ANYONE who has an idea of the types of weapons that were imported illegally through Apapa Wharf in Lagos last week, would be alarmed by the quantity as well as the sophistication of the collection. The security agencies investigating the intercepted weapons would also be concerned about the brazenness of the importers which raises questions.
Was this the first attempt at getting this quantity of arms through the ports?
What gave the importers the confidence that 13 containers of arms could pass through Apapa undetected?
Were there only 13 containers or those were the ones found?
How would the importers of this quantity of arms be unknown?
Has Nigeria stopped pre-inspection of cargoes headed for her ports?
Did the pre-inspection agents have no role to play in forestalling this incident?
Speculations about the origin of the vessel, including the Israeli claim that the arms were on their way to the Gaza Strip, could at best be treated as distractions. How possible is it that arms would make this round trip, plus the risk of passing through the unpredictable waters of Gulf of Aden (off the coast of Somalia) to get to the Gaza Strip?
Even if the arms were for the Gaza Strip, our concern should be with how moving them through Nigeria affects our national security. There is a lot to worry about in this direction.
The silence that had descended on the entire investigation is not helpful. The security agencies may have their reasons to be quiet — one of which may be not to create panic — but the public is entitled to knowing the importers of the arms and what their intentions were.
It is not enough to be secretive about the finding. The feeling secrecy creates for the public is that some connivance may be going on, or government is unwilling to let the public know those the investigations implicated.
Contradiction about the origin of the arms is the first confusion that needs to be conclusively resolved. While the initial story was that the arms were from Iran, leading to the Israeli claim that Iran, its bitter enemy and supporter of groups in the Gaza Strip, meant them for those militants. Shipping documents indicated the vessel was from India.
Security agents, who were acting on information, found various sizes of grenades, rocket launchers, bombs, assault rifles and heavy machine guns concealed in 24 crates of building tiles when they opened the first container. Further searches revealed the full extent of the cargo.
MV Everest, the Nigeria Customs Service said, which brought the arms and ammunition, berthed at the Apapa Wharf last July 10 and left five days later after off-loading the containers which bore the weapons. MV Everest last stopped at Mumbai’s Jawaharlal Nehru Port in India before Nigeria.
Two days after the discovery, CMA-CGM, which chartered MV Everest, in a statement said the containers holding the weapons belonged to the firm that shipped them. The shipping company said the manifest listed the shipment as “packages of glass wool and pallets of stone.”
CMA-CGM’s statement did not say much by adding that the contents of MV Everest “were supplied, loaded and sealed by the shipper, delivered to the port of loading for transportation and remained sealed during the whole transportation process. The seals were fully intact upon discharge in Nigeria.”
The 107 mm artillery rockets, part of the findings in the containers, when handled by trained troops, can accurately hit targets as far as eight and a half kilometres away, killing everything within about 40 feet.
In Afghanistan and Iraq , where the US troops are fighting against different groups, similar rockets have been employed. There are Chinese, American and Russian versions of the rocket. Iran makes a version of the rocket it calls Katyusha.
Arms are still available in wrong hands in Nigeria. Their sources remain largely a guess, with the conflicts in the ECOWAS region once blamed as the source of the arms used mostly in armed robbery, communal conflicts and other crimes like kidnapping and thuggery.
Recent religious crises in the country have witnessed the use of arms at unprecedented levels with military authorities admitting the sophistication of the weaponry that are used.
Clashes between Christians and Moslems in Jos, Plateau State, have seen the use of arms. The source of the arms has not been established and the reports of various government investigations on the crises remain silent about how the combatants get their arms.
Bombs and explosions have been used in political disputes. The instances in Bayelsa State of the state secretariat of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, or the residences of some politicians in the state being bombed, are becoming part of the violence that attends the contest for power.
None of these incidents was taken serious until last month’s bombing around Eagles Square, venue of the celebrations of Nigeria’s 50th independence anniversary. The incident embarrassed the authorities which acted fast to whittle down the impact of the bombing.
Some suspects are on trial following the bombing and investigations of other suspects are continuing. However, these incidents are indicators of the challenges that lie ahead of the security agencies who should be commended for discovery at Apapa Wharf.
National Security Adviser, General Andrew Owoye Azazi (rtd.), on a visit to Apapa Wharf 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 calibre 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.”
A thorough investigation of this incident is important. Nigeria can lean on the collaboration of other security agencies to find the owners of the arms. Their motive for bringing the rams to Nigeria is important, they also have to be punished.