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Who is importing arms into Nigeria?

By Anthony Cardinal Okogie
10 February 2017   |   3:50 am
It was reported, a few days ago, in almost all the national dailies, that the Nigerian Customs Service seized 49 boxes containing 661 pump action rifles unlawfully imported into Nigeria.

Comptroller-General, Nigeria Customs Service, Col. Hameed Alli (rtd) (middle) displaying 661 pieces of pump action rifles seized from importers in Lagos.

It was reported, a few days ago, in almost all the national dailies, that the Nigerian Customs Service seized 49 boxes containing 661 pump action rifles unlawfully imported into Nigeria. The rifles were said to have been concealed in a container of steel products and other merchandise. Three suspects were said to have been arrested. According to retired Colonel Hameed Ali, the Comptroller-General of Customs, the arms were cleared at the port with the assistance of two customs officers who have since been apprehended and are now being investigated.

This is the latest in the series of unlawful importation of arms into Nigeria, and it raises a number of issues. First, who are those behind unlawful importation of arms into Nigeria and what are their intentions?

At a press conference, in which Colonel Ali triumphantly reported the arrest of three suspects, he also informed the Nigerian public that a team of customs officers on intelligence patrol had, on Sunday, January 22, 2017, along the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway in Lagos, intercepted a truck whose registration number he gave as BDG 265 XG, purportedly conveying the arms in a container whose number he gave as PONU/825914/3. Such news would have been sweet in the ears but for the fact that nothing was said of the owner of the truck and nothing was said of the owner of the container. That raises further questions: In whose name was that truck registered and in whose name was the container registered? Are they registered in the same name? Have their owners been investigated? When shall they and their foot soldiers appear in court?

Not to raise these and related questions, and not to address them, will leave us where we have always been, that is, a place where a criminal act is committed but there is neither trial nor conviction nor sanction, a country where criminals are phantoms, a strange land where there are crimes but no criminals. That is why the triumphant account of the Comptroller of Customs comes close to another episode in playing to the gallery.

But there is another issue to be raised, and that is, whatever happened to intelligence in this country? Newspapers reported that the Comptroller of Customs informed Nigerians that impounding the truck containing the unlawfully imported arms and the apprehension of three men suspected to be involved in the crime of unlawful importation was the achievement of a “roving team of the NCS’ federal operations unit, while on intelligence patrol.” But on closer scrutiny, this advertisement of prowess is in fact an advertisement of colossal but recurring failure of intelligence. A dictum has it that prevention is better than cure. Intelligence is crime prevention. Nigeria’s security agencies—the Customs in this case, the Police, the Army, to mentioned but these—have repeatedly demonstrated their ineptitude when it comes to preventing acts that are inimical to security. The Police arrive at the scene of a crime after the crime and after the departure of the perpetrators. The Directorate of State Security neither locates nor arrests makers and users of Improvised Explosive Devices before they strike. The Police and the Army were only deployed to Southern Kaduna after massacre of Nigerian citizens. Nigerian Customs officers fail to do their work at the ports only to mount roadblocks on highways at spots where stopping your vehicle would constitute a danger to other road users. But the Comptroller of Customs wants Nigerians to believe that what his officers have done is a heroic accomplishment of a “roving team of the NCS’ federal operations unit, while on intelligence patrol?’’ In his words: “This feat was no doubt commendable and represents the new normal in the service, where most officers and men are on a daily basis ensuring that illegalities are not allowed unchecked.” For this, he lauded his officers, saying, “I commend the FOU Zone A Comptroller, all officers and men involved in this great seizure.”

The Comptroller General’s assessment should give sleepless nights to discerning minds. For this, in fact, is by accident or design, another of many instance of abysmal failure of intelligence. It is best described as locking the stables after the horses have escaped.

Colonel Ali spoke with candour about the obvious when he said, as reported in the dailies, that unlawful importation of arms into Nigeria “is even more unacceptable considering the fragile security situation in some parts of the country.” But, precisely because of this precarious security situation, the Customs and other security agencies in Nigeria need to act in ways that demonstrate that they are able and willing to secure our beloved Nigeria and its peoples. The high level of insecurity in our land is no longer news. It has led to the death of many innocent Nigerians. From the Niger-Delta to the North East, passing through the Middle Belt, there is so much bloodshed. People are abducted in broad daylight, in their homes and on the streets. Guns are openly used before, during and after elections in this country. Everything shows that Nigeria is saturated with deadly weapons, and these weapons are in the hands of people who are ready to innocent Nigerians.

The three men who have been arrested and the customs officers under investigation are suspects. They are innocent until proven guilty in a properly constituted court of justice. If indeed they are guilty, they may be errand boys. But let’s look beyond suspects. Let’s go look for those who sent them on their deadly errand. In the midst of high level of insecurity, this recurring decimal of unlawful importation of arms is symptomatic of the wild and savage politics of Nigeria. Being in government is synonymous with access to Nigeria’s wealth. Some are ready and willing to kill in order to be “elected” or appointed. That is why successive classes of political office holders have demonstrated a lack of political will to deal with the situation. Rather than fail to be in government, many of our politicians would prefer to make the country ungovernable. Like the proverbial mouse who cannot eat the nuts, they will scatter the nuts.

Okogie, Archbishop Emeritus of Lagos.