*Magnifying the spectre of fear
*Implications for Nigeria
By Godwin Oritse With additional reports by Jide Ajani
This is an insight into the diabolic movement of arms and ammunition from Asia to Nigeria and for possible onward shipment to a final destination, the attempt by the importer’s agent to evade detection and why implications for a country that has just been de-listed as a country of interest by the United States of America over last December’s attempted bombing of an airliner by a Nigerian, Farouk Abdulmutallab.
Call it round-tripping; but one that has gone awry.
The final destination of the weapons of war seized at the Apapa Ports, Lagos last week is still being probed but the fact that the seizure was made on Nigerian soil makes it all the more frightening. Among the items of war seized were rocket launchers, hand grenades, cartridges and explosives. The seizure was made on Tuesday.
Information available to Sunday Vanguard suggests that the importer of the arms made every effort to beat security checks. One of the attempts made, it was disclosed was the attempt to repackage the containers. The repackaging was meant to achieve the objective of concealment for possible onward exportation and re-routing through Nigeria’s porous borders. Sunday Vanguard investigations also revealed that the seized rocket launchers were manufactured in 2008. The Rocket launchers measured 107mm. The registration number is 1088. Each weighed 1.8kg each.
It was also learnt that the 13 containers actually came into the examination bay of A P Moller Terminal on October 2, 2010. It was learnt that the importer, with the help of his agent, did everything to have the containers transferred to a Bonded Warehouse Facility. If this move had been possible, the importers and their agents would have beaten security checks.
This attempt failed because of the vigilance of the security operatives at the Port. Information available also revealed that when the attempt to transfer the containers failed, the importers decided to re-package them for export with a view to moving them to a neighbouring country and smuggling them into Nigeria through the porous borders. Meanwhile security operatives have arrested the Customs Agent (names withheld) appointed by the yet to be apprehended importer. The ship reportedly berthed in July but its contents were discharged on October 2, 2010.
Sunday Vanguard learnt that there were quite a number of discrepancies in the documentation of the import. This aroused the suspicion of security and customs agents at the ports. The arms and ammunitions were brought in 13 containers waiting to be transferred to a bonded terminal facility for examination purpose before they were to be cleared. The deadly cargoes were neatly packed in 4″ by 4″ size of wooden crates.
Each crate contained between 40 to50 rocket launchers. There were 24 of such crates in one container. This seizure is said to be the largest cache of illegal importation of arms and ammunition intercepted by government security agencies.
Security experts have expressed shock at the volume of arms illegally imported, and commended the efforts of the security operatives who intercepted the dangerous cargo. Security analysts were of the opinion that who ever brought in these weapons had one of two things in mind: either to topple a government or secede from the country. Although, no other further arrests have been made, but the government has spread its drag net to ensure that the importers of these deadly weapons are apprehended. Speaking at the inspection of the arms at Apapa Port, National Security Adviser General Andrew Owoye Azazzi stated that it was too early to make any statement, but assured Nigerians of Government protection.
Azazi, who came in company of the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Oluseyi Petinrin, said the government was alarmed at the volume of the arms import adding that no stone would be left unturned to get to the bottom of the matter. He also stated that every thing concerning the importation will be thoroughly looked into to unravel the reason behind this volume of illegal importation of such conventional war weapons.
He said: “At this point, the only thing we can say is that we have some armaments that were discovered at the port by the security agencies. We do not want to make any conclusion about what caliber of ammunition, where they are going or where they are coming from. We need a lot of verification and at the end of the day Nigerians will know what the issue is all about. Let us not jump into conclusion.
“We have discovered them and we will do whatever is required to make sure that everybody is protected. I think the SSS has a very good procedure and that is why these containers could not go unchecked.”
Asked if the importation of the arms had anything to do with the forthcoming elections, he said: “I do not know yet until we find out more.”
Also speaking on the arms seizure, the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Custom Service Alhaji Abdullahi Dikko disclosed that the containers had no form “M” and Risk Assessment Report, RAR, which are the documents showing what the containers are carrying. The dud nature of the document aroused the suspicion of the security agents.
His words “The documents filed in for the clearance of the containers were all forged as the name which the Licenced Customs Agent who was to clear the container was not dictated in the customs cyber. The container did not follow the normal clearing procedure and even the agent used a fake licence to clear the container. Every container must have form “M” and it is suspicious this one had nothing. We actually thought it was contraband but it turned out to be something worse.”
Confirming the arrest of the agent, the South West Zonal Coordinator of National Task Force to Combat the Importation of illegal Contraband and Small Arms, Dr. Ayo Omotosho, said the importer’s agent who has been arrested would not be disclosed for security reasons.
Spokesperson of the National Task Force to Combat the Importation of Illegal Goods, Contraband and Small Arms, Mr. Jeff Imo, told Sunday Vanguard that the arms importation was a testimony that there was proliferation of dangerous weapons among Nigerians.
He said the task force was still trying to update its structures in the South West zone of the country, adding that before the end of next week, they would have been very visible in every border post and seaport across the southern part of the country.
The Goodluck/Sambo Presidential Campaign Organization, has commended officials of the nation’s security services, the Police, State Security Services, SSS, Military Intelligence and Naval Intelligence, for their interception of the illegal arms shipment.
The organization’s Director of Media and Publicity Committee, Mr. Sully Abu, in a statement, expressed satisfaction at the vigilance of the agencies which led to the discovery of this dangerous cargo.
He said: “By this interception, the security services have saved Nigerians from mortal danger. It is obvious that the evil minds behind the importation of these arms have a sinister agenda. They must be exposed and brought to book”.
The organization called on security agencies and Nigerians at large to be very vigilant at this time, noting that Nigerians should expose the few desperate ones who were hell-bent on disrupting the peace and orderliness of our land. Reacting to the arms seizure, the Acting Inspector-General of Police Mr. Hafiz Ringim, älso expressed shock over the discovery of the large catchments of arms and ammunition at the Tin Can Island Port assuring that the police will get to the root of the matter.
The police boss in a telephone chat with Sunday Vanguard said, “Honestly I do not know what to say, it is shocking. The incident would be thoroughly investigated”. A retired Army officer who spoke to Sunday Vanguard on the condition of anonymity said that hazardous cargoes are conventional war weapon with capacity to cause grave damage.
According to the Colonel, if these weapons are mounted with the necessary computer applications, only 10 or 15 of 107mm rockets can level the whole of Lagos in just one hour. Also reacting to the volume of arms import, a former Naval Chief said that the current maritime security agencies will find it difficult to meet up with the present security challenges in the ports if they are not well equipped.
Admiral Ombu who was speaking at the Nigerian Maritime Exposition 2011 meeting stated that the issue of maritime security is the responsibility of every stakeholder adding that maritime security agencies alone cannot cope with the challenges.
He said “Maritime security is the responsibility of all stakeholders in the maritime, the maritime security in the ports cannot cope with all the security threat we experience every day at the ports.
“We as individuals, we are not a security friendly people, we are also not a security conscious people..
“On the importation of the illegal arms, there will continue to be bad people every where in every country in the world and what ever policies the government brings these evil people will find a way to circumvent them. “The problem we have in country is that one for a maritime security country that is not strong enough is already creating loop hole for these evil people to come into the port
“Secondly, our maritime security agencies will find it difficult to get equip them well enough to meet the responsibility that is given them .
“Thirdly and unfortunately there is no cohesion within our maritime security agencies, we do not speak together and we have no avenue of sort for which we can sit down and talk together to analyze the situations, go home and see what we can do pro-actively solve the problem.
“NIMAREX will be one of such forum that will bring out these lapses so that both the government and all will know that we really must do something about our maritime security so that we can checkmate such evil in our society if we talk together, if we can see a common picture”
Security analysts are however of the opinion that at the end of the meeting of nation’s security chiefs, a new vista of security policies and strategies will be promulgated to meet the ever increasing security threats and challenges in nation’s ports and border posts.
It would be recalled that Nigeria was de-listed as a nation of interest in America’s on-going war on terror. The listing of Nigeria followed the attempt by Farouk Abdulmutallab to blow up a passenger aircraft last December. The new twist to this arms seizure came with the statement from an Israeli intelligence officer.
In a statement to AP, the Israeli stated that the arms belonged to Hamas, and was heading to Gaza Strip where the Israel and Hamas have been locked in a battle of supremacy. Although not volunteering too much details because of what he termed “security concerns”, Hamas quickly denied any such links and involvement. The arms were alleged to have been manufactured in Iran, moved to the Port of Mumbai, from where it was shipped into Nigeria, for possible onward movement to Gaza.
If this scenario proves correct, it would cast a pall on Nigeria as a possible transit point for illegal arms shipment. One of the consequences would be the needless singling out of the nation as a possible post where the war on terror may have to be waged by the West. The sale of guns and such weaponry are highly regulated such that an end user certificate is issued in the sale of such large quantity of arms and ammunitions. In the case of Nigeria, it is the Chief of Army Staff that should sign the end user certificate and counter-signed by the President.
In this case however, even the customs papers concerning the containers were forged or had fictitious names and address on them. Just recently, when Rivers State, in its war on terror and the militants imported some arms and bullet proof vests for the Police, they were reportedly seized by the Office of the National Security Adviser, NSA.