By Innocent Anaba
The Federal Government, today, arraigned five men before a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos for allegedly importing 661 pump-action rifles into the country without lawful authority.
The trial judge was Justice Ayokunle Faji.
The accused are Mahmud Hassan, Oscar Okafor, Donatus Achinulo, Matthew Okoye, said to be at large, and Salihu Danjuma.
In the charge, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice said that the accused brought the rifles into the country from Turkey through the Apapa Port in Lagos, using a 40-feet container, which they falsely claimed contained steel doors.
The accused, however, pleaded not guilty when the charges were read to them.
Consequently, the prosecuting counsel, K.A. Fagbemi, applied for a date to commence trial but urged the court to order that the accused should be remanded in the prison custody pending trial.
Justice Faji adjourned till September 12, 2017 for definite hearing and ordered that the accused should be remanded in the prison custody.
The accused were alleged to have facilitated the illegal importation, by forging a number of documents including a bill of lading, a Form M and a Pre-Arrival Assessment Report.
According to the prosecution, in order to evade payment of Customs duty, the accused allegedly forged a bill of lading issued at Istanbul on January 9, 2017, falsely claiming that it was issued at Shanghai, China.
In the forged bill of lading, they allegedly filled “steel door” as the content of the container instead of rifles.
They were also said to have allegedly offered a bribe of N400,000 to an official of the Nigeria Customs Service attached to the Federal Operative Unit to influence the said officer not to conduct a “hundred per cent search on the 40-feet container with number PONU 825914/3.”
The prosecution also alleged that the first accused, Hassan, corruptly gave N1m to government officials at the Apapa Port in order to prevent the search of the container by Customs officials.
In the last count, the Federal Government alleged that the defendants had between 2012 and 2016 illegally imported several double-barreled shotguns, pump-action rifles and single-barreled shotguns into the country through Lagos.
The eight counts pressed against them border on conspiracy, importation of prohibited firearms, forgery, uttering of forged documents, and bribery.
The offences were said to be contrary to sections 1(2)(c), 1(14) (a)(i) and 3(6) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act Cap M17, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2014.