Dismissed Customs officers, importer of 661 pump- action rifles bag 16 years jail term
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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The spokesman of the Nigeria Customs Service Kano/Jigawa Area Command, SC Nura Saidu, confirmed the incident in a statement.
“Our hearts go out to all those affected by this tragic event, and we extend our deepest empathy to the family and friends of the victim,” he said.
“Our top priority is the well-being and safety of the victim and the larger community at this difficult time.
“We would like to remind everyone that the Service rests utmost importance on responsible firearm handling.
“We will continue to provide updates as the investigation progresses and more information becomes available,” Mr Sa’idu said.
It was gathered that other victims in the vehicle were admitted at Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano, and are responding to treatment.
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Exclusive! KLT capacity is underutilised by 80 per cent through low cargo volume—-Bomodi
The Eyewitness reporter
The new Customs Area Comptroller of Kirikiri Lighter Terminal(KLT), Comptroller Timi Bomodi, has identified gross under-utilization of the command as one of its core challenges that his administration is tirelessly working to correct.
Bomodi, who resumed duties in the off-dock facility as its CAC in February 2023, said the terminal has an installed capacity for over 6000 20-footer equivalent units but currently doing less than 10 percent.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with our reporter in his office Wednesday, Bomodi lamented that despite the strategic position of the terminal for ease of cargo evacuation, poor communication of its benefits to importers and their agents has rubbed the facility off the required patronage from would-be customers.
He also identified apathy among the shipping companies to use the terminal despite its inherent advantages of speed and cost-effectiveness, a situation he blamed on the low cargo inflow to the terminal.
” Kirikirio Lighter terminal is mainly an off-dock facility. It doesn’t receive vessels directly, nor does it receive cargo through transfer from other ports. Occasionally, we get transfers by Lighters through one of our bonded warehouses.
”The major challenge we have here is a challenge of traffic, getting more cargo into the terminal.
”The total capacity of the command is over 6000 20-footer equivalent units. But right now, we are not even doing up to 10 percent of that. And when you have facilities that are vast but underutilized, then it is an issue.
”I feel there is poor communication of the strategic importance of the KLT
”A lot of importers and their agents don’t know that it is easier to import through KLT than most other ports.
”It is easier in the sense that after all Customs procedures, which are the same at all Customs Commands, it is easier for trucks to come into the command and take the goods out, which is not so with most ports in Lagos due to the chaotic transport situation and the queueing system.
”You have an electronic call-up system in the other two major ports and that creates a lot of time lag before your trucks come in and you take your goods out. We don’t have those challenges here and because of that, we believe importers will be better served in a place like KLT because of the short time it takes to get your goods out” disclosed Bomodi.
He lamented that despite these inherent advantages, the command is experiencing a low volume of cargo. This according to him leads to underutilization of the terminal and underperformance of the officers whom he said are well-trained, equipped and properly motivated.
”The officers we have here are just like other officers we have in other commands: well-trained, well equipped and highly motivated to work but grossly underutilized. So as far as Customs procedure goes, we are just like any other conventional port.
”The only thing we don’t have here is a scanning machine. Everything is done manually, physical examination. But that is not an impediment to the facilitation of trade because as I said, we have the space, equipment and well-motivated officers to make the examination process fast and seamless.”, the CAC claimed.
He also claimed that the command has a well robust export terminal which is now operational and connected to the Customs server.
”We also have an advantage for exports. As I mentioned earlier, it is easier for people to come into the terminal and take out their cargo because, in this command, traffic is not so bad on this axis compared to others. So if somebody wants to export his goods through the command, it is a lot easier to do so.
”Right now, we have an export terminal called Tesic that is now operational and connected to the Customs server. This export terminal has the space, they have the capacity to process large volumes of exports through the command.
So there are so many advantages that you get from using this place and we want a lot of people to know about it so that we can have an increase in traffic.
Bomodi however said it is not in his place as a Customs officer to woo importers to the command as his main job is to facilitate customs processes.
”It is not in my place to woo anybody. As a Customs officer, my primary responsibility is to attend to the business of Customs in this Command.
”We only highlight the challenges such as the underutilization of the critical assets in the command because we know we can do a lot more than we are presently doing.
”And that the importers and their agents need to be aware of the advantage of doing business in the command and that they need to know that they will save cost and time by using the command.
”The longer it takes to take goods out of the port, the more expensive it is because of the charges such delays will accrue on the goods from the shipping companies and terminal operators”
Bomodi thumbed his chest that it takes a maximum of 48 hours to exit goods outside the terminal after all customs processes have been completed without any issue.
”In KLT, the significant amount of such extra costs can be eliminated because it only takes a maximum of 48 hours to clear your goods from the command if there are no issues.
He, however, believed that the decision to move cargo from one point to the other is not necessarily that of the command, but that of shipping companies.
”The shipping companies, by virtue of their work processes, value time and want a quick turnaround of the vessels and return of their containers. So all these factors will be taken into consideration before they ship cargo into any port.
”Then you wonder why the shipping companies are not taking maximum advantage of a place like KLT because ordinarily, they should. It makes more sense for them to do so.
”Why are they not making use of the command? Well, that is the question you should ask them because I don’t know.
”We have quite a few shipping companies servicing this place such as MSC, Maesrsk and others and you know a good number of them come in by transire and they do this in trickles. If we can get them to do a lot more, then everybody will benefit from it.”
”Shipping companies make their money from the hiring of their boxes, containers are like buildings. They make more money from the high turnover of how the containers are rented out to more people rather than tying them for a longer period with few customers.
”The business process of these shipping companies encourages the use of such places like KLT but I don’t know why they are not using it and that is what you have to ask them”Bomodi bemoaned.
He however acknowledged the negative impact of the low traffic volume on the revenue profile of the command
”Of course, it does. The fewer the cargo, the less revenue we are likely to generate. But this does not mean we are not working tirelessly to block all revenue loopholes.
”Our poor revenue generation is a reflection of the low level of cargo at the command and that is what we have to deal with.
Bomodi disclosed that the command has a revenue target of N60 billion for the year 2023 but was hopeful of meeting the projection despite the daunting challenges confronting the KLT.
”We do believe that as the traffic improves, so also our revenue will scale up.
”Our revenue target for this year is about a billion. We can only be optimistic about meeting the target in the face of the daunting challenges I have just enumerated.
”We can’t afford not to be optimistic. We do hope and pray that things will change for the better because the year so far has been very turbulent in terms of trade, especially between January to this period, a lot of things have taken place which have affected cargo volume in particular and the economy in general and our operations cannot be separated from these economic challenges in the country.
”Hopefully, by the time the new administration is sworn in and there is stability in the system, this will likely lead to an upsurge in the economic activities in the county which will in turn positively affect our operations, Bomodi enthused.
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