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The Story of How 88,000 AK-47 Assault Rifles Somehow Went Missing

Iraqi airmen fire AK-47s during firing drills March 29, 2011. Members of the 447th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron trained Iraqi security forces airmen ensuring weapons qualification and teaching defensive tactics, vehicle searches and other force protection measures. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)

88,000 AK-47 Assault Rifles Missing in Africa: The AK-47 remains the favored weapon of insurgents, paramilitary forces, and rogue fighters around the world. It is easy to maintain, simple to operate, rugged and of course deadly. As movies and TV shows have suggested, the AK platform continues to be smuggled around the world.

Just last month, the United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet had seized approximately 1,400 AK-47 assault rifles and some 226,000 rounds of ammunition from a stateless fishing vessel that was likely heading to Yemen. That interdiction effort likely stopped just a fraction of the weapons headed to conflict zones in the Middle East and Africa. In fact, it could be overshadowed this week by some more somber news.

According to a report from the Nigerian Officer of the Auditor-General of the Federation (AuGF), more than 88,000 AK-47 rifles and other firearms, as well as an undisclosed quantity of ammunition, which had been in the custody of the Nigerian Police Force, are now missing or otherwise unaccounted for as of January of last year.

The report found that firearms were missing from training institutions, police commands, and even the headquarters. Corruption and cover-up likely played a significant role. In one case a Police Mobile Force (PMF) squadron hadn’t reported a single case of a missing firearm, while the schedule of missing firearms from the same PMF later showed that nearly 50 weapons had been unaccounted for during a nearly 20 year period.

“The value of the lost firearms could not be ascertained because no document relating to their cost of acquisition was presented for examination,” the audit report stated.

The auditor general’s report was prepared for the joint public accounts committee of Senate and Lower House, which will review it, and then invite the police to respond and give recommendations on how the matter can be addressed. Nigeria’s constitution empowers the auditor general to conduct audit checks on all government departments.

The biggest worry now is that those missing AK-47s and other small arms could find their way into the wrong hands and could be used for illegal activities, the auditor general’s report warned. That concern has been echoed by third parties as well. SBM Intelligence, which is the African nation’s leading geopolitical intelligence platform, said in an October 2020 report that the proliferation of small arms and ammunitions was driving the increasing violence in Nigeria, with civilian non-state actors believed to possess more small arms than law enforcement agents.

“The proliferation of small arms and light weapons has driven the rise in violence in Nigeria,” the SBM Intelligence report stated. “This violence has led to mass displacement, and has resulted in Nigeria having a number of internally displaced people that rivals countries which are officially at war. Over the course of a year between May 2019 and April 2020, SBM Intelligence with support from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) conducted a study into the proliferation of small arms in Nigeria, and the links this proliferation has with mass atrocities and mass migration.”

Nigeria is hardly alone in facing the threat posed by armed insurgents. The AK-47 has been seen in every single one of Africa’s conflicts since the 1950s, and it will likely continue to be the weapon preferred by insurgents and revolutionaries. The proliferation is so great that the weapon can be found in markets around the continent for a few dollars. At the same time, corrupt regimes can be expected to do little to address the threat the weapons and their users pose to stability in the region.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.