Unmasking Potential Users of  844 Rifles Imported into Nigeria

Unlike the previous cases where importers of light weapons and their accomplices in the Nigeria Customs Service were jailed, Ejiofor Alike writes that the customs should collaborate with the Department of State Services, police and other intelligence agencies to unmask the potential distributors and users of the 844 assorted rifles imported by persons supplying weapons to criminal elements, in order to address Nigeria’s security challenges holistically

The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) last Monday announced a major victory against the war on illegal proliferation of light weapons in the country with the interception of nine containers bearing offensive items, including arms, ammunition, illicit drugs and second- hand clothes with total duty paid value of N13.915 billion at Onne Port in Rivers State.

The Comptroller-General of NCS, Bashir Adewale Adeniyi, who disclosed this at a press briefing in Onne, River State, said one of the containers, a 40-footer with numbers: MAEU165396, which originated from Turkey, contained 844 units of rifles and 112,500 pieces of live ammunition with total duty-paid value of N4.171 billion.

The seizure of the 844 rifles and 112,500 pieces of live ammunition was not the first time NCS recorded a major victory against the influx of arms into the country.

On September 6, 2017, the NCS had intercepted 1,570 pump action rifles at Terminal B1, of the Tincan Island Port, Lagos.

In April this year, a Federal High Court in Lagos, convicted and sentenced two businessmen, Ifeuwa Christ and Ayogu James, to two years imprisonment on each of the eight counts, for unlawful importation of the 1,570 pump action rifles.

Justice Ambrose Lewis-Alagoa who handed down the sentence, however, ordered the convicts to pay paltry N1million on each of the eight counts, as a fine in lieu of the jail term, following the plea bargain agreement reached between the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and counsel for the two convicts, Yakubu Galadima.

Apparently explaining the perceived liberal sentence, Justice Lewis Alagoa held that the sentence was because the convicts were first-time offenders and the fact that they had been in custody for three years.

The interception of 661 pump action rifles imported from Turkey at Apapa Port in Lagos State on January 22, 2017 was also another major achievement by the NCS.

The then Comptroller General of Customs (CGC) of NCS, Col Hameed Ali (rtd) had announced that the agency had arrested three men identified as Oscar Okafor, Mahmud Hassan, a retired customs officer, and Sadique Mustapha for the unlawful importation of 49 boxes containing 661 pump action rifles, which were concealed in a container conveying steel products and other merchandise goods.

The container, which was cleared at the port with the aid of two compromised NCS officers, was on its way to an unknown destination, before it was intercepted at Mile 2-Apapa Expressway by the operatives of the FOU Ikeja.

Alli said the arms originated from Turkey and routed through China before they were smuggled into Nigeria and falsely declared as steel doors.

Subsequently, the NCS declared two of its officers – Abdulahi I., an assistant superintendent of customs (ASC), with service number 44483, and ACIC Odiba Inah, with service number 133386, wanted over the incident.

The federal government had in August 2017, arraigned five men – Mahmud Hassan, Oscar Okafor, Donatus Achinulo, Matthew Okoye, said to be at large, and Salihu Danjuma, for the importation.

In December 2021, Justice Ayokunle Fajji of the Federal High Court in Lagos convicted and sentenced Hassan, and two others to 16 years imprisonment for the unlawful importation of the 661 pump-action rifles.

The two other persons convicted alongside Hassan were Okafor, Achinulo and Mahmud’s company, Hassan Trades Limited, while the fifth defendant, Matthew Okoye, was at large.

The court, however, acquitted and discharged Danjuma of all the charges.

The court also ordered the forfeiture of the properties of the convicts, including Hassan Trading Limited, to the federal government.

The 844 rifles and 112, 500 ammunition intercepted last week, Adeniyi said, were concealed using various items such as doors, furniture, plumbing fittings, and leather bags. The duty-paid value of the single container was N4.171 billion.

He, however, disclosed that three suspects had been arrested in connection with the seizure.

Barely 48 hours after the seizure of the 844 rifles, the NCS intercepted a cache of arms and ammunition valued at N270 million at the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA) in Lagos, while one suspect was in custody.

The 55 pieces of unassembled Jojef Magnum (Tomahawk) semi-automatic shotgun, which were intercepted at the cargo section of the MMA, were also imported from Turkey

Those involved in the illegal importation of light weapons into the country are the major drivers of the nationwide insecurity and should be tried for terrorism and treated as bandits and terrorists, and not just as importers of illicit items.

The sentencing of the importers of rifles to five or 16 years of imprisonment is not enough punishment for the suppliers of weapons to armed robbers, unknown gunmen, bandits and other terrorists.

Light or liberal sentencing of the importers of rifles won’t deter potential importers.

Also, while the NCS needs to be commended for the great feat, it needs to collaborate with the Department of State Services (DSS), the police and other security agencies to establish the actual destination, potential distributors and end users of imported weapons will continue to encourage the distributors, middlemen and small-scale arms dealers in this evil trade.     

The NCS should address all these concerns in the current case of the importation of 844 weapons by gathering intelligence from the importers to unmask all those involved in the business chain, including the end users.

That’s the only way to uproot the main drivers fuelling insecurity in the country.  

It is reassuring that the NCS last Thursday said it had continued to engage member countries of World Customs Organisation (WCO) to tackle the menace of importation of illicit arms and ammunition into Nigeria.

The National Public Relations Officer, NCS, Abdullahi Maiwada, made this known at a news conference organised by the Strategic Communication Interagency Policy Committee (SCIPC), in Abuja.

 SCIPC is a committee of the spokespersons of the military, police, intelligence and response agencies.

The committee was set up by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), while the conference was hosted by the Nigeria Police Force.

Maiwada said the Comptroller-General, NCS, had promised to resuscitate the MoU between Nigeria and Turkey Customs Administration, on how to curtail the menace of smuggling of small arms and light weapons into Nigeria.

He also said the NCS had recently signed an (MoU) with the General Administration of China Customs.

While monitoring the importers and origins of imported arms and ammunition, the NCS, DSS, police and other intelligence agencies should identify all the parties involved in the sale and use of these illegal weapons for prosecution.

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