•Implications, reasons for pro liferation of arms, ammunition

By Sunday Ani

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In the last nine months, the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) has foiled four attempts to bring large cache of arms and ammunition into the country by yet to be identified persons. This month alone, two unsuccessful attempts were made while the other two attempts were made in January and May respectively.

Eight days after a 20-foot-container laden with 1,100 pump action rifles was seized by officers and men of the NCS, another container with 475 pump action rifles was on Tuesday, September 19, seized in Lagos. On September 11, the Comptroller-General of NCS, Colonel Hameed Ali (retd.) explained that his men from the Tin-Can Island Port Command in Lagos smashed a syndicate that specialised in smuggling arms into the country, discovering 1,100 pump action riffles loaded in a 20-foot-container.

Disclosing that the weapons were imported into the country from Turkey, Ali volunteered that they included 600 pieces of Jojef magnum black pump action rifles, 300 pieces of Jojef magnum silver pump action rifles and 200 pieces of Jojef magnum plastic single-barrel hunting gun pump action rifles.

A source told Daily Sun: “The container is owned by the same importer of the 1,100 guns. After a detailed profiling of the importer as ordered by the Area Controller, it was discovered that he still had another container inside the port.” That is to say, there could be more weapons, awaiting clearance.

Some of the seizures were made up of 661 pieces of pump action rifles, 100 pieces of black tornado single barrel rifles; 75 pieces of silver magnum single barrel rifles; 50 pieces of alter pump action rifles; 215 pieces of black single barrel rifles; 164 pieces of rifle nozzle; 103 pieces of arms grips; 110 pieces of trigger; 113 pieces of arms guard; 107 pieces of bridge block; 122 pieces of Allen keys; 117 pieces of assemble butt and 516 pieces of 50kg bags of PoP cement. One Omni American tactical rifle, one Mossberg American pump action rifle; 7,500 pieces of premier hollow point (air gun pallets), nine pieces of military bullet proof vest, one piece of military helmet with rain-proof, pistol punch, rifle punch and 26 packs of already made military food. There were also several dismantled parts that could be reassembled. 

Nigerians react

For Comrade Biodun Aremu of the Joint Action Front (JAF), the seizures made no special sense because Nigeria is in a state of insecurity and as such, it should be expected. He blamed government for creating a situation where millions of youths are unemployed. He said: “When you create a state where the level of unemployment is always on the rise, it creates insecurity. It is the responsibility of government, whether at the federal, state or local level to address the basic needs of the people, but when that is not happening, what do you expect? When millions of Nigerians are jobless and cannot access quality education, with an irresponsible government at all levels, what do you expect?

“I think it is on the part of the people to take their destiny into their own hands. That is why you have ethnic and religious tensions because the bigger pictures are not taken care of. And what are the bigger pictures? Why must a state exist on the basis of privatisation, which makes a few to grow richer and there is poverty across the land? So, it is a general state of chaos and I think this is where the people must rise above ethnicity and religious divisiveness, which are being used by the ruling class, irrespective of political party. That is what is at stake because for me, there is nothing scary about the seizures.”

A security expert, Ben Okezie, sounded the alarm bell. He said: “It shows that there is trouble in the country; it shows that all is not well in the country. It is only in a country where there is insecurity that you find such a thing. You have a similar situation in Libya, Yemen, Chad and in other countries where there is agitation or insurrection. And agitations or insurrections are always products of injustice. For instance, in the Niger Delta, government takes their oil from them and they are not getting anything. That is why there is agitation there and there is no way they will not use firearms to agitate.”

Dennis Amachree, another security expert, averred that the progression in the seizures indicated that there are a lot of things going on. “Remember that there are some landmarks that we are going to deal with and one of those landmarks is that we are going to have election in 2019. Besides the election, we also have a lot of agitations going on in the country. We have the insurgency in the Northeast, which is actually spreading to other parts. Many people also believe that there are Fulani herdsmen, who are killing people all over the country.

“However, intelligence reports have indicated that these people are actually not just herdsmen because we have seen situations where herdsmen saw them and ran away. If herdsmen see them and run away, that means they are not part of them and if they are not part of them, which other armed group do we have other than the Boko Haram? It is the Boko Haram that has been coming all the way from Maiduguri down to Enugu and such places to kill and kidnap because you also have to realise that kidnapping is part of the terrorists’ means of raising money.

“There are other agitations. Although they have withdrawn the threat, remember that northern youths asked the Igbo residing in the North to leave before a certain date. What do you think they will use to force them out if not arms? So, we can also say that some of these groups are all armed. The Niger Delta is no longer news because they have a lot of arms there. So, you find out that with all these groups springing up, there will be an increase in demand for illegal arms,” he stated.

He cautioned the federal government on how it goes about handling various agitations in the country, especially the issue of IPOB. He said: “We expect the government to handle the situation appropriately and very carefully. I am not personally impressed with the way they are handling the IPOB case because it is not just a matter of sending soldiers. When the president came back after 103 days outside the country, he met a situation where there are all kinds of people in the north, west, east and south having one kind of agitation or the other. I expected that his advisers would tell him to get all these people together and find out what is happening. Definitely, they will listen to him because he is the father of the nation but instead, they advised him to deal with them. You are aware of what happened in Operation Python Dance 11 in Abia State. I will advise government to tread with caution because these groups are just bidding their time until they come out with their arms.”

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He described the illegal arms importation as veritable threats to national security and tasked government not to just brush it aside because the perpetrators are very serious.

“Now, the customs have been able to intercept these, do you know how many that might have gone in without the customs’ interception? There must be many of them. If they are only able to intercept four, I can assure you that double or triple of that number must have come into the country. Again, investigations have shown that three of them are from Turkey, so I will expect other security agencies like the National Intelligence Agency to seriously look into Turkey because it might just be the mastermind or the brain behind instability in Nigeria. I think this is not just something that we will sweep under the carpet by saying we have arrested some people and we are investigating. It is bigger than that; it is a very serious national security problem that we are facing right now.”

On what the Nigerian government should do with Turkey and China, where the illegal arms allegedly emanated from, he said: “We have a National Intelligence Agency responsible for security issues outside Nigeria. We have the Defence Intelligence Agency also responsible for military security issues outside and inside Nigeria. The State Security Service (SSS) is responsible for security issues in Nigeria and outside. So, those security agencies that are responsible for external security should seriously strengthen their work outside to ensure that they look at what is happening and find out the people ordering these arms into Nigeria because our record is very bad right now.

“Right now, we have almost a hundred million small arms all over the world and more than half of it is in sub-Sahara Africa. Out of this half, about 10 percent of it is in Nigeria. So, it is a situation that calls for serious attention. Nigeria is very unstable right now. Many people don’t want to believe it but Nigeria is sitting on a keg of gunpowder and if it is not well handled, we may have a big problem on our hands. This is the time that government has to up its game to get down to the root cause of all these problems and nip them in the bud so that the country can move forward.”

A retired naval officer, Ozor Nweke, blamed illegal arms proliferation on politicians, who intimidate their opponents with guns during elections. He said that since some politicians had shot in the air to scare away their opponents during elections and nobody questioned them. So, others are preparing to engage in the same act in 2019 election and that could partly be responsible for increase in the rate at which illegal arms are being smuggled into the country.

“The implication in a country with so much tension like Nigeria would have been that more of such arms would have got into the wrong hands, for selfish purpose because government arm is different from this. This is for local use and it can snowball to greater danger in the country,” Nweke said.

Customs agents

The Publicity Secretary of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Seme border Chapter, Mr. Austin Nwosu, absolved his members from the problem but blamed government for failing to provide modern security measures at the port.

He said: “We have three parties involved in importation. They are the agent who makes the declaration, the importer who goes out to import and then the shipper, who is most times, the seller of the goods. As licensed customs agents, we are at the receiving end because we don’t have accurate information on what the importer has imported into the country. It is based on the little information, which the importer provides to us as licensed agents that we approach the customs to make declaration.

“The importers, the agents and the customs are partners in this business. So, after our declaration based on the information from the importer, customs’ examination will follow. During such physical examination, all of us will be present to witness the content, which sometimes, turns out to be prohibited goods. When the goods turn out to be contraband, then the agent is liable because he has the document and he is a link to the importer. Most of the things that importers do are not known to the agents but we make the declaration and stake our names, companies, agencies and every other thing that we have.”

He said that if government had complied with the latest security innovation as propounded by the World Customs Organisation (WCO), the issue of illegal importation of arms and other items would have been a thing of the past.

He said: “The agent must be involved in importation and once we are involved in importation, we should be able to know the content of the consignment being shipped into the country. If we have what is called data model, which comprises transaction from the port of loading to the port of discharge, we should be able to track and find out the mode of shipment, the consignment that is loaded and the quantity that is loaded. And this can be achieved only when we adopt the World Customs Organisation Data Model and work on it. With such connectivity, information will be very easy for us. We will have no problem because we will have accurate information about what is coming in. Through that process, the customs will also know what is in the consignment right from the port of loading.”

He lamented that since 2012 when the federal government sent some people to Ghana for such training, nothing has happened. He, therefore, urged the government to do the needful as the continued importation of illegal arms into the country posed serious threat to national security.

“The collation of data from the port of loading to port of delivery will help us in this business and government must realise that. Whoever that is behind such importation is an enemy of this nation because it is going to create more troubles for the country; it will cause more harm for us in this country,” he said.

Another ANLCA member, Mr. Momodu Khally, also agreed that cases of illegal arms importation abound because government has not installed the necessary security gadgets at the ports. He wondered how a seaport like the Tin Can Island Port could operate without functional scanning machines. “If you go to Seme border, you will see what I am saying. You can’t move a car out of Seme border without going through the scanning machine. Once a ship berths, it is supposed to go straight to the scanners but there is no functional scanner in Nigeria ports and that is a big problem,” he said.

He revealed that if customs were able to seize four consignments laden with illegal arms in a year, then many of such consignments must have escaped the port. He also attributed the ugly trend to activities of unregistered customs agents, who are sometimes the preferred choice of some importers because their charges are cheaper. “Importers will also want to patronise those agents that are not recognised. Those are people who will promise them that they have godfathers and that their containers will not be opened for examinations by customs. Nobody from our association will collect job from an importer who will not want his consignment to be examined because if there is any problem, the agent is the first person to be arrested,” he stated.