Who owns these arms?
Before the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) announced on Thursday that it had uncovered a Nigerian syndicate in Turkey involved in illegal arms imports into the country, many citizens were already getting weary of what they tagged the NCS’s tardiness in handling the recent arms seizures.
The NCS has since this year intercepted a total of 2,671 pump action rifles said to have been imported from Turkey.
In January, the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) of the Service intercepted 49 boxes loaded with 661 pieces of pump action rifles along Mile 2 Expressway in Lagos.
On May 23, the Tin-Can Island Port Command of the NCS intercepted 440 pieces of assorted types of pump action rifles imported into the country from Turkey and concealed in a 20ft container declared by the importer as chemical formula with 50kg bags of pop cement.
On September 6, the Customs Intelligent Unit on routine monitoring activities at the Tin-Can Island Command of Customs discovered a 20ft container loaded with 600 pieces of Jojef Magnum black pump action, 300 pieces of Jojef Magnum silver pump action, and 209 pieces of Jojef Magnum plastic single barrels hunting gun pump action rifles. The container was originally declared to contain building materials such as wash-hand basins and water closets.
Last Tuesday, it was rumoured that the Tin-Can Island Command of the Customs had uncovered yet another container suspected to contain arms imported from Turkey. On Wednesday, the Customs announced that the suspected container contained 470 pump action rifles concealed with small connecting pipes.
The latest interception brings the number of arms seized by the Customs since this year to 2,671.
Recall that in December 2016, the Tin-Can Island Port Command of Customs had also intercepted another set of guns concealed in an imported used vehicle. Alongside this particular import were some military camouflages and large quantity of gun accessories such as gun pellet and riffle paunch.
In all of these seizures, the Customs had always said it knows the country of origin of these imports. What has always remained a mystery, however, is the identity of the importers, leading many Nigerians to question the sincerity of the Customs.
For instance, Hameed Ali, comptroller-general of NCS, had disclosed that all the seized containers of arms so far, including the latest one, originated from Turkey, but no mention was made of the importers.
“Don’t mind the NCS. You uncover the shipment with fanfare and cover the importers with something bigger. Is there any way the identity of the importers can be hidden? Does the consignment not have a bill of lading? Who are the consigner and the consignee? Where did shipment originate?” asked an angry Nigerian who does not want to be named.
He also insinuated that many more such imports could have passed undetected and that these interceptions may have happened because the clearing agent refused to settle the Custom boys.
When the rumour of the latest seizure broke on Tuesday, it was gathered at the port that the 470 pump action rifles were discovered after Bashir Yusuf, Customs Area Controller of the Tin-Can Island Command, ordered a detailed profiling of the importer of the 1,100 rifles intercepted on September 6. A source told BDSUNDAY that the container belonged to the same importer.
“The container was owned by the same importer of the 1,100 guns. After a detailed profiling of the importer ordered by the Area Controller, it was discovered that he still has another container inside the port, so they fished it out,” said the source.
“But I don’t know why they are hiding the identity of the importer. It could even be the government itself importing these weapons,” the source added.
Light at the end of the tunnel
But while these questions were raging, the Customs boss on Thursday said the Service has identified the importer of the arms as Great James Oil and Gas Limited and that the container that brought the dangerous cargo is ‘M. V Arkas Africa’ owned by Hull Blyth shipping company.
He said all Customs Area Comptrollers have been put on red alert at all entry points into the country, including the airports, seaports and border posts, and that the agency was collaborating with the Directorate of State Service (DSS) and the Nigerian Intelligence Agency (NIA) to nip the menace in the bud.
“Our findings have shown that this dastardly act is being committed by Nigerians and there are syndicates in Turkey that are manifesting this. We are yet to get to the bottom of the whole thing. Are these arms meant for commercial purposes, or meant to be given to a group of insurgents or agitators and kidnappers? That aspect of the investigation is still ongoing, the SSS and other agencies will let us know what their findings are,” Ali said.
“For us in the NCS, we have developed a profile and like I promised you, we are going to escalate the issue beyond the borders of Nigeria. Having identified the country of origin, we will not relent in making sure that we get to the bottom of why the offensive import is coming from one particular country,” he said.
The Customs boss also disclosed that the Service had developed a profile to conduct 100 percent examination of any container coming from Turkey, saying the Federal Government and the Turkish government would be meeting in Abuja to find a lasting solution to the incessant arms imports from Turkey.
Bashar Yusuf, Customs Area Controller, Tin-Can Island Command of the NCS, told journalists that the seizure of the 470 pump action rifles was made possible through accurate data profiling of the cargo right from the sea.
“Container profiling is quite imperative in Customs operations, because through this means, we were able to track the arms from the vessel in the sea and intercepted the items at the entry point,” said Yusuf.
“We profiled the container through the means of conveyance used in bringing the weapons as well as data from the documents attached to it. Similarly, we are currently profiling containers that are not only carrying arms but other prohibited items, in order to prevent such offensive items from going into our economic environment,” he said.
What experts think
Bolaji Akinola, chief executive officer, Ships and Ports Communications Limited, said the Federal Government should without delay move to ban importation of goods from Turkey as a country given the level of security and economic threats importation of arms could pose on an already security-challenged economy like Nigeria.
Expressing concern as to the motive behind frequent arms importation at this time of economic downturn, he said there was need for the government through its Department of State Security to institute serious investigation panel to know why Turkey wants to terrorise Nigeria.
Nigeria, the world’s sixth biggest oil producer, has been battling in-country terrorism since 2009 following the rise of the Boko Haram Islamic insurgency in the country’s northeast. Additionally, the activities of Fulani herdsmen across the country, militants in the creeks of the Niger Delta, as well as agitators in other parts of the country have posed security threats, leaving many Nigerians to wonder whether these arms imports were not fuelling these existing crises.
“Turkey is becoming a problem for Nigeria and therefore, government should go ahead and ban importation from Turkey until the syndicate behind shipping of arms into Nigeria is discovered and adequately prosecuted,” he suggested.
But Dennis Amaeshi, a Lagos-based businessman, linked the importation of arms and ammunition into the country to preparations for the 2019 elections.
“Though it seems 2019 election is still far as we are currently in 2017, we sincerely believe that arms import is a trend that is synonymous with election preparation, especially in this part of the world where touts and thugs are used by politicians to secure positions in government,” Amaeshi said.
CHUKS OLUIGBO & AMAKA ANAGOR-EWUZIE
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