The recent interception and seizure of 49 boxes containing 661 pump action rifles by vigilant Customs officials in the Mile 2/Apapa axis of Lagos is commendable. A patrol team of Customs officials from the Federal Operations Unit, Zone A, of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) intercepted the rifles in a 40-foot container, which had been cleared at the Lagos port.
Reports say that the eagle-eyed Customs personnel discovered the riffles in a truck which, according to its manifest, was supposed to be carrying “steel doors and other merchandise goods.” Security experts say the rifles are made in Italy, and can take up to 10 cartridges, making them capable of wreaking great havoc. Other items found in the lethal cargo include diapers, office cabinets, towels, mattresses, soft drinks and toiletries.
The Comptroller of NCS, Col. Hameed Ali (retd), disclosed at a press conference in Ikeja on Monday that the container came from China but was routed through Turkey. Three suspects, namely the importer, the clearing agent and the escort, have been arrested. He pointed out that the imported rifles are under absolute prohibition and their importation is illegal and unacceptable, especially considering the fragile security situation in some parts of the country. An investigation has commenced into how the rifles escaped the vigilance of Customs officers at the port. The NCS chief said that all the officials of the agency and other persons involved in the importation and exportation of the weapons will be prosecuted at the end of the investigation.
We strongly condemn the proliferation of arms in the country and praise the Customs officials who seized the deadly cargo for their diligence, patriotism and high sense of responsibility. Although the NCS has commenced an investigation into the matter, we believe that the scope of this arms haul calls for a commission of inquiry to determine all the persons behind the importation of the rifles and the use to which they intended to deploy the weapons.
We say this because a commission of inquiry will be more comprehensive and transparent in unraveling the motive for the importation of the dangerous weapons. This is more so as internal investigations of this nature in government agencies are often characterised by cover-ups and the sacred cow syndrome, especially if those involved are highly-placed persons. Moreover, the number of rifles intercepted is so high that the nation cannot afford to treat the matter with levity.
Importing that calibre and quantity of rifles into a country that is battling with insurgency and other security challenges is dangerous and could be treasonable. The arms, if not intercepted, could have been used to compound the nation’s security problem.
The fact that the deadly cargo escaped the Customs officials at the port calls for increased security at the ports and other border posts in the country. The commission of inquiry must find out how long those involved in this heinous criminality have been in the business and the real motive behind the importation. It is necessary to determine whether the arms were meant for insurrection, to arm political thugs or for sale.
It is not uncommon to have such illegal arms purchases and movements in the country when general elections are approaching. We had cases like this during preparations for previous elections but the number of rifles involved in this particular case calls for serious action to stem the trend and bring all those involved in the importation and clearance of the weapons to justice.
Let the full weight of the law be brought to bear on the perpetrators of this illegality. The vigilant Customs officials who made the seizure also deserve commendation and promotion. Considering the fact that most of the scanners at the nation’s ports are faulty, they should be made to work so that this type of deadly cargo does not easily pass through the ports without detection again. We urge all Customs officials to be diligent, patriotic and dedicated to their duties as part of the efforts to secure the country.