By Evelyn Usman, Godwin Oritse, Godfrey Bivbere & Udeme Clement
LAGOS—Operatives of Tin-Can Island Command of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, yesterday, smashed a syndicate that specialized in smuggling weapons into the country, discovering a consignment of 1,100 pump action rifles loaded in a 20-foot container.
The weapons, during preliminary investigation, were discovered to have been imported from Turkey .
They were concealed in a container which Bill of Lading indicated that the contents were wash-hand basins and water closets.
But the bubble burst during a routine monitoring at the terminal, as most of the supposed wash hand basins were discovered to be weapons.
This is the third time between February and September 2017 that containers loaded with weapons will be intercepted by the Customs.
The first arrest was in February 2017, with the recovery of 661 pump action rifles, while the second was in May 2017 when 440 pump action rifles were discovered.
Customs officer, clerk arrest
Briefing journalists yesterday, on the discovery, Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (retd), said already, a Customs officer suspected to have cut the seal of the container without following due process had been arrested in connection with the discovery.
According to him, a clerk at the terminal was arrested alongside the officer.
Ali explained that the container with number GESU 2555208, which was never listed for examination, was discovered to have been positioned with other containers for examination.
On further observation, Ali disclosed that the seal on the container was discovered to have been broken, indicating that it was positioned for examination.
He said: “At this point, the container had to be immediately transferred to the Enforcement Unit.
“The declaration in the Bill of Lading indicated the content to be wash hand basins and water closets but thorough examination revealed that there were 600 Jojef Magnum Black Pump Action Rifles; 300 pieces of Jojef silver Pump Action Rifles and 200 pieces of Jojef Magnum Plastic Single Barrel Hunting Gun Pump Action rifles.
The container was conveyed in MV Bella Shuttle vessel of 01-01-2017”.
The Customs C-G noted that importation of the rifles at a time the nation is undergoing some security challenges, was an indication that “there are, indeed, some elements who do not believe in the unity, peace and well-being of Nigerians.”
Port terminals, shipping companies to be sanctioned
Ali threatened that henceforth, shipping companies, as well as port terminals, would be held responsible for any discovery of such offensive imports.
According to him, terminal operators and the shipping companies will be made to explain how the weapons found their way into their terminals and allowed such offensive weapons in their vessels.
The Customs boss also promised to engage the Turkish government on the frequency of such offensive cargoes from that country, noting that all such seizures originated from Turkey.
On the part of the Customs, he said stiffer penalties await any of its officers found to have connived in the illegality.
He said: “Already, an officer of the service alleged to have authorized the cutting of the seal and the terminal clerk have been arrested and are undergoing investigation.
“Also, those involved in the previous discoveries have been dismissed from the service and are currently facing criminal charges.
“We will begin to parade erring officers in order to serve as deterrence to others. Customs, under my leadership will do all that is possible to fish out those remotely connected with this devilish importation and bring them to justice.”
Commending operatives of the Customs Intelligence Unit for the seizure, Ali noted that “seizures such as this is a testimony to the fact that a well-reformed and intelligence-driven Nigeria Customs Service will better serve the interests of the nation.”
He added that officers behind previous seizures were promoted to the next rank to acknowledge what he described as their good work.
The Customs boss said those indicted in previous seizures of arms and ammunition are still being held at the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, of the Customs Service in Ikeja, adding that investigation are currently on-going.
He disclosed that the container would be handed over to the relevant authorities until investigations were concluded.
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