Mahmud Hassan, Oscar Okafor, and other dismissed Customs officers who were arrested in 2017 in connection with the importation of 661 pump rifles have been sentenced to a cumulative 16 years jail term by the Federal High Court in Lagos on Friday, December 3rd, 2021.
The suspects were convicted for unlawful importation of prohibited firearms, forgery, uttering of forged documents, and bribery.
It was gathered that Hassan conspired with his accomplices to unlawfully import 661 pump-action rifles into the country.
Others convicted by the trial judge, Justice Ayokunle Faji, were Oskar Okafor, Donatus Achinulo, and Mahmud’s company, Hassan Trades Limited.
Justice Faji, who delivered the verdict after reading the judgment for five hours, however, acquitted and discharged Abdulahi Danjuma of all the charges.
Julius Ajakaye, and one of the defence counsels, Adamu Ibrahim, passed on while the trial lasted for about four years.
The court judge was convinced of the charges against the suspects and sentenced them to eight years imprisonment each on the said count.
On count one (conspiracy), Justice Faji found the first, second, and third defendants guilty and also sentenced them to eight years’ imprisonment each.
The judge also ordered the forfeiture of the properties of the convicts to the Federal Government of Nigeria as provided for by the law under which they were charged, while also ordering that the company, Hassan Trading Limited, used as a vehicle to smuggle, be closed and its assets forfeited to the Federal Government.
Justice Faji, however, discharged and acquitted the fifth defendant.
According to him, the offence committed by the convicts touched on the security of the country, adding that though the relevant provisions of the law for the offence which they were charged and convicted prescribed life imprisonment, but said the court, however, had discretion.
The trial judge said he would refrain from giving a maximum punishment but added that the convicts must be made an example to serve as a deterrent to other would-be criminals.
He listed the convicts again as Mahmud Hassan, Oscar Okafor, Donatus Achinulo, and Salihu Danjuma, nothing that the fifth defendant, Matthew Okoye, was at large.
According to the prosecution, they also forged a bill of lading issued in Istanbul on January 9, 2017, falsely claiming that it was issued in Shanghai, China.
They were said to have attempted to evade the payment of customs duty by filling “steel door” as the content of the container instead of rifles.
The prosecution also alleged that the first convict, Hassan, corruptly gave N1m to government officials at the Apapa Port to prevent the search by Customs officials.
But the accused had pleaded not guilty when the charges were read to them. The judge, however, maintained that the sentence shall run concurrently.
The Comptroller General, Colonel Hameed Ali, (rtd) had in January 2017, told newsmen at Ikeja, that despite the Federal Government’s ban on pump-action rifles and other firearms, 661 pieces of the rifle were found in 49 boxes.
According to him, they were concealed in steel doors and other merchandise goods in a 40-feet container conveyed in a Mack truck with registration number BDG 265 XG.
Colonel Ali, at that time, said that three suspects were arrested in connection with the illegal importation.
The container according to the Customs Service was arrested around the Apapa- Mile 2 expressway where it was discreetly packed.
Sources say the goods were manufactured in China and taken through Turkey into Lagos, Nigeria.
The Customs boss revealed that preliminary investigation showed that the consignment went through clearance at the Lagos port but that all the officers behind the deal were undergoing interrogation while other suspects were in custody and thereafter charged to court.
Also, The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), in 2017, declared two of its officers wanted over the infamous importation of 661 pump-action rifles into the country.
The officers declared wanted were Abdulahi, I, an assistant superintendent of customs (ASC), with service number 44483 and ACIC Odiba Inah, with service number 133386.
Consequently, however, the Federal government in August 2017, arraigned five men for allegedly importing 661 pump-action rifles into the country without lawful authority.
The accused were arraigned before Justice Ayokunle Faji at the Federal High Court in Lagos.
They are Mahmud Hassan, Oscar Okafor, Donatus Achinulo, Matthew Okoye, said be at large, and Salihu Danjuma.
In the charge, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice said the accused brought the rifles into the country from Turkey through the Apapa Port in Lagos, using a 40-feet container, which they falsely claimed contained steel doors.
To facilitate the illegal importation, the accused allegedly forged a number of documents including a bill of lading, a Form M and a Pre-Arrival Assessment Report.
According to the prosecution, in order to evade payment of Customs duty, the accused allegedly forged a bill of lading issued in Istanbul on January 9, 2017, falsely claiming that it was issued in Shanghai, China.
In the forged bill of lading, they allegedly filled “steel door” as the content of the container instead of rifles.
They were also said to have allegedly offered a bribe of N400,000 to an official of the Nigeria Customs Service attached to the Federal Operative Unit to influence the said officer not to conduct a “hundred percent search on the 40-feet container with number PONU 825914/3.”
The prosecution also alleged that the first accused, Hassan, corruptly gave N1m to Customs officials at the Apapa Port in order to prevent the search of the container.
In the last count, the Federal Government alleged that the defendants had between 2012 and 2016 illegally imported several double-barreled shotguns, pump-action rifles, and single-barreled shotguns into the country through Lagos.
The eight counts pressed against them border on conspiracy, importation of prohibited firearms, forgery, uttering of forged documents, and bribery.
The offences were said to be contrary to sections 1(2)(c), 1(14) (a)(I), and 3(6) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act Cap M17, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2014.
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