How shipping agencies aid illegal arms importation in Nigeria
By Dallas Onyema
Shipping lines agencies have been indicted in the recent illegal importation of arms into Nigeria.
They were also accused of aiding importers in bringing illicit items into Nigeria.
Comptroller General (CG) of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), made the allegation at stakeholders’ meeting with shipping companies, terminal operators, shippers and other critical stakeholders organised by the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) in Lagos.
The CG also stated that ships heading to Nigeria change their manifests on high seas from what it originally was from the point of origin of such cargoes.
In the case of the recent pump action rifles intercepted at the Tincan Island command of the service, he said that the document from Turkey stated the original contents of the containers as pump action hunters rifles but was changed to sanitary wares when the ship got to Morocco.
He said, “Shipping lines are responsible for shipping illicit items to Nigeria and I say this with all sense of responsibility because what we discovered in the case of arms is that in the last two, when we went to Turkey, we discovered that they were documented as pump action rifles.
“So, the exit certificate from Turkey indicates the actual content because to them, they did not know that the pump action rifles are on the restricted list in Nigeria therefore they did not need to contact us before allowing them export it.
“But the importers of these weapons knowing that it is prohibited in Nigeria, when they got to Morocco, they changed the manifest and concealed the weapons with sanitary wares,” he said.
On the manifests reading ‘said to contain’, he said, “The issue of ignorance regarding content of the containers does not arise and it won’t be accepted by authorities in Nigeria anymore and have been appealing to my brother who is in charge of the tracking process and he said the tracking process will start and any ship that comes with ‘Said To Contain’ and what was found onboard is illicit, the laws allow us to detain and even seize it and this is very clear.
“We have been very liberal and at the same time we cannot forsake the security of our own nation by being liberal. We will apply the law as it is being applied globally. When we get any infractions we will apply the law to its fullest.”
The Customs CG queried why shipping firms would feign ignorance of content of containers being conveyed.
“Why should shipping line allow change of manifest on the course of transportation.
There is this manifest that we come across that shippers will pick up containers and will say ‘said to contain’ but if I put bombs in a container and I said, ‘said to contain’ steel doors, will they carry it? I believe it’s a no Shippers knows exactly the content, no shipping line will agree to carry a consignment without knowing what exactly is in that consignment; so this manifest saying ‘Said to contain’ doses not make sense.
And when we find an illicit items we will join the shipping line responsible because it is their business. Before you accept ‘said to contain,’ you must know what is in. And they don’t use ‘said to contain’ for developed countries then why is it that it is our own that ‘said to contain’ is admissible? We need to address that and therefore issue of ignorance of content in the container doses not arrive and won’t be accepted by authorities here.
Besides, the Executive Secretary and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Hassan Bello, had said that the essence of the meeting was to have the critical stakeholders proffer solutions and make suggestions on how they can address the issues at the ports such as the arms import, so that there can be less of the malaise.
His words: “The more we prevent these dangerous items from our shores, the better for our economy and security as a nation.
“I must commend the Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service for having the thought of engaging critical stakeholders on this issue.
“Our role at the Council includes bringing stakeholders together to discuss issues pertaining to shipping and transport, in general.
“I believe that when we come together we easily find solutions. The solutions to the problems in the Nigerian ports do not lye with the Customs alone, or any other stakeholder in isolation. We all have a stake in the ports and it is when we come together that we can proffer solutions,” he said.