By Onozure Dania
Lagos—A prosecution witness, Abdulahi Muhammad, in the ongoing trial of five defendants arraigned over alleged illegal importation of 661 pump action rifles in January, yesterday, told a Federal High Court in Lagos, how one of the defendants, Mahmud Hassan, threatened to kill himself after he (Muhammad) refused a bribe of N8 million from him (Hassan).
The defendants in the case are Mahmud Hassan, Oscar Okafor, Donatus Achinulo and Salihu Danjuma, while the fifth defendant, Matthew Okoye, is said to be at large.
They are standing trial on charges of conspiracy, importation of prohibited firearms, altering/forged document, corruptly giving bribe to public officials and importation of prohibited goods, preferred against them by the Attorney-General of the Federation.
The offences, according to the prosecutor, Mr. Julius Ajakaye, are contrary to Sections 3(6),1(14)(a) (I), 1(2)(c) and 98A (1)(b) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act Cap M17, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
Yesterday in court
At the resumed hearing of the case yesterday, Ajakaye informed the court of the amended charge preferred against them, and pleaded with the court to allow the new charge to be read to them for their plea to be retaken.
In the amended charge, the defendants were alleged to have conspired with one another to illegally import into Nigeria 661 pump action rifles.
They were also alleged to have forged documents, which include two bills of lading. One reads Shanghai China as port of loading, instead of Istanbul, while another one reads Steel Doors, as the contents of the container, instead of Customs’ Form M, Pre-Arrival Assessment Report, PAAR, used in smuggling the said 661 rifles into the country.
Mahmud Hassan was also alleged to corruptly offer N400,000 to one Aliu Musa, a Customs official, the Examination Officer of the Federal Operation Unit of the Customs Service, with intent to prevent 100 percent search on a container marked PONU 825914/3, which was used in importing the guns.
Mahmud Hassan was also alleged to have corruptly given N1 million to government officials at Apapa Port, through his colleague, Danjuma Abdulahi, to prevent the searching of the said container used in bringing in the 661 illegally imported riffles.
The offences, according to the prosecutor, Kehinde Adesola Fagbemi, are contrary to and punishable under Sections 3(6), 1(14)(a)(I) 1(2) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act Cap. M17, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, and Section 98(1) (b) of the Criminal Code Act.
How we discovered the rifles— Witness
The witness, Abdullahi, a Chief Superintendent of Customs, while being led in evidence, told the court that when he refused the N8 million bribe offered by Mahmud, whose container transported the guns, the importer threatened to kill himself.
His words: “On January 22, I led a patrol team called Lagos Roving Team, which was headed by Adamu Abubakar. Around 12 midnight, we sighted a container on Apapa-Mile 2 Bridge, and we intercepted it.
“At the time of interception, the Customs Clearance Document was not given to us by the escort. This made us to suspect the container. It was when they realised that the truck was heading to Ikeja, that the escort started calling Mahmud, who told the escort to give us the document.
“On receiving the document, I went through it; three things made me to suspect the container. First was the declaration; it stated that the container carries 225 doors, and a container of 40 feet carries more than that.
“Second is the origin of the container, which was Turkey. The doors that come from Turkey are security doors, not steel doors. And lastly, the Customs duty paid, which was N1,170,628, was not enough for the clearing.”
The witness, who was testifying before Justice Ayotunde Faji, further stated that when he and his team got to 2nd Rainbow area of the Apapa-Mile 2 Expressway, which is their patrol base, the defendant (Mahmud) arrived the place and became restless, telling them that the container belongs to him and that it only contains rice.
He continued: “It was then I called Area Comptroller Adam and reported the situation. Mahmud then started to bribe me. He offered me N500,000 and later increased it to N8 million.
“I told my colleagues what he was offering. When I went back to him, he told me that if I did not take the money he will kill himself. I then called my boss and told him. My boss said if he kills himself, I should bring the container and his corpse to him.”
The witness also told the court that it was the second defendant (Mahmud) that led his agency to arrest the third defendant (Oscar Okafor), at a hotel in Festac Town, and how the matter was referred to the Department of State Services, DSS, in Shangisha, where the Customs and all the defendants wrote statements.
During cross-examination by the defence counsel, Danjuma Galadima, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), Mr. Paul Ananaba (SAN) and Saliu Ibrahim, the witness said he cannot remember the exact date that they all wrote their statement at the DSS office.
He also stated that he did not know if the containers pass through the examination at the port before it was released, adding that Mahmud Hassan was the importer of the cargo not the third defendant.
Justice Faji adjourned the case till today for continuation of trial.