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HOW FIRMS TRIED TO CONVERT IMPORTED ARMS TO DIPLOMATIC CARGO

By NBF News
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The tales concerning the illegally imported arms into the country continue to spin as more damning details ooze out from security sources.

Sunday Sun learnt that the investigating teams are still baffled about the mystery surrounding the loading port of the deadly cargoes.

Whereas there have been various attempts to link the 13 containers of arms to Iran, Hamas fighters in Gaza, security sources informed that investigation has revealed that before the cargo arrived the Apapa ports, it had gone through trans-shipment in Greece, Spain and India. But there is no certainty yet about the original loading seaport.

Although the 13 containers (alongside 70 others) consigned to one Mr Ali Abbas Usman Jega of No 6B Nouakchott Street, Wuse Zone 1, Abuja, arrived Apapa Ports on July 15, 2010 on board the vessel MV CMA CGM Everest through doctored manifest and without Form M, it was the unsuccessful attempt to convert the containers to diplomatic cargo and trans ship or re-export same to State House, Gambia that raised the suspicion of the State Security Service  (SSS), which raised a red flag to the Customs Area Controller, Apapa Ports.

Sources confirmed that when the doctored manifest details were electronically imputed into the Customs Asycuda System, it showed that not only did the cargoes not have Form M, there was also no Risk Assessment Report (RAR), which was a clear violation of the cargo clearance process in Nigeria.

Although an alert concerning the cargoes was raised, neither the importer nor the agent came forward to make any declaration. And if there is no declaration (laying of claim), the Customs could only keep watch on the containers pending the expiration of the 90 days permitted by law before being put on the Uncleared Cargo List.

But the suspicion heightened in August when a Customs licensed company first attempted to re-export the containers to Banjul, The Gambia, a request that was rejected because only a shipping company could make such application to the Customs.

Then in September, a shipping company submitted a purported manifest amendment to change the consignee to Kanilai Farms, State House, Banjul. This would have facilitated a seamless re-shipment as a diplomatic cargo, except that there was no formal notification from the Gambian High Commission. Two, there was no Form CCI, a mandatory document for diplomatic shipment. The two export officers of the Customs, who have may have been involved in the re-shipment attempts, have been with the SSS for interrogation.

More worrisome to the investigators is also the allegation that the Iranian suspect in the illegal arms saga has been domiciled in a notable first generation top-rate hotel in Abuja for three months to the knowledge of the security agencies. The unresolved query now is what did the security do with that information.

There is also the lamentation that had the Ports Service Providers, who got the multi-million naira contracts to install fixed scanners at our ports since January 1, 2006 worked to contract terms, the

Customs would have detected the content of the 13 cargoes since July 2010, whether anyone made a claim to ownership or not.

Fixed scanners allow you to see through the content of containers, vertically and horizontally, whereas, the mobile scanners, which are in use, do not. But about five years into a seven-year contract, the contractors have put Nigeria at a disadvantage without the  installation of the fixed scanners. Rather than scan and know the content of cargoes, the Customs and security services have to do manual inspection, only after the export seal has been broken within the law, with all the disadvantages and temptations attached to human involvement in port clearing.

On Tuesday, October 26, security agencies disclosed that 13 containers of arms had been lying at the Apapa Ports since July 10, 2010. Upon joint examination by the Customs and all the security agencies at the ports, the containers were discovered to have concealed within marble slabs ammunition of various calibers including 7.65mm light ammunition with cartridges, 60mm, 80mm and 120mm mortar, rockets with firing pins and grenades.