Arms imports: Customs begins offshore monitoring of Nigeria-bound imports
BY FRANCIS EZEM
The Nigeria Customs Service has commenced monitoring of Nigeria –bound imports from seaports of origin in Europe, Asia, America and other trading partners in response to the rising cases of importation contraband and other offensive consignments into the country.
Recall that South African authorities had penultimate week arrested and detained a Russian ship conveying illegal weapons to seaports in Lagos, at Port Elizabeth, South Africa while investigations have been launched into the matter with a view to unraveling the mystery behind the deadly illegal importation. Customs and the Nigerian Navy had described this massive importation of weapons as dangerous to the nation’s fragile security system.
Speaking at an interactive session with stakeholders in Lagos, the new Customs Area Controller CAC, in charge of Apapa Area 1Command, Comptroller Bashir Abubakar, hinted that the service would henceforth treat all consignments with suspicion, given the renewed desperation of some people to flood the entire nation with illicit and illegal weapons.
According to him, under the new dispensation, the service would no longer wait for imported consignments to arrive at the nation’s seaports, as it has commenced the monitoring of such consignments from the port of loading all through the transit ports where such consignments would make a stop until they arrive the country.
He also disclosed that a total of 34 containers, which have yet to arrive the seaports in the country are under strict surveillance in order to ensure that the current cases of illegal importation of arms and other dangerous products were curtailed drastically.
“We are afraid now and so we treat all consignments with suspicion. In line with this, we have commenced strict monitoring of all consignments designated for the nation’s seaports from port of loading all through the voyage because of influx of goods that are harmful to the people and the nation at large”, the CAC, who just assumed duty last week, had said.
It was also gathered that the command has placed come companies under close surveillance under its fast-track cargo clearing regime, under which consignments belonging to some companies, especially multinational firms, believed to have established a level of integrity over the years, which implies that such consignments, which are usually placed on the blue channel and escorted by armed officers to owners warehouses, where they will be examined.
The Comptroller told the stakeholders that he is at the command to facilitate trade and make things easy both for port service providers and users alike, warning that the command under his watch would not tolerate sharp practices.
He also warned that the only condition under which he would remain friends with the stakeholders, especially importers and clearing agents is for them to be honest and compliant in all their declarations, and also urged them to report any officer to his office who delays their documents after the necessary legitimate duty, levies and fees had been paid.
Stakeholders had been speaking on this unfortunate incident, which they believe has again brought to the fore urgent need for the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to put necessary measures in place to prevent smuggling of illegal arms into Nigeria. They have argued that all relevant security agencies at the country’s expansive borders, most of which are porous, as well as airports and seaports, should effectively man these borders and being adequately equipped not only to prevent illegal arms from being trafficked into the country but also to intercept those already smuggled into the country.
Recall that there have been several cases of illegal importation of cache of arms into the country in the last few years. For instance, sometime in December 2016, two containers declared as personal effects were discovered to be loaded with 10 live rounds of ammunition cleverly concealed in a used 2004 model Toyota Corolla car with chassis number 2DIBR32E54C309841 were intercepted by the service. Similarly, in January 2017, personnel of the service also intercepted a truck in Lagos conveying 49 boxes loaded with 661 guns imported from China. According to the Comptroller-General of the service, Col Hammed Ali (rtd), the guns, which were from China but routed through Turkey, were concealed in a 40 foot container with number PONU/825914/3 via a MACK truck with registration number BDG 265 XG along Mile 2, Apapa Road, Lagos.
In the same month, the Tin Can Island Port Customs Command, Lagos intercepted 1,100 pump action rifles smuggled into Nigeria from Turkey which were concealed in a container with washing basins and water closets. Also, in January 2018, a 40-foot container loaded with military camouflage uniforms, along with other suspected deadly weapons, reportedly disappeared from Apapa Port in Lagos under suspicious and mysterious circumstance.
Spokesperson of the Nigerian Navy, Commodore Ayo Olugbode, had while reacting to the detention of the ship in South Africa, disclosed that contact had been established with the Nigerian Mission in South Africa. He added that since this is not a Navy matter judging by the fact that the vessel was intercepted at a port and not at sea, it is government-to-government issue. This, according to him, is why Nigerian and South African Governments have commenced talks on the worrisome development at the highest level since two sovereign countries are involved.