By Stephen Ubanna
Ahead of the 2019 general elections, gun-runners appear to be giving officials of the Nigeria Customs services, NCS, at the seaports more job to do. This is because gun-runners have found the sea-port major out outlet to carry out their illegal arms importations.
Signs that Customs personnel at the seaports would have a running battle with politicians turned gun-runners started in 2016 when a consignment of 661 Pump Action Rifles released from Apapa port were intercepted by the then Federal Operations Lagos Roving team headed by Adamu Mohammed, an Assistant Comptroller, now a Deputy Comptroller, in-charge of Enforcement, Western Marine Command, WMC, Apapa, Lagos.
The Apapa arms import may have opened the flood gate for the gun -runners to divert their arms importation to Tin-can Island Command. Between September 11, 2017 and September 21, 2017, alone , a total of 2,671 pump Actions from the European country of Turkey were said to have been discharged at the port but fell into the waiting hands of theCustoms personnel .
The discovery of the arms may have forced Yusuf Barsha , the then Comptroller of the Command and now Comptroller, Pre- Arrival Assessment Report, PAAR, to order for a detailed profiling of all imports, particular, those coming from the same source with previous arms seizures.
The gun runners may have thought that the deployment of Yusuf to Customs Headquarters would turn the attention of the Customs personnel at the port, from implementing the policy but got it wrong. Unknown to them, Musa Abdullahi , a World Customs Organisation, WCO and World Trade organisation, WTO, trained officer , who had succeeded Yusuf, was not ready to change the policy but fine -tune the Command Operational Strategies to break into the ranks of the gun-runners.
Between Monday, July 9 and Tuesday, July10, 2018, barely four days to the Saturday, July 14, Ekiti state , governorship election, the Command was said to have intercepted catches of ammunition in two separate operations. The interception of the Ammunition speak volume.
Giving an insider information, Uche Ejesieme, a Superintendent of Customs and the Command’s Spokesman disclosed that the first seizure was made at Terminal ‘C’,II Ports and Cargo, stressing that it involved a ”40” Container, No.TGHU60143419. Ejesieme disclosed that the ammunition was discovered in the Container when it was subjected to scheduled physical Examination on suspicion like other Containers positioned for Examination that Monday at the terminal. The Ammunition was said to have been Concealed with other goods.
The Customs Spokesman who could not hide his joy over the seizures confirmed that ”live ammunition and military Jack Knives” were found in the Container, meaning that the gun-runners had at the back of their mind to pushing the items into the Nigeria market , particular the troubled states in the north and Ekiti , where the July 14, 2018, governorship Election had been fixed .
The suspicion that the Container might be carrying offensive weapons may have forced Abdullahi, the Customs Comptroller to order the Container to be transferred to the Command’ Enforcement Unit, Headed by Dera Nnadi , a Deputy Comptroller, where it was further Examined and found to contain one hundred and fifty rounds of Live Ammunition and twenty Eight pieces of various pies of military Jack knives.
The Customs Spokesman who could not hide his feelings said ” the imported items contravenes scheduled 4 Absolute Prohibition List item 17 of the Common External Tariff and section 46 of the Customs and excise Management Act, CEMA, cap C45LFN 2004. Given the offensive weapon found in the Container, the Magazine learnt the Customs Comptroller had ordered Dera, the Deputy Comptroller, in-charge of the Command Enforcement Unit to detain it and the contents.
More worrisome was the items found in a Ford during routine Examination. The Magazine gathered that the Command during its routine Tally Operations on vehiclesdischarged from a vessel at Five Star Logistics Terminal, found a black bag in one unpacked ford Edge with Chassis No. 2FMDK48C98BA05947.
Curious that the vehicle might be carrying offensive weapons may have forced the Customs personnel at the terminal to insist on physical during Examination. Eye witness account confirmed that 149 rounds of 38MM, 92 rounds of 9MM Live Ammunitions and 2 rounds of 7.62 MM, 11 Cartridges were discovered in the Ford. Other items allegedly found in the vehicle were 12 extended empty shells of various Calibers and Empty Magazine. That much was confirmed by Ejesieme , the Tin-can Island Customs Spokesman.
An aggrieved Abullahi, the Tin-can Island Customs Comptroller , could not understand why desperate importers were allowing gun runners to use Nigeria as an outlet for their illegal arms runs. with the 2019 general Elections fast approaching. It is not surprising why he has ordered the Customs Intelligence Unit , CIU, to take up the investigation into the Ammunition importation.
At present, one suspect, according to the Tin-can Island Customs Spokesman has been arrested by officers of the Enforcement Unit on the advice of the CIU and currently helping the Command in their investigation to track those who are still on the run as the deal had leaked out. Maritime analysts believe that there is no way the gun runner could have gun into the arms deal without getting a positive response backing from powers that be in Customs. This is because he may have made h his enquiries to sensitize the Customs about what to import and confide on close associates about the illegal importation. The assurance given to the importer may have encouraged him to dare the Customs personnel at the port.
The Customs Comptroller may have spoken the mind of Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, when he aid the Command would do everything possible to fish out all those remotely connected to the importation and bring to them to justice as a deterrence to others.As a prelude to this, he has continued to fine-tune the Operational Strategies of the Command as its CIU, officers are alive to their duties. The Command also appear to be getting the support of other security agencies personnel who are all over the flash point terminals used by the gun -runners, particular, Port and Cargo and Five Star Logistics terminals. They are the Department of State Security, DSS , the Army and the police among other others.
Many believe that if Abdullahi and his officers had failed in their duty to intercept the arms, it could have fallen into the waiting hands of the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone, Operations and Lagos Roving Team Personnel positioned at strategic locations between Oshodi and Apapa Express way.