Continue selling guns, as if you are selling onions

Sun, 25 Jun 2017 Source: James Kofi Annan

It has been nearly eight months since I hoped to have written this article. Each time I had made the attempt, I had stopped myself in my own tracks, just to reflect. I just don’t know why I have been stopping myself, but the announcement of the National Commission on Small Arms (NCSA), that the government is in the process of marking all the guns in the country, has forced something out of me.

In the year 2006, as a young banker, I was attacked by armed robbers five times within one month, and in one of the instances they succeeded in robbing nearly everything I had in the house. Each time the robbery attempt happened I called in the police patrol team, and they would get there sometimes an hour after the robbers had gone. Later, upon the advice of the Dansoman Police, I decided to acquire a gun.

The officer, the one in charge, let me call him Julius, at the arms and ammunitions section of the police division where I had gone to acquire the gun, asked which type of gun I wanted to buy. I requested him to educate me on what gun is suitable for my amateur needs. The only gun I had known, then, had been the single and the double barrel analogue hunters’ guns that I had used for hunting when I was a teenager in Sankor, Winneba.

So upon this request, Julius recommended a pump action gun for my home use.

I anticipated that acquiring a modern gun was going to require me to answer some questions and provide some documentations, so I came with my passport, drivers license, passport pictures, utility bills, tenancy agreement, and a host of other documents, just to prove that I was not a criminal.

I was however shocked when, without asking for anything, not even my name, this arms and ammunitions officer pulled a pump action gun, placed it in front of me, and asked me to pay for it. All the documents I brought were in my bag. Julius asked for nothing, no interview, no background check, nothing!

When I challenged him that he could have been selling the gun to a criminal, he became angry, and decided he would no longer sell the gun to me, and asked me to leave his office.

This was at the heart of one of the busiest police centers in Accra, and while I was waiting for a change of mind, this man sold two other guns to willing individuals who just walked in.

Apparently most of the guns he was selling were not officially recorded. I overheard a lot of conversations between him and other individuals that I suspect could be arms dealers who brought him the guns for him to sell on commission. The conversation and the characters of the people he was selling the guns to were so frightening. I had not heard of the Small Arms Center, but I think right there in that office laid the problems and the solutions for the NCSA.

The first of the guns Julius sold, while I was waiting, was to two young men who clearly had suspicious characters. They entered the office, and they whispered that they wanted to buy a gun. The Police Officer, just like he did to me, informed them that there was no pistol, and that only pump action gun was available. They asked how much, and the price was given as GH¢800. The two excused themselves, went out of the room, and two minutes later came back with the money, and the man opened something that looked like a wardrobe, brought out the gun, and handed it over to these two men, and they were gone!

No receipt, no recording of any name, no identification, nothing, just exchange of money and gun!

How could we have sold guns to individuals as though we were selling onions on the market? I was so frightened, that though I was not the one who bought the gun, I became angry and challenged Julius. He drove me out of his office, and threatened to detain me, but I still challenged him, and threatened to report him to any available superior.

Long story short, I later, virtually, forced an identification and passport pictures on Julius, paid him the GH¢800, got my receipt and got my gun, and I left.

So when I heard that the NCSA has announced that civilians who possess guns will now be expected to submit them for marking, as part of reforms to reduce illicit arms trade and gun violence in the country, I thought I should point them to start their exercise right in the offices of the arms and ammunitions department of the various security agencies. That is the deadly route to guns finding their ways into the hands of criminals.

About a year ago, the NCSA was reported to have destroyed 1,300 illegal guns in the country. The Commission estimates that there are over 2.3 million weapons in civilian hands in Ghana, with only 1.2 million of that number having been registered. Just walk into the offices of Julius and ask him where those 1.1million unregistered guns could be found.

It is believed that the marking of civilian guns will facilitate the identification of weapons when they are used in the commission of crimes and when they get missing, and to be able to trace them to the owners. But if Julius was doing his work well, and making sure that he was documenting every single gun he sold, and making sure that the documentation of all such sales were entered into a simple computer database, we would have had our one foot into addressing armed conflicts and gun control in Ghana.

Let us admit, and I have said this once too many times, that we are gradually getting Ghana on rather a dangerous path towards a failed state. We seem to be taking so many practical steps towards establishing governance institutions, but our actions, our greed, our rotten mentality will weaken the very institutions that we continue to create, and it will continue this way until one day, we will not be able to fool ourselves any longer. At that time it will be too late to stem the tide, the poor, the ignored, and the oppressed will have their guns, and all of us who are stealing from them, all of us will suffer, the guns we gave them, they will turn those same guns on us, and death will be the prize we will bear.

Look at it this way; a fellow citizen commits a crime against me, I report him to the police, the police take money in order to write down my statement, and the CID takes money before and after the investigation. The case goes to court, and the judge takes goats and romance in order to free the criminal. The criminal goes back to the police to freely take a gun, point it at you to demand a portion of all the wealth you have acquired, and shoots you dead.

Where do you think I should report the next crime? Don’t you think I would have been wiser if I had rather gone to Julius, to buy a copy of those machine guns he was selling, to protect my own self against the very person who was selling the guns to me? How do you expect me, assuming those who bought those guns were armed robbers, to report to this same police officer, Julius, of my robbery attacks? You see why there is instant justice?

Columnist: James Kofi Annan