There was an outrage Monday over the interception of 661 pieces of pump-action rifles by the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) of the Nigeria Customs Service (NSC) in Lagos.
Security experts said that the development is a dangerous signal to the security situation in the country. The rifles were laden in a 40-feet container stacked in 49 boxes and were concealed with steel doors and other merchandise goods, which came in through Lagos port from China.
The gun, called Tornado, was designed in Italy for JOJEFF MAGNUM. Three persons have been arrested in connection with the contraband.
The Comptroller-General of the service, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), said that a Mack truck, with registration number BUG 265 XG, conveying a 40ft container with number PONU/825914/3,was intercepted along Apapa Mile 2 road by Customs officers of the Federal Operations Unit (A), Ikeja on January 22.
The Comptroller-General said the truck was immediately taken to FOU premises for physical examination and 49 boxes containing 661 pieces of pump action rifles concealed with steel doors were revealed. He explained that the contraband was shipped from China and routed through Turkey en-route Nigeria.
Ali said the rifles were under absolute prohibition, adding that their importation was illegal. “Such deadly contravention of the law is even more unacceptable considering the fragile security situation in some parts of the country,” he added.
He stated that three persons have been arrested in connection with the contraband, which was disguised as steel doors.
The Comptroller General said that the three people involved in the illegal importation include 51-yearold Oscar Okafor, who is the importer; 56-year-old Mahmud Hassan, the clearing agent and a 28-year-old Sadique Mustapha, who accompanied the consignment to its destination.
Ali said initially the consignment was said to have originated from Turkey, adding that there was mixup in the document, which finally revealed that the consignment originated from China.
“Investigation has already commenced and I have directed that the dragnet should be wide enough to fish out all persons involved in the importation and clearing of the consignment,” Ali said.
He said Customs officers who were involved in the clearance of the containers were in the custody of Comptroller Mahmud Haruna of FOU Zone “A’’ He added: “This seizure underscores the destination of the service to enforce all laws relating to importation and exportation of goods into and out of Nigeria, thereby contributing to the economy, security and wellbeing of the country.
“This feat is also no doubt commendable and represents the new normal in the service where most officers and men are on a daily basis ensuring that illegalities are not allowed unchecked. I commend the Comptroller, all officers and men involved in this great seizure.”
Meanwhile, security experts have told New Telegraph that such large importation of arms, at a period the country is facing too many security challenges, doesn’t augur well. A former commissioner of police, Mr. Frank Odita, said the seizure meant people were already thinking of 2019.
His words: “Politicians may be the ones bringing these arms into the country. It could also be other people brought them into the country for their own private purposes and ulterior motives.
It, however, is quite a large number and embarrassing. The persons arrested should give us an insight into who we should be looking at and for what purposes the arms were imported. “For me, it’s an act of God for Customs to have been able to track it.
It was already packed in a deceptive manner and labelled as something else. Whoever brought in those weapons doesn’t mean well for Nigeria.
It wasn’t imported by Armed Forces or the Nigeria Police Force. What would an individual want with such an importation? It means there’s a sinister motive for such importation. If it’s not for politics, then it’s for crime.”
A security expert, Dr. Ona Ekhomu, said the seizure indicated that Nigeria has a big problem of proliferation of illegal firearms in Nigeria.
He said: “I was made to understand that AK47 rifles come into this country in trailer loads. There was a situation where a General from Benue State, ran to Onitsha in Anambra State, to buy AK47 rifle; by the time he got there, they told him that Fulani herdsmen had bought the whole containers that came in.”
He further explained that such illegal importation was the reason for the crisis and armed conflict in Nigeria. He noted: “We have the Fulani herdsmen; they are now all over the country.
We have the secessionist problem in the east; the IPOB and MASSOB. Right now, what we have are protests, but imagine what would happen if they introduce arms into that equation.
We have the Boko Haram crisis still raging in the North-East, despite the great successes the military had achieved. We have kidnappers all over the country.
They are able to achieve this through illegal weapons.“We have a lot of criminal and ethnic militia activities. The only thing common among all of them is firearms.
Even the killings going on in Southern Kaduna killings are facilitated by use of firearms. A man that doesn’t have firearms can only fire catapult.”
A former State Director of the Department of State Services (DSS), Mr. Mike Ejiofor, said: “What the seizure portends is that, with the necessary encouragement and conducive environment, our security agencies can perform better. This is because; the recovery of such cache of arms is a huge success.
Again, there is still a lot of proliferation of small and light weapons in the country. So, it calls for extra vigilance on the part of the security agencies in particular, and Nigerians in general.
One would have wondered the consequences, if the arms were not intercepted. “Therefore, it should not stop at discovery, but the culprits must be identified and prosecuted, to serve as deterrent to others. It would have been very dangerous, if the arms were allowed to enter into the society.”
The Managing Partner of Sunday Fiola and Company, Barrister Sunday Fiola, a legal practitioner and security expert, said that corruption among security operatives was responsible for the importation of such rifles. He alleged that the container passed through 100 per cent examination by some Customs officers and other security operatives before it was cleared.
Fiola added: “The container has manifest and it was inspected by some security operatives. If the present government is serious in its anti-corruption crusade, nobody would compromise the safety of the country.” Another security expert, Mr. Ethelbert Onuoha Anabiri Oney, Chief Executive Officer of Zenith Intelligence and Security Solutions, said the seizure signifies danger. He said that the seizure was just a piece of cake compared to the volume of arms and ammunition being pumped secretly into Nigeria.
He said: “How long are we going to be blind? There is fire on the mountain because various quarters are equipping themselves for the awaited time.
The sponsors of Boko Haram, Niger Delta Avengers and even politicians are warming up because of 2019. There will be another blood battle campaign.”
“The enemies of Nigeria import guns and other dangerous weapons because they are expecting and anticipating the day they will wipe Biafra out of the surface of the earth.
“Those arms used by the Fulani herdsmen; how do they get them? One day, the truth will surface. If proper investigation is carried out, it will be discovered that this interception was a mistake or a misunderstanding between the owners and some Customs officials. Maybe, they disagreed on price or someone out there did not cover his track well,” said Oney.