Armed ViolenceNews

Merchants Of Death: The Unending Firearms Smuggling In Nigeria

The Nigeria Customs Service has intercepted thousands of firearms in the last five years amidst rising insecurity across the country.

The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) on Saturday announced the interception of a container loaded with guns at Tin Can Island in Lagos, Southwest Nigeria.

The owner of the container allegedly declared its content as plasma televisions, but checks by NSC officials proved otherwise. According to Uche Ejesieme, public relations officer of Tin Can Customs, the container was discovered during a routine examination at terminal B2 (Vehicle) of the TICT.

“The officers intercepted a container loaded with weapons, but as we speak, what we have done as a command is that we have written to the terminal to evacuate the container immediately to the enforcement unit for 100 per cent examination so that we can ascertain the quantity and other relevant information,” he said, in part.  

“So, as we speak, we expect the terminal to evacuate the container to the enforcement unit where we intend to strip it, and the quantity, names of people involved and other further information would be available.”

While he promised that all the persons involved in the shipment will be prosecuted, the customs do not have full details of who is behind the import, the country of import, and the model of guns. 

“All these will be made known at the end of investigations. Most times, the suspect you see is those freight forwarders and agents coming for examination, but we are more interested in getting to the importer and everyone involved in that criminal importation to nip it in the bud.”

Unending firearms smuggling

The latest interception is one of the series of unlawful importation of firearms into Nigeria, a development that is fast raising concerns among Nigerians.

HumAngle analysis reveals that thousands of live ammunition have been intercepted in various ports across Nigeria in the last five years. The ugly developments continue to occur amidst outbreaks of violent conflicts which have, over the years, claimed thousands of lives and properties. 

HumAngle has on several occasions reported how activities of kidnappers, armed robbers, political thugs, arms traffickers, and most importantly, the extremist groups, Boko Haram/ISWAP caused tears and sorrow to many homes.   

On January 9, 2016, 510 live cartridges were intercepted in Agbara, Ogun State, and the tin-can island command on Feb. 16 also intercepted a 40 ft. container with 980 rounds of 9mm type live ammunition and a pistol imported into the country from the U.S.

A Revolver gun was seized at Tin-Can ports, Lagos on July 26 of the same year. According to data from the NCS, three unnamed aerial vehicle drones were intercepted at the Lagos Airport on Nov. 10, 2016, and two fighter jet helicopters were intercepted at the same airport a month later.  More so, 7,504 premier hollow air gun pellets/tactical rifles were intercepted on Dec. 16. 

The NCS on Dec. 19 announced that it intercepted arms and ammunition in two cars imported from the United States. They also intercepted another container of used Nissan Armada, 2007 model, with container No. NSCEU718443\6 and Chassis No. 5NIAA08A69N709779.

One Omini American Tactical Rifle No. AR48634 and another Moasberg American Pump Action with No. U648018 were seized during the operation.  

Sad trends

The Comptroller-General of the NCS, Hameed Ali, gathered journalists in Lagos and announced that officers of the agency on “information patrol” intercepted 661 Pump Action handguns concealed inside a 40-foot container on Jan. 30, 2017. 

Four months later, 440 pump action cleverly hidden in a container and about to be cleared as plaster of Paris was discovered.

Small arms used for story illustration. Photo: New Vision.

In September of the same year, NCS chief, Ali announced another seizure of firearms in the country. He said the 1,100 pump action rifles were disguised as wash hand basins for them to pass through the Lagos ports.

The Minna command of the NCS announced the interception of a truckload of 200,000 live ammunition in July 2018. The Onitsha-bound truck was intercepted along the Wawa-Babana border on its way into the country from the Benin Republic.

Customs said it intercepted 73 locally manufactured guns and 891 cartridges at Yauri, Zamare waterside in Kebbi on Dec. 14, 2020. More so, 5,200 live ammunition (cartridges of 30GR 70mm Calibre) and various contraband with a duty paid value (DPV) of over N350 million were intercepted on Dec. 27 of the same year in Cross River. 

A recent report from SB Morgan Intelligence revealed that the proliferation of small arms and dangerous ammunition has continued to increase the rate of violence and insecurity in Nigeria.

“The number of small arms in circulation in the hands of civilian non-state actors is estimated at 6,145,000, while the armed forces and law enforcement collectively account for 586,600 firearms, the report published in October 2020 claimed. 

Aside from the reported case of Dec. 18, 2021, customs intercepted 550 pump-action gun cartridges in Adikpo Junction, Benue State on Dec. 16. They intercepted 751 live ammunition concealed in cassava flour across southwest Nigeria in October.  These, among many other cases, have been reported during the year.  

Who are the smugglers?

While there have been various reports on the seizure of firearms by the NCS, there is not much information in the public domain as to the prosecution of perpetrators. The question many Nigerians ask is: who are the smugglers? 

Firearms used for story illustration. Photo: Premium Times.

“The NCS leadership are quick to celebrate their achievements when they speak glowingly of interception of firearms but we all understand that prevention is better than cure. How are these arms finding their ways into the country in the first place? Who are those involved and why do we have only a little information about arrest and prosecution?” Rasaq Aliyu, a security expert queried while speaking with HumAngle on Saturday.  

“The proliferation of arms has contributed to the major security crisis in Nigeria. All of these show that the nation is saturated with deadly weapons. I feel beyond the seizure of firearms, Nigerians need to know their enemies and these enemies should be made to face the law,” he added.  

Security experts believe porous borders also pave way for the free flow of all forms of small arms in and out of Nigeria and most of these arms are found in the hands of non-state actors who use these weapons to ferment trouble and make the society hostile.

HumAngle checked online cases of firearms smuggling that have been prosecuted and discovered only one case of three smugglers who recently bagged 16-year jail terms for importing 661 pump action rifles. 

NCS spokesperson, Joseph Attah is yet to respond to enquiries seeking an update on previous cases of firearms interception in the country.  

Govt actions, inactions?

HumAngle understands that ex-inspector-general of police, Ibrahim Idris, in 2018 ordered all the commissioners of police in all the states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, to immediately commence disarmament and recovery of prohibited firearms, ammunition and weapons.

The order was backed by the Robbery and Firearms Act (2004), stipulating that it is explicit and punishable to illegally possess or receive firearms. Years later, gun-related violence remains rampant all over Nigeria. 

President Muhammadu Buhari. Photo: Presidency.

As part of efforts to curb the menace, President Muhammadu Buhari in May established a national centre for the control of small arms and light weapons for policy guidance, research and monitoring of all aspects of small arms and light weapons in the country. Nothing much has been heard of the body since then. 

A security expert, Sulieman Aliyu, however, argued that “the government must address the challenges of porous borders to curb the dangerous gun trend in the country. We citizens must also be willing to help ourselves by reporting suspicious happenings around us to security agents,”

“Authorities should also revamp their leadership posture by ensuring that culprits get punished for whatever offences they commit. It is not enough to talk about the interception of firearms.

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Adejumo Kabir

Kabir works at HumAngle as the Editor of Southern Operations. He is interested in community development reporting, human rights, social justice, and press freedom. He was a finalist in the student category of the African Fact-checking Award in 2018, a 2019 recipient of the Diamond Awards for Media Excellence, and a 2020 recipient of the Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award. He was also nominated in the journalism category of The Future Awards Africa in 2020. He has been selected for various fellowships, including the 2020 Civic Media Lab Criminal Justice Reporting Fellowship and 2022 International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) 'In The Name of Religion' Fellowship.

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