FG reads riot act to shipping lines, agencies over illegal arms imports
The Federal Government has warned it would no longer tolerate the complicity of multinational shipping lines and their agencies operating in Nigeria in the repeated illegal shipment of arms and ammunitions into the country, which he said is dangerous for the wellbeing of the country and its citizens.
Recall that following the seizure of 470 pieces of pump action rifles at the Tin Can Island Command of the Nigeria Customs in September, which brings to a total of 2,671 of such riffles imported from Turkey in the last eight months, President Muhammadu Buhari had paid a diplomatic visit to Turkey, which coincided with the D-8 Summit in company of the Comptroller General of the service, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd).
The CG who read the riot act, spoke at a stakeholders’ meeting organised by the Nigerian Shippers’ Council in Lagos, Tuesday attended by terminal operators, shipping companies and their agents, importers and exporters as well as professional bodies and associations.
The main objective of the meeting was to rub minds with major stakeholders on current issues in the nation’s port systems, especially importation of illicit goods including arms with a view to proffering solutions in the interest of the Nigerian nation.
He said that the Federal Government has sufficient facts at its disposal suggesting that the various multinational shipping lines and agencies played major roles in the repeated cases of illegal importation arms and ammunition into the country, warning that no government would tolerate acts capable of undermining the peace and security of the country.
“It has come to the notice of the Federal Government of Nigeria that the shipping companies and their agents connive with some criminal minded individuals to change on the high seas the manifests of their vessels coming to Nigeria, which is different from the original manifest obtained at the port of loading”, the CG said.
Citing the illegal importation of 470 pieces of pump action rifles, he said that the government has documentary evidence to show that the original manifest showed that the container was laden with hunters’ pump action rifles, which was changed when the vessel got to Morocco to sanitary wares.
“I say this with a deep sense of responsibility that shipping lines are behind the shipment of illicit items into Nigeria because we have discovered in the case of the two last arms shipments when we went to Turkey is that they were actually manifested as pump action rifles for hunters. So, the exit certificate from Turkey indicated the actual content because the authorities in Turkey did not know that the pump action rifles are on the prohibition list in Nigeria, they therefore believed they did not need to contact us in Nigeria before allowing them export the cargo”
“But knowing full well that these rifles are on restriction list in Nigeria, the importers changed the manifest and concealed the weapons with sanitary wares when they got to Morocco” he said.
The CG also warned that government would henceforth not accept the habit of the shipping lines feigning ignorance of the true content of their vessels, insisting that the relevant sections of the Customs and Excise Management Act CEMA, which prescribes sanctions for the vessels of carriage of illicit imports as well as the importer would be strictly enforced going forward.
He also warned that for the fact that the government had been liberal and chose to overlook some of the excesses of these multinational shipping companies and their agents should not be misconstrued as weakness, insisting that it will no longer be business as usual.
Meanwhile, Executive Secretary/CEO of the council, Hassan Bello, while speaking at the event, noted that the objectives were to proffer solutions and forestall future occurrences in the overall interest of Nigeria’s economy.
He argued that it was better to prevent to illegal importation of such items rather than blame one another, adding that everybody has been put in the know on how government feels and possible actions it might take if the trend continues, which also formed part of the reasons for convening the forum.
He commended the Comptroller General of the service for his decision to engage the stakeholders to get their buy in, arguing that it is better to jaw-jaw than war-war.