants who point out certain houses.”

To co-opt local intelligence, the CJTF was mobilised – successfully, so far – “by issuing pump-action and cartridge,” the type of gun permitted by Nigeria’s Firearms Act for licensing.

But there is a problem – which still seems elusive to Godwin and perhaps the system – that we observed from Godwin’s comment: “Some JTF are paid, like in Maiduguri, but we in Chikun aren’t paid. The police sell guns. Bullets used to be ₦500, but now they sell at ₦1,500.”

Community protection is essential and might as well be voluntary, but for people who, according to Godwin, were given sufficient training at the police college and issued AK47s, there is a foreboding of future gun violence.

Across Northwest Nigeria and especially in Kaduna state, reprisal attacks orchestrated by ethnic profiling from armed vigilantes (locally known as Yan Sakai) are one of the leading drivers of gun violence in the region.

Godwin mentions that “every unit has an office. We are in Unguwan Sunday. So the rule is that each unit that needs guns is supposed to go to the police station and request. There are armourers who make such supplies. The police give us licences, so we hold our guns freely”.

The Police have struggled to keep their guns safe, accountable, and strictly for the right purposes.

In 2022, a probe revealed that Nigeria Police could not account for 178,459 guns, including 88,078 AK-47 rifles, 3,907 assorted rifles and pistols across different police formations. This lack of accountability is a leading driver of gun violence in Nigeria.

For instance, Emma, who was shot by Policemen in Oct. 2020, believes that “the way Nigeria police handle guns is bad. These guns are not meant for individuals like us [civilians]. They should train them well on how to handle guns.”

Still living with the impact of gun violence from a state-licensed firearm, Emma, a Lagos, Southwest Nigeria resident, says, “once I see a gun, I shift from the place because I know how dangerous it could be. I don’t even stay close to guns anymore.”

The problem with gun violence is that the bullet’s impact does not stop with its victim, the burden is often shared with their friends and relatives. Families lose breadwinners and support systems and live with the trauma for the rest of their lives.

In Emma’s case, he says, “It was not easy for me because my job was put on hold because of COVID-19. I came to Lagos to hustle, and they shot me. My office terminated my contract, and things have not been moving well for my kids and wife.”

Following the guns to South-south Nigeria, where pockets of inter-gang wars, militancy, and other criminal activities are running, one wonders to what extent the amnesty programme started in June 2009 by Late President Umar Yar’Adua has been successful in disarming the region.

The programme claims to have disarmed at least 30,000 people who had previously resorted to arms to ‘fight’ to protect their homes from the environmental disasters occasioned by oil mining and abandonment by the government.

Conversations with militants, ex-militants, and even security personnel, who mandated anonymity for the protection of their lives, show that guns are still very present across the creeks, towns, and cities of Nigeria’s South-south region.

In the Southeast, gun violence permeates the streets in the form of secessionist agitators who are members of the Indigenous People Of Biafra (IPOB) group along with their militant wing, Eastern Security Network (ESN).

Security Forces Arms Data

An interactive map showing data on arms retrieved by security forces across Nigeria over a one year period. Design by Damilola Lawal.

As arms proliferation spreads in the region and attacks rise – often from guns stolen by armed militias from security operatives – the Police are being attacked by ESN, the Southeast Security Network (a security group formed by governors) visits gun violence on residents, who already face recurrent gun violence from ESN/IPOB.

“The approach to combating armed robbery in the 1990s intensified the [militarisation] of the country. Each state established a combined police and military security outfit that patrolled communities, often unleashing violence on innocent citizens and carrying out extrajudicial killings.

As in previous decades, the threat of capital punishment (by firing squad) did not deter the criminals. Nigerian customs, intelligence, and police remained corrupt as the government paid lip service to protecting the lives and property of the citizenry.

The proliferation of guns, both homemade and imported, and their regular use by criminals outpaced the efforts of police. Not even the numerous vigilante bands, community policing groups, ethnic militias, and other concerned citizens could curb armed robbery.

Members of these groups, like the police, ended up killing more citizens than criminals. And like the police, they often were directly involved in the crimes they professed to be fighting.”

– Guns and Society in Colonial Nigeria: Firearms, Culture, and Public Order by Prof. Saheed Aderinto.

Across Nigeria’s six regions, the presence of guns, regardless of the owner, correlates with rising violence. The more guns a region has, the more violence it is likely to experience.

And the guns are all around us.

Empire Of The Gun

When Nigeria’s rising gun violence question comes up, the first culprit, especially in the past decade, has been the Nigerian border. It was unsurprising to hear J.T. Gunda, a legal practitioner and founding legal adviser of a youth vigilante group (CJTF) in Borno, reference the same problem.

“Everyone knows the existence of gun laws, but the issue now is many people coming through the major international roads have a way of concealing these arms,” he tells HumAngle in Borno, emphasising that “particularly those vehicles coming from Cameroon, Chad and Niger borders; they come in with a lot of goods in the big trucks and they ensure that they conceal the arms and ammunition beneath the luggage.”

Gunda also believes that border security is constantly oiled by corruption and inducement, making it even easier to smuggle guns into Nigeria. But even if inducement was not a challenge, the gun smugglers have multiple routes.

“Any person who wants to come in with illegal ammunition will not follow through the regular channels, they will go through the bush to come in, and nothing will happen. They have their ways of coming in,” Gunda says.

Border porousness aside, there is more than one way to get a gun in Nigeria. This is where people like Amuda come in. Amuda is a local gunsmith in Osun state, Southwest Nigeria, and has made guns for different people over time.

He tells HumAngle with a flint of pride in his eyes, “We have hunters who come to us to make guns for them, and we make for vigilantes and members of Odua People’s Congress (a prominent vigilante group in Southwest Nigeria).

Although English-made is expensive, some brilliant gunsmiths can make great guns. With ₦15,000 ($34), you will get a local gun. A single barrel long-range [can be bought] for ₦25,000 ($57).”


A registered firearms dealer shall construct in accordance with the requirements prescribed by regulations under section 33 of this Act and maintain in proper repair an armoury at each place in respect of which he carries on business;

A registered firearms dealer shall keep up to date at each place where he carries on business such records and shall make such returns in respect thereof as may be prescribed;

A registered firearms dealer, in the case of loss, theft or destruction of a firearm in his possession, shall notify such loss, theft or destruction as soon as possible and in any case within seven days thereof to the Inspector-General of Police;

A registered firearms dealer shall permit inspection of each place where he carries on business and the records maintained thereat by a police officer upon production by such officer of the written authority of the Inspector-General of Police.

– S11 (1) - (4) Firearms Act.

Amuda thinks of himself as some saviour who is providing help to helpless people from bullies. He tells HumAngle that “the use of guns is for the protection of humans.

It may be used for protection but not good for ‘arrogants’ (a name he calls bullies and criminals). It would be great if the government could legalise guns as we have them in America. If legalised, ‘arrogants’ will be scared of other citizens. If legalised, we won’t have kidnappers. Guns have power.

“After God, it is guns,” he proclaims.

Like other unregulated industries, the economy of gun manufacturing and sales is difficult to analyse because it is mostly run by illiterates who barely keep a formal account.

But one can assume, based on the rising trend of locally made guns seized by the Police and the military, that it is a booming market.

As gun proliferation increases, experts are worried.

Prof. Mahfouz Adedimeji, the Vice-Chancellor of Ahman Pategi University and former Director of the Centre for Peace and Strategic Studies at the University of Ilorin, explains that gun proliferation will only lead to more deaths and not more protection.

“I did a study a few years ago in which I canvassed the need to secure weapons and not to weaponise insecurity. What I meant is that instead of throwing weapons at insecurity, what is needed is to secure weapons from falling into the hands of non-state actors and focus on human development.

“In other words, we should provide employment and guarantee citizen’s economic security; we should make food available and have fewer hungry and angry citizens; we should provide affordable health services so that people are no longer emotionally charged as a result of losing their loved ones to avoidable health challenges; we should protect the environment against diseases; we should attend to the welfare and personal needs of the people; we should guarantee community security, and we should remove toxicity from politics, detaching it from religious and ethnic sentiments.

It is by doing these that we shall reap their multiplier effects in fruits that will produce the vitamin for a safe and secure country.”

If more guns are the problem, what is the solution?

How To Make Guns Better

Nigeria has not turned a blind eye to the gun violence problem it is facing.

Apart from the several government regulations regarding the use of firearms and the criminalisation of their possession, the Nigerian government, in May 2021, established the National Centre for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (spurred by Article 24 of ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons).

The National Coordinator of NCCSALW, Major General AM Dikko (Rtd), had said in 2021 that he intends to “position the Centre in light of prevailing insecurity caused by [the] wanton circulation of illicit arms in the country through its vision, mission and core values to promote an illicit arms-free society.”

In Oct. 2022, a Nigerian army soldier, Iorliam Emmanuel, working with 156 task force battalion in Mainok, Borno state, in the Northeast was caught in possession of ammunition on his way out of Maiduguri, the state capital. Like Iorliam, several security forces have been caught in the past selling arms and ammunition.

While it might be premature to judge the centre’s success, barely much has changed since its establishment.

The centre’s establishment shows a promise on the government’s part to curb this growing gun violence through various means. One thing that is perhaps most pressing, however, is the government’s ability to enforce its mandates.

Ahmed Shehu, leader of the Civil Society Forum in Northeast Nigeria, when asked about gun reforms in Nigeria, explained that “gun reforms or control laws can only work if the government demonstrates a positive will and seeks the buy-in of all the stakeholders. It is one thing to have the paper on reform and another to see that it is implemented.”

“There are effective laws controlling guns. Apart from those who are in the barracks and members of the armed forces that are allowed to carry arms, you are not allowed to carry arms and ammunition.

We have very strong laws controlling guns. The only thing that needs to be done is enforcing strict monitoring to ensure that every person with a gun is allowed by law to hold that weapon.”

- J.T. Gunda

“This is because if there is no political will, things don’t work. There will be great ideas that won’t see the light of day. But for this, I think it is an issue that affects everyone, and it will go a long way toward having a white paper,” Shehu concludes.

What about security personnel?

A member of the anti-cultism unit in Delta state, South-south Nigeria, speaking anonymously with HumAngle, emphasises the need for government to retrain security personnel, equip them, and make them more accountable.

The Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) in Adamawa, Northeast Nigeria, ASP Nguroje, bares a similar recommendation. ASP Nguroje thinks for the government to achieve successful gun control, it must empower the police so that “it should be able to build a strong barrier between the public and firearms.”

“And at the end of the day, the government would be called upon to see the reasons why they have the responsibility of protecting lives and property; and that responsibility should not be shifted to the members of the public to the extent that they will not be going about carrying arms and protecting themselves.

“What is expected of the government is to give the security agencies the maximum support, the cooperation needed, to protect the citizenry.”

But the Police and other military personnel are also guilty of perpetrating gun violence. What then happens to them?

Human rights lawyer and anti-police brutality advocate Oke Ridwan, who resides in Lagos, tells HumAngle that “such officers should never be allowed to hold a gun or wear the uniform again. Because if you abuse your gun, there is a likelihood that you will do it again when you are not punished.

“They should be tried and dismissed from the Force. The court must ensure that justice will prevail.”

While state actors have growing roles to play in eradicating gun violence, citizens are not exempted from bearing responsibility.

Prof. Adedimeji believes that is even the starting point.

“Children should be taught that violence is wrong and ungodly. A simple strategy is to have a policy that you don’t beat your sibling, you report him/her. You don’t expose children to violence in the guise of entertainment in games, sports and movies,” he suggests.

“Apart from the family, the school also has a role to play and teachers should lead by example. Violence begets violence and teachers should, just like parents, not introduce students to materials that glamorise violence. This is why cultism must be extirpated from the school system.”

Audio of Prof. Mahfouz talking

A solid foundation might help, while a stronger government presence assures citizens of their safety without individual guns.

“We have to educate people as regards the dangers of small arms and light weapons that are being transported into our country particularly, through the Sahelian axis, through Niger, Cameroon, up to Libya, Syria and beyond.

The focus of educating the people should be on those living in the communities around the border areas through which these small arms and light weapons are being smuggled into the country.”

– Babakura Bukar, conflict management expert.

A gun-safe Nigeria is a thriving Nigeria; it is a Nigeria that can begin to heal from years of non-stop warfare across all its regions.

Kwaji, a gun violence victim and survivor, elicits this hope:

“If the government can enforce a workable gun control that will take away arms from the hands of criminals, I will be ready to forgive and forget all that used guns to harm me and my family. I will forgive them as humans and let God be the judge.

No amount of revenge on death will bring back the other life that was taken. Let’s leave everything to God. All judgement ends before God almighty.

“I know we will have absolute peace and safety if guns are controlled. If I am told there are no more guns, I won’t spend this time in the [IDP] camp because I’ll be heading back home.

At home, we have the leverage of space to farm, fish, and eat good food and drink whatever we like. We used to have a thriving business at home.

I had my shops which are filled up with wares to sell. But here we are, working as labourers on other people’s farms before we can eat. So, nothing compares to peace.”

After God, it is Guns
- Amuda


Written and produced by Muhammed Akinyemi.

Reporters: Adejumo Kabir, Godson Etete, Abdulkareem Haruna, Abubakar Abdullahi, Nathaniel Bivan,

Bologi Musa Umar, Muhammed Akinyemi.

Creative Director: Muhammed Akinyemi.

Editors: ‘Kunle Adebajo, Hauwa Shaffii Nuhu, Andrew Walker.

Multimedia production: Khadija Gidado, Anthony Asemota, Hawwa Bukar.

Web design and production: Attahiru Jibrin.

Data analysis and visualisation: Isaac Oritogun, Damilola Lawal.

Cover art: Akila Jibrin.

Executive producer: Ahmad Salkida.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means without proper attribution to HumAngle, generally including the author’s name, a link to the publication and a line of acknowledgement.

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