LAGOS—THE Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, Thursay, claimed that a syndicate based in Turkey has been discovered to be behind illegal arms imports into the country.
The revelation propelled a meeting in Abuja Friday between the federal government and its Turkish counterpart.
The meeting is to find a lasting solution to the incessant illegal arms import from the European country.
Comptroller-General of Nigerian Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali, retd, who disclosed these at a briefing, yesterday, said the importer of the arms haul into the country was Great James Oil and Gas Limited.
Since the beginning of the year, four batches of arms illegally imported into the country from Turkey had been intercepted, including the 661 made in February; 440 in June; 1,100 this September and the latest 470, making a total of 2,671.
Col Ali also said all Customs Area Comptrollers had been put on red alert at all entry points into the country, including airports, seaports and border posts.
He said the agency was also collaborating with the Department of State Service, DSS, and the Nigerian Intelligence Agency, NIA, to nip the menace in the bud.
He said: “Now that Tin-Can Island port has become a hot spot for arms smuggling, these criminals will move elsewhere and we must be at alert.”
The Customs boss also disclosed that the agency has developed a profile to conduct a hundred per cent examination of any container coming from Turkey.
‘’The container was subjected to 100 per cent examination and the result is what you are seeing here on the ground,’’ he said.
According to him, the vessel that brought in the dangerous cargo is ‘M. V Arkas Africa, owned by Hull Blyth Shipping Company.
He noted that 70 to 80 per cent of imported cargoes were under declared, which made the Customs to resort to one hundred per cent examination.
“Our findings have shown that this dastardly act is being committed by Nigerians and there are syndicates in Turkey that are manifesting this.
“We are yet to get to the bottom of the whole thing. Are these arms meant for commercial purposes, or meant to be given to a group of insurgents or agitators and kidnappers?
“That aspect of the investigation is still ongoing, the DSS and other agencies will let us know what their findings are.
“For us in the NCS, we have developed a profile and, like I promised you, we are going to escalate the issue beyond the borders of Nigeria.
“Having identified the country of origin, we will not relent in making sure that we get to the bottom of why the offensive import is coming from one particular country.
“Fortunately, we have made an inroad, we will have the first diplomatic meeting with the Turkish Ambassador basically on this issue of arms import.
“Already, President Muhamadu Buhari has discussed this issue at an international forum and the Ambassador has been mandated to sit with us and let us find the way forward.
“Steps are being taken beyond the shores of Nigeria because to establish what is happening. Why is it happening and how we can stop it?
“We want to be ahead of these criminals, we are right inside the port to track and monitor containers right from the ship. We are getting more advanced and employing all the technology we have,’’ Col Ali said.
He disclosed that the Customs Service has also increased and enhanced its patrol teams across the country to ensure such dangerous cargoes do not come into the country anymore.
Col Ali, however, declined to name the terminal the container containing the arms berthed, despite persistent efforts to get him to do so.
Ali said arms or ammunition were under absolute prohibited items, which were not allowed to be imported into the country by any individual.
He added: “Aside from arms and ammunition posing a serious challenge to national security, 80 per cent of illicit goods coming into the country, which are often intercepted by Customs, fall under false declaration.
‘’For example, the discovery of these 470 pump action rifles, brings the number of arms seized in the last eight months to 2,671.
‘’Therefore, we need the best technology to detect such items, in order to prevent them from going into the wrong hands.”
Customs to profile more containers
Meanwhile, the Customs Service has now put measures in place to profile more containers to fish out those carrying dangerous items.
Customs Area Comptroller of Tin Can Island Command, Bashar Yusuf, who disclosed this,
said the last seizure of 470 pump action rifles was made possible through accurate data profiling of the cargo right from the sea.
He said: “Container profiling is quite imperative in Customs’ operations, because through this means, we were able to track the arms from the vessel in the sea and intercepted the items at the entry point.
‘’We profiled the container through the means of conveyance used in bringing the weapons as well as data from the documents attached to it.
‘’Similarly, we are currently profiling containers that are not only carrying arms but other prohibited items, in order to prevent such offensive items from coming into our environment.’’