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    We won’t cover up illegal arms importers, Customs vow

    Against the backdrop of the criticism trailing the seizure of arms and ammunition by the Nigeria Customs Service without the arrest of the kingpins behind the illicit act, the security outfit has vowed not to cover up any gunrunner in the country.

    Security experts had expressed dissatisfaction over the alleged failure of the NCS to expose gunrunners behind the importation of light weapons seized in the past.

    The experts said though those behind the illicit business were influential people who could get themselves freed after being arrested.

    They said it was not enough to seize and display seized guns without naming and shaming those behind the illicit imports.

    But the Deputy National Public Relations Officer, Timi Bomodi, who spoke with Sunday PUNCH during a telephone interview on Thursday described such claims as untrue.

    Bomodi denied allegations that it has failed to disclose and prosecute importers of illicit firearms.

    He cited a recent court case initiated by the Service which led to the conviction of three illegal firearms importers.

    According to him, earlier in December, a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos convicted and sentenced a retired Customs Officer, Mahmud Hassan, and two others to 16 years imprisonment for conspiracy and unlawful importation of 661 pump-action rifles.

    Others convicted by the Justice Ayokunle Faji-led court were Oskar Okafor and Donatus Achinulo.

    The Deputy PRO said, “That is not true, the NCS prosecutes importers of illegal arms and ammunitions. We just won a case this month where the importers were convicted. All their names are there, so it is false to say that Customs doesn’t prosecute this type of importers.”

    Earlier, Jackson Lekan-Ojo, a Port Harcourt-based security expert described the security situation in the country as a delicate one, stating that the Customs should be bold to name all gunrunners and get them arrested and prosecuted.

    “The security situation in this country is a complicated one. When the Customs saw those gunrunners who are not permitted by law to do so, then, where did they take the guns to? The Customs has now arrested them and it will end there.

    “At the end of the day, I make bold to tell you that most of these people will go through the back door and bribe the authorities and their shipments would be released to them. That is the reason you will never hear that any one person was prosecuted for these illegal importations,” he said.

    Acknowledging that there was no bigger problem in the country than the illegal importation of firearms, Lekan-Ojo said, “Gunrunning is an attempt to wage war against the country and make the country ungovernable.

    “That is a treasonable felony. If there is no punishment for them, it will continue. You will hear that they have jailed yahoo boys and pickpockets but you will never hear that they have jailed these gunrunners.”

    “If there is no deterrent, it means there is encouragement. The security situation is already tense and we are crying, but people are still bringing arms and ammunition into the country in thousands and nobody cares to checkmate them. Most of these gunrunners are close to the powers that be. It would either be in the military, Customs, civil defence, Immigration or the police.

    Proffering a solution to the menace, he said, “In any facility under security, access control is key. If our land, sea and air borders are not porous, these arms cannot be magically found in the country. There are some people that are complicit in this. What are the Customs, Immigration and others doing? These are people who are there to protect our territories. What are they doing?

    Another security analyst, Oladele Fajana, on his part, urged the government to make use of technology in order to fish out these illegal shipments before they make their way into the country.

    Fajana said, “I am a bit sceptical about why the Customs have not given us the names of these gunrunners. Perhaps, it may be the ‘Nigerian factor’. I don’t think the government will be afraid of these illegal importers. We heard that the some people were arrested and some were jailed, but with this recent one, I don’t know if they have been able to identify the illegal importers involved.

    “The agencies at the ports must use more of technology than the self-aggrandisement they are doing over there. This would help to identify those cargos that escaped cross-examination can be identified through technology. There should be security dogs. The government has to do more in the areas of naming and shaming these criminals.”

    Also, Chigozie Ubani, a security expert based in the South-East described illegal dealers as very influential and highly connected people, whose wares could easily be released through phone calls from those occupying higher positions in the society.

    He said, “What you may see as illegal importation of firearms may not actually be entirely illegal. Some calibres of firearms are permitted to come into the country. Some people are also licensed to deal in different calibres of firearms.

    “Again, dealers, whether illegal or licensed, are very influential and highly connected people. Don’t rule that out. So, a sheriff who apprehends illegal imports may receive phone calls from a higher authority and such seizures are released.”

    A retired army captain and founder, Fair Haven Security Nigeria Limited, David Mbamara, said it was high time the Customs and other relevant security agencies started exposing and arresting gunrunners in the country with a view to bring them to justice.

    Copyright PUNCH.

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