In the course of investigation, some of the agents and custom officials who were on duty were arrested and taken in for interrogation.

Chioma Igbokwe

Imagine the havoc 1,100 automatic rifles will do in any state in Nigeria. Fortunately for the people of Anambra, the instruments of bloodshed were not only intercepted but the agents of death were also arrested. One of the suspects who participated in the shipment of the arms from Turkey through the Tin Can port, Lagos has given details of how they smuggled them into the country before being detected by Custom operatives.

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The suspect identified as Emeka Festus Umeh, a clearing agent claimed that it was one Ifeuwa Moses who is currently in Custom custody that contacted him to ensure that the container was cleared and transported to Onitsha in Anambra state where it will be disposed of.

Recall that sometime in September 2017, operatives of the Nigeria Customs Service (NSC) intercepted a container loaded with 1,100 pieces of pump action rifles at Tin Can port, Apapa, Lagos. The Comptroller-General of NSC, Hameed Ali, who paraded the arms at Tin Can port command, had disclosed that the rifles were discovered in a 20- foot container with number GESU2555208 which originated from Turkey.

On how the 20ft container was intercepted, Ali reportedly said it was falsely declared to contain wash-hand basins and water closets. He said that on September 6, 2017 operatives of the Nigeria Customs Service Intelligence Unit on a routine monitoring of activities across the terminals discovered a 1x20ft container, which was not previously listed but was positioned with other containers for the day’s examination.

They also observed that the seal of the unlisted container had already been cut and padlocked. They immediately transferred it to the Enforcement Unit and upon thorough examination, it was discovered to contain 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 pump action rifles.

Police investigation

According to police source, as soon as the discovery was made, operatives of the Inspector General of Police, Intelligence Response Team (IRT) were asked to investigate and arrest the suspects involved in the shipment and clearance of the container.

In the course of investigation, some of the agents and custom officials who were on duty were arrested and taken in for interrogation. In the process, the owner of the company, which was used for the transaction, Prince Great James Ayogu was also arrested.

Investigation also revealed that one Ifeuwa Moses who is based in Turkey was the one who shipped the container to Nigeria, working with his clearing agent, Emeka Festus Umeh. All efforts to get Emeka failed as intelligence information gathered on him showed that he had fled the country. They also got credible information that Ifeuwa was in town and was hiding in his village in Nsukka, Enugu state.

Detectives were deployed and were able to locate Ifeuwa’s house. Amongst those found in his house in the village were two men and when they were asked to identify Ifeuwa, one of them said that he was Ifeuwa. Both were handcuffed by the detectives and taken away. However on their way to Lagos, they confessed that they are just his brothers. They confessed that they were scared that their brother who was also in the house at that time will be spotted and arrested. For obstructing justice, the police handed them over to Customs for further investigation. Also handed over were clearing agents and Custom officials who initially cleared the container before the full examination.

Further investigation also revealed that the documents used were forged. Although Prince Ayogu’s company’s name was used, the phone number, email address and other information on the documents were not his. Police however kept track of the activities of Emeka and as soon as he stepped into the country, he was arrested. Determined to save his neck, Emeka confessed to the police the role he played and why he fled to Ghana.

I was told to run so I ran

Narrating his role, Emeka while in the police custody told Saturday Sun that he was not aware that Ifeuwa concealed arms in the container. “If I knew that the content wasn’t wash-hand basins and water closets, I wouldn’t come close to that place during inspection. I have cleared so many containers for Ifeuwa and I trusted that he will never lie about the content. I am a clearing agent and in 2013, my kinsman, known as Simeon who is based in Turkey came back to Nigeria. We met at a bar in Yaba and while we were discussing, he promised to link me up with his friends who are also importers.

“Ifeuwa was one of them and luckily he is also from Nsukka my town. I was happy because we all know the risk in shipping business. If you are not careful, you will land in trouble over contraband goods. In 2014, Ifeuwa called me and sent details of the container that he was expecting. We agreed that he will send the draft copy of the bill of lading to my email box, if I checked and it’s okay, I will use it and start the process before the original bill of lading will arrive. Since I do not have a company, I will attach it to any company in Nigeria and I will pay the company. That was how I helped to clear several containers for him and the content was mostly building materials.”

Sometime in August 2017, Emeka claimed that Ifeuwa called and told him that he was sending a 20ft container with wash-hand basins and water closets. “He called me that another container was on the way and will arrive in September. I decided to use the company of my friend Prince Great James Ayogu. He lives in the same compound with me in Bariga and in the past I have used his company to clear containers.

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“Out of greed, I decided to use his company, Great James Oil and Gas Company without his knowledge. I knew it was possible to use his company’s name and quickly make some money. I told Ifeuwa that it will cost him N2.5 million to clear the container. The amount will cover all the levies including money to settle custom officials and transportation of the container to Onitsha where the contents will be sold.

“He sent N1 million and I started processing it. The money was not enough and I asked him to send more to pay Custom so that they will do full examination. On the agreed date, it was a Custom woman that was assigned to check the container and the procedure was to open the container. Normally, we are allowed to be there to avoid theft. As soon as they opened the door, I noticed that one of the water closets was broken.

“When they shifted the water closet, they saw a big bag. They tore the big bag and discovered that there are several pump action rifles in it. I also snapped it not really sure what was happening. The woman said that they should close it immediately. I was shocked but relieved that no one arrested me at that point. I assumed that it could be a legal consignment but I was angry that he did not tell me about it.”

He immediately contacted Ifeuwa who was already in the country awaiting the arrival of the container in Onitsha. “I called him and he insisted that it can’t be possible. I then forwarded the picture to him. He called back screaming that the white man has landed him in trouble. He kept saying, ‘Nwoke ocha agwaghim na Egbe no na this container (The white man did not tell me that there are arms in this container).’ He told me to enter the next flight to Enugu. He also told me to call the Custom woman and offer her money no matter the amount. I called the woman but she refused to pick my call. I took the next flight to Enugu, when I saw him; he gave me N30, 000 and asked me to run as far away as I could.

He warned that if I am caught that he will deny me. He said that I should not panic, that he will handle the matter but I need to stay far away from Nigeria. He told me to throw away my phone and sim card. I only switched off my phone and relocated to Ghana. I spent months without hearing from him and when he finally called, he said that I should not panic that as long as I am not around to contradict his claim that everything will be fine.

“After spending more than six months I decided to come back to Nigeria. I decided to come back because I learnt that they have arrested Ifeuwa and since I am just an agent, it makes no sense to still be running. I was ready to come back and clear my name. I never knew that police was monitoring me. As soon as I arrived Nigeria through Abuja, they arrested me at the park. They took me to their office in Lagos before moving me to this place where I am.”

Insisting that Prince Ayogu is innocent, Emeka claimed that he was the one who took the decision to use his company. “I even confessed to Ifeuwa that the owner of the company is not aware and he said I should not worry but disappear. It was greed that made me to use Prince Ayogu’s company. I am sorry that he had to suffer for months over my mistake. Prince Ayogu is innocent and I am also innocent. I never knew that such was in the container. No agent will present himself openly for such transaction. Those who do it make sure that such container does not go through full examination.”

Furious suspect

Prince Ayogu who is currently on bail accused Customs of detaining him for three months while the people who perfected the use of his company’s name to commit crime without his knowledge were released.

“As soon I learnt that my company’s name was linked to the illegal importation of those arms intercepted at the Tin-Can Island Seaport, Lagos, I wrote to the Customs in Abuja, wanting to alert them that I have no hand in it and that someone may have criminally declared my company as the importer, so as to deceive the Customs. I wrote to Customs but got no response, then I presented myself to them and they got me detained for three months. When they brought the Form M which actually linked my company to the case, I went through it and discovered that the RC, TIN, and Phone numbers on the Form M were not mine. The email address and the signature on this form was also not mine. I pointed this out to Customs and told them that someone had criminally used my company’s name and account number to complete the filling of the ‘Form M’.

“I urged Customs to invite my account officer at First City Monument Bank (FCMB) which was where the Form M, was raised, the account officer said he wasn’t aware of such transaction. My account officer referred the Customs to the International Trade Section, ITS, of the bank where it was discovered that one Jude Ezirim, the Head of Operations at the bank’s branch on Warehouse Road Apapa, Lagos, was the banker who supervised usage of my company’s name and account number in filling a Form M. During interrogation, Ezirim then confessed to the Customs that one Chidioke Ogbuezi, was the person who brought my company’s name, account and other details for him to fill and that Ogbuezi paid him N40,000 to perfect the Form M.

“In spite of this, Ezirim was granted bail and was asked to go and I remained. Luckily, my family through the aid of the police arrested Ogbuezi and four other clearing agents excluding Emeka. They were brought to the Customs and they confessed that Emeka gave them my company’s name which they have used in several transactions without my knowledge. It was also discovered that one of the clearing agents had at one time raised a Form M with my company’s name in a bank that I don’t have an account. I was marveled at the rate at which these agents forge documents and after staying for few days the Customs granted them bail,” he alleged.

According to him, after three months in detention, he was arraigned in court despite the fact that he uncovered that a company known as Concern Men Limited which was on the bill of lading were the real importers of the pump action guns. “My lawyers came and raised a point on that and having spent three months in Customs custody, the Customs then agreed to grant me bail on the condition that I produce Emeka and the owner of Concern Men, who were the importers. Upon my release, I wrote a petition to the Inspector General Police to help me arrest all those who have wrongly used my company without my permission. Ifeuwa was finally arrested but I learnt that he has been charged to court. I learnt that police wrote to them to hand over Ifeuwa to them to enable them trace the distribution network but they refused,” he stated.

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