Smuggling weapons into Nigeria: Matters arising

The intercepted 440 pump action rifles displayed by the Nigeria Customs Service at Tin Can Island Port in Lagos.

It is to the monumentary embarrassment of Nigeria as a country for the second time this year, a cache of smuggled weapons has been intercepted by men of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS). This is alarming. It shows how porous the nation’s import system could be. It will be recalled that in January, six hundred and sixty-one (661) pump action rifles illegally imported from China were seized at Mile Two in Lagos. In the latest embarrassing security breach, four hundred and forty (440) pump action rifles which originated from Turkey were seized at Tin Can Port Apapa Lagos. What does this portend for national security? Have some imported arms been successfully smuggled in? Is it true that men of the NCS and other security agencies only swing into action when the criminal network or the smugglers fail to pay the right persons in the chain? Whatever the case may be Nigeria is in danger.

When news of the January intercept broke, strident calls were made on the Federal Government to get to the bottom of the matter. The nation was assured by the high command of the NCS that no one who was found guilty of aiding and abetting the criminals would be spared. There was a show of punitive actions. Nearly five months after the saga, not even one person has been brought to trial. Indeed, the matter appears to have died naturally as skeptical Nigerians suspected from the beginning. It would seem that because the Federal Government failed to take concrete action against the January breach, the criminals behind illegal arms importation have become emboldened. Why does Nigeria always choose to make mockery of established procedures for promptly dealing with criminal activity?

While briefing the press on the latest incident, the Assistant Comptroller-General in charge of Zone A said that the container was intercepted on Monday night by his men who acted on intelligence. The rifles were concealed in a 40 feet long goods’ container. They managed to leave the port of export and arrived in Tin Can. The men of Nigeria Customs Service deserve commendation for the good job done. But the matter should not end here. There must be a thorough investigation and the importers of illegal weapons brought to book.

Nigeria is under siege currently, physically and psychologically. Daily published are reports of violations of lives by armed bandits. Citizens, including children are being kidnapped at will. Armed robbers and hoodlums practically out-gun men of the Nigeria Police during violent encounters. It is an open secret that weapons can be discreetly bought in some ‘markets’ in the country, often with the connivance of some security men. Where do these weapons come from? Who is behind the importation? Why the stockpiles in the Lagos end? Or is Lagos simply a conduit to other parts of the federation? Are some persons getting ready for elections, as politicians are known to build private armies ahead of major electoral contests?

The weapons trade is a highly sophisticated business. It is often conducted in utmost secrecy, known only to a gang or a coterie. It belongs to the elite club of the society. Poor people do not get involved in arms importation. It is therefore very clear that very powerful persons are involved in the illegal importation. In Nigeria, the wealthy and powerful tend to escape the arms of the law. They use minions to do the dirty jobs and like the proverbial godfather, stay behind the scenes to manipulate things.

This incident should not be swept under the carpet. Therefore, the Federal Government should immediately give a report to the public within a reasonable time frame on the outcome of the first arrests. Except this is done, the public would be compelled to think that there is outright connivance between men in high places in government and the scoundrels who have illegally imported the arms. Also, the culprits involved in the latest high level security breach must be brought to book.

The ultimate victim of illegal weapons is the society in general. Nigerians’ collective security is threatened when weapons are in the hands of people who are not authorised to have them. Hoodlums do not waste time getting rid of human beings. Institutions are not safe either. There have been cases of robbers or militants writing threat letters to Police Posts in order to scare the men in uniform. Often the hoodlums outmatch policemen. One of the consequences of illegal importation of weapons is that the men who are legally allowed to bear arms cannot protect the ordinary citizen. They cannot protect themselves either. This has grave implications for everyone. The illegal importers, must therefore be arrested and prosecuted to give Nigeria a sense of security.



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