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Arms Smuggling: Who Is Behind The Scene?

Arms Smuggling: Who Is Behind The Scene?

Samples of the 470 pump-action rifles seizure by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), when the Customs showcased the arms at the Tin Can Customs Command

By Oyeniyi Iwakun

The recent seizure of 1,100 rifles by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) at the Tin-can port seems to have raised more questions than ever as a result of the incessant nature of illegal arms proliferations and increase in crimes among Nigerians. Customs have often been applauded whenever such seizures are made considering the security implication of allowing such dangerous goods into the supply chain of our country that has been confronted with various security challenges over the years.

The Comptroller General of Customs (CGC) Hammed Ali while showcasing the Arms at Tin- Can port had as usual vowed to bring the perpetrators to book. In his statement, he assured the audience that this time around, Customs under his leadership would go beyond arresting the Customs officers who must have worked in connivance with the importers and will also fish out the importer, Shipping Company and all involved and make them face the wrath of the law.

His address would however not go well with most Nigerians who wouldn’t comprehend the rationale behind influx of arms. Despite all these numerous interceptions and seizures, the NCS hasn’t been able to bring anyone to book. When questions are raised, the reaction would always be “we are still investigating”. Sincerely, there are lots to worry about in a nation where killings are becoming a culture among its citizens.

The initial confession of the Comptroller at the showcase of some seizures in Federal Operations Unit (FOU) Zone A Ikeja that “for any smuggling activity, there must be connivance with customs officer(s)” must have prompted some journalists who probably have been bordered on the same issue to request from the CGC reasons why Customs officers found guilty of connivance are not paraded alongside the seizures and as well publicly prosecuted.

“Whenever goods like this are seized, we hardly hear anything thereafter on the prosecution of the perpetrators, what was done with the seizures and measures taken to prevent the recurrence of such act.” A journalist remarked.

“Having ascertained through profiling that the arms were coming from Turkey, what has the government done? Aren’t we seeing a syndicate or conspiracy here?” another short fair lady (a journalist) asked.

Comptroller Ali in an attempt to answer these questions said the Nigerian Customs will now begin to discuss with the Turkish government through the World Customs Organization (WCO) and the Nigeria Ministry of Foreign Affairs because the act had become worrisome.

“it is becoming serious. Since through profiling we know the first, second and third sets of rifles are coming from Turkey; I can assure you that we will ensure we take all necessary steps at the governmental level to ensure that the necessary steps are taken. With regards to our own officers, we have what we call internal mechanisms for circulating the names of officers that are tried and dismissed on not only this case but other cases. Like I said, I think with the seriousness of this issue, we will now go beyond our internal circulations and make their names available to the public and I think that will underscore the fact that Yes! Our officers are tried and dismissed.” He said.

The CGC however claimed that the profiling was still on as at when the showcasing and the importer was still unknown  aside the officer who cut the seal that had been arrested and he was going to give a clue because he would mention whoever he connived with.

“Investigation is progressing and I believe we are going to get to the bottom of the issue. We will get the importer and other things but I won’t tell you the security aspect of it because that is outside our purview. It is when we do our profiling that we will take the security side of it.” Ali said

The NCS boss in his address also said that the massive posting of officers across the country had been the major contributor to the successes recorded in the interception of smuggled arms while stating that customs cannot eradicate smuggling but can only reduce it to the barest minimum because it is a global phenomenon.

According to him, such has been the story under his leadership.

“Up till today between Canada and the United States of America, people still smuggle cigarettes into the USA despite their high level of technology”. He stated.

“in the past Arms are being smuggled into our country on regular basis but there were no cases of seizures like we are experiencing now. What it then means is that, there is now a genuine enforcement and it is getting tougher.” he affirmed.

The CGC explained that for these arms to have been consistently shipped in from the same source, through the same route and probably by the same shipping company, it shows there is syndicate or connections from the importers and our own customs officers.

Mr. Vince Nyekwelu a security consultant and former British police officer noted last week while reacting to the issue on a live broadcast that the Nigeria Customs lacks the necessary skills and tact in tracking criminals and that it is deficient of the necessary skills required for the successful conduct of investigations having carefully observed their activities especially on the 1,100  rifles. For him, it was needless and unprofessional for customs to rush to the media for showcase and publicity when the actual culprits and their intentions hadn’t been fully ascertained.

“Customs having gotten intelligence reports ought to have been very patient before going to the media and doing other publicities”. Onyekwelu stated.

According to him, what needed to be done was NCS to have pretended after getting the intelligence information and followed up the arms to its destination. He was of the opinion that this would have opened an avenue to knowing  all those involved and what the arms were meant for and other intentions of the smugglers. This to him would have made way for easy arrest and prosecution of people involved in the illicit act.

Chief Olabintan Famutimi, the National President, Nigerian-American Chamber of Commerce has said the influx of smuggled arms are parts and parcel of the insecurity Nigeria is experiencing. He identified the causal factors to include corruption among Customs officers, security personnel and other enforcement agencies. He believe there are syndicates in the system cum gross incompetence on the part of Nigeria supervising ministries who have failed their roles to ensure that the enforcement agencies and various “foot-soldiers” perform their duties.

“You would imagine that a single container has over a thousand guns not legitimately imported. They are going into the wrong hands and will be used by the wrong hands. That’s why we have so many militant groups called cults. These cultists acquire arms to be able to fight each other on illegitimate businesses or territories. They use these arms to intimidate each other, for armed robbery, kidnapping and others. These are also the arms Boko Haram insurgents are using.” Chief Famutimi said.

He expressed his displeasure over Nigerian government’s inaction despite realizing that the three consecutive batches of seized Rifles totaling Two thousand two hundred and one (2,201) came in from Turkey.

“To my surprise I have not read anywhere that Nigerian government is asking Turkey to explain the reason why a lot of these arms and ammunitions are being shipped from Turkey. The insecurity is exacerbated because more arms are coming in and when arms come in, you don’t finish eating them because they are not consumables. The new ones are coming in to meet those ones on ground. The ones in the wrongs hands for years are still there. So the more you get them in, the worse the situation in Nigeria.

“There are international rules for everything, the question would be whether they are enforced or not. There is no legitimate trade between any two countries that are not guided by some laws but when you are having a situation of smuggling, definitely these arms and ammunitions are coming in through the Turkish government establishments like their Customs, and other security agencies and that’s why I am wondering why Nigerian government is not asking questions.” He said

Chief Olabintan lamented the high rate at which tough security and other threatening criminal issues are being swept under carpet in Nigeria and he believe such habit is a contributor to the increase in crime rates and illegal arms proliferations the country.

“sometimes last year in Abuja, a big supermarket owners were detained because of their complicity in some arms transactions and thereafter nothing  was heard about what our government did to them aside closing down the supermarket. There are laws but our people have been most culpable. There are no goods in this country that will not pass through some agencies at our ports (sea, air, and land) but as it is now in Nigeria you can smuggle elephants through the Nigerian borders so far you can take care of those officers that are supposed to be protecting us.

“There is no government ministry that does not have officers from the top to bottom but when they fail, the country will continue to be infested with this kind of menace. Individuals outside government cannot make the enforcement agencies perform their duties except those saddled with the responsibilities. All these enforcement agencies are under the supervision of ministries and bodies. If a thing like this happens in advanced countries, the minister would resign because he has failed but here in Nigeria nothing happens and they just get away with it. At the initial stage they make noise, and thereafter, nothing happens”. Chief Olabintan said.

A security expert who spoke on the condition of anonymity said arms smuggling is a serious threat to the nation not basically because arms are being discovered alone but the rate of influx. He opined that it has to do more with our relationship with the International Police Organization (INTERPOL) because if we are really serious about tidying up our security mostly in our water fronts and ports, then it’s is the responsibility of everyone but unfortunately we the situation of Nigeria now, we hardly find true patriots who are ready to die for our country.  He said before these arms are loaded into the containers and brought to Nigeria, there are one or two persons who would have been privy to it but because we are no longer patriotic, possibly due to our economic situation, marginalization or because of the existence of sectarian leadership in the country emanating from people’s believe that only one part of the country is currently favoured.

“IPOB is agitating for another thing; the Ijaws are saying something else and even the Arewa youths. It is obvious that the country is not settled and because it is not settled, people are no longer patriotic. If you look at this country some few years back, patriotism was high and you will find out that before anything happens in the four walls of this country we were all at alert but reverse is the case today. There is economic downturn; people can sell this country because of lack of patriotism”. He said

He therefore advised government to look inwardly to what it could give back to its people and also re-strategize on how to build on the available man power especially those people who left the army, police and customs prematurely as useful tools toward monitoring the situation in the country. Taking a cue from the recent flood disaster in the United States of America (USA) where those who have served in government before came out en-masse for rescue mission.

It is also his point of view that civic re-orientation and proper sanitization of the citizenry by the relevant agencies of government would be a panacea to building the needed patriotic inclination and high level of sanity in our society.

“I think government should look inwardly at people who are able bodied men and use them as reserves to monitor our ports. The reserves are men who are ready to serve.

“I don’t think our customs, police and even INTERPOL are doing enough. I don’t think they are synergizing with other countries. I am very sure that people within Turkey don’t see it as Illegal to buy arms and send to this country. I think we need to do more by working with their INTERPOL and ensure that all these illegal activities are things of the past.

“The National Orientation Agency (NOA) needs to do more, in those days you see NOA go on the radio other media platforms to preach peace and patriotism. Government should also think of what it could give back to the society, so that they can develop the patriotic spirit again.” He concluded

Lucky Amiwero, Member, Reconstituted Presidential Task Force on The Reform Of Nigeria Customs Service (RPTFCR) and the National President, National Council Of Managing Directors Of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA) centered his argument on the need to reverse the influx of Weapon Of Mass Destruction (WMD) small arms, drug, hazardous waste and unwholesome goods imported into Nigeria. He is of the view that there is serious concern about our import and export system and that the economy is vulnerable to terrorist exploitation due to our cargo inspection regime (Destination Inspection {DI}), that is not in compatibility with  the  International standard.

“Our cargo inspection practice contravenes the World Maritime Organizations (WCO) Safe Frame Work of Standard to Secure and Facilitate Global Trade. The Destination Inspection regime (DIR) process, allows the influx of unwholesome goods in to the country, such as Arms, Ammunitions, Contraband and the reduction of revenue, which exposes the nation to serious security threats.”

Mr. Lucky explained the changes in cargo inspection regime globally by the adoption of international agreement on cargo security where the event of 9/11 precipitated a change in Cargo inspection from destination to now at manufacturing site of Port of Loading, due to monitoring of supply chain mechanism of unwholesome products and revenue manipulation at Destination focusing on four core elements: use of non-intrusive detection equipment on high risk outbound export cargo prior to loading on a conveyance for export; the request will come from the nation importing the cargo. A consistent risk management approach. Advance electronic manifest information; enhance trade facilitation for legitimate trade that meets certain security standards.

“Nigeria is a signatory to the convention of the WCO Safe Framework of Standard to secure and Facilitate Global Trade, which provides multilayered set of standards for container/cargo security, developed to enhance security, increase revenue and facilitate international trade through two pillars: The Customs-to- Customs (C2C): Pillar provides for cooperation between Customs authority in order to inspect cargo before it arrives at the destination ports on outbound and inbound  of non instructive inspection(NII), the Custom-to-Business (C2B): Pillar aims to create an international system for identifying private business that offers a high degree of security/integrity.” Mr Lucky explained

Citing the global implementation of WCO Safe Framework, in USA where Container Security Initiative (CSI) program places US Customs Officers at Foreign Port to screen containerized cargo exported to the United States, which aim to reduce the risk of transporting weapon of mass destruction, arms, ammunition etc.

According him, the CSI has three core imperatives: identify high risk containers, Prescreen and evaluate containers before they are shipped to America, and use large-scale X-ray and Gama-ray machines and radiation detection technology to scan containers determine to be high risk goods.

“To date  fifty eight (58) port all over the world are implementing Container Security initiative (CSI) including  Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, Rotterdam, Pushan, Bremerhaven, Tokyo, Genoa, Kantian Antwerp, Nagoya, Lehave, Hamburg, laSezia, Felix stone, Algeciras Kobe,  yokomama, Gioia Tauro, Laem chabang, lisbon,  Vancouver, Marseille, colombo, dubai, port klang, south Africa Durban, Alexndria Egypt etc. Importers Security Filling (ISF) is additional Carriers requirements commonly known as Rule 10+ 2.

“before goods arrives by vessel into United State, importer or agent must submit certain Advance Cargo Information (ACI) so as to identify high-risk shipment in order to prevent smuggling and ensure cargo safety and security of the nation ,effective January 10th 2010” he explained.

 

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