Illegal Firearms Importation: Customs Insist Smugglers Made Statement Voluntarily

A Customs Officer from the Federal Operation Unit (FOU), Christian Udoka yesterday told the Federal High Court in Lagos that the statement made by one of the defendants accused of illegally importing 1,570 Pump Action Rifles into Nigeria was made without duress.

Udoka, who is prosecution witness in the trial, told Justice Saliu Saidu, the defendant Festus Emeka Umeh was not forced or tortured by investigators to make the extra-judicial statement.

Umeh, a clearing agent is currently standing trial alongside three others, Ifeuwa Christ, Ayogu James and a limited liability company,  Great James Oil and Gas Limited for allegedly importing into the country 1,570 Pump Action Rifles without authorisation.

The defendants are being prosecuted by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) through the office of Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF).

At the last sitting of the court, the AGF’s counsel, Julius Ajakaiye, a Deputy Director in the Federal Ministry of Justice, attempted to tender the extra- judicial statement of the fourth defendant through one of its investigators, Zakari Mohammed, but the move was objected to by the defendants’ counsel on the ground that it was not voluntarily made.

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This prompted the prosecution to apply to the court to call the operative, Udoka, who supervised the defendant while making the statement.

At the resumed hearing of the matter on Wednesday, the witness told the court that on November 6, 2018 his boss told him to interact with Umeh who was brought in from the Abuja head office to the Lagos office of the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) in Lagos.

He said the interaction took place in the presence of Umeh’s lawyer, one Barister Nwaka.

The witness claimed that during the interaction, Umeh narrated how he met one Moses Ifowo at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport Ikeja, Lagos sometimes in 2014 and that since then he has been carrying out clearing jobs for the said Moses Ifowo.

He said that Umeh in his statement which was later reduced into writing by his lawyer, confirmed that for the purpose of clearing this container containing the Pump Action Rifles, a fee of N2.5 million was agreed with the sum of N1. 5 million paid as advance to start processing the clearance of the container.

Udoka states further that after making the statement, which was done in a large and conducive office, at the Federal Operations Office, he took the defendant to his boss.

He alleged that in all, the fourth defendant made two statements.

However, there was no re-examination of the witness as the statement was admitted in evidence.

The charge against the defendants is that, they conspired among themselves between September 6 to 20, 2017, illegally and unlawfully imported a total of 1, 570 pump action rifles into Nigeria, through Apapa Seaport, Lagos.

The prosecution also alleged that defendants loaded the said 1,570 pump action rifles in two 1× 20 feet containers marked GESU 2555208 and CMAU 1878178 and that in a bid to bring in the weapons unlawfully,  the defendants altered and forged a bill of lading, issued in July 28, 2017, to read Guandong, China, instead of Istanbul, Turkey, which was written on the conveying container.

The defendants were also alleged to have also altered Form M (application for Import) and Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR), issued in August 28, 2017, with number MF 20170080364 and CN 20170768490/001, respectively, to read Guandong, China instead of Istanbul, Turkey, as country of origin.

They were also alleged to have altered a forged bill of lading numbered ISB0281398, issued in July 28, 2017, to read 230 packages of washing hand basins and W/C, as the content in the container used in shipping the illegal firearms.

The defendants were first arraigned before the court on October 11, 2018, on charges bordering on conspiracy, illegal importation of firearms, forgery and alteration of Customs’ official documents.

The offences according the prosecutor, Ajakaiye, are contrary to and punishable under Section 3(6), 1(14)(a), 1(14)(a)(i), 1(2)(c) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act Cap. M17, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

All the defendants had pleaded not guilty to the charges but they were denied bail on the ground that the allegations against them borders on ‘National Security’.

The Court of Appeal also declined to grant them bail when they appeal the lower court’s decision.

Further hearing of the matter has been adjourned till December 17, 2019 and January 16, 2020.

29th November 2021
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