Illegal importation of 1570 rifles: Court denies bail to defendants, trial commences

The trial of the defendants; Ayogu Great James, Ifeuwa Moses Christ and a company, Great James Oil and Gas Limited charged with illegal importation of firearms commenced on Thursday before Justice Saliu Saidu of a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, even as the court refuses to grant them bail.

At the commencement of trial of the defendants, a witness, Nwaiwu Chibuzor Ginikanwa, a Deputy Superintendent of Customs, Intelligence Unit, Tincan Island Command, told the court how the defendants who imported arms into the country through the Tincan Island Port, Lagos were arrested.

Ginikanwa is a prosecution witness in the trial of the defendants who allegedly imported 1,570 pump action rifles into the country without lawful authority.

While being led in evidence by the prosecutor, Mr. Julius Ajakaiye, a Deputy Director with the Federal Ministry of Justice, the witness said she was on normal routine surveillance on September 6, 2017 at the Tincan Island Container Port, Lagos with the list of containers to be positioned for examination on that day in which a 1x20 feet container was among.

She averred that on her way to inspect other containers, an agent whose name is Ndubuisi, approached her and gave her a photocopy of a Bill of Lading, adding that after inspecting the first container belonging to another person, she proceeded to carry out inspection on that particular container which Ndubuisi has given her the Bill of Lading.

Ginikanwa said that on approaching the container, she saw two agents standing by the container with the container already opened.
"I noticed some cartons wrapped in sacks with one of the cartons torn open."

According to the witness, on a closer look, she saw guns and immediately the two agents, Ikechukwu Okafor and Ndubuisi realised that she has seen the guns in the sacks, they quickly locked the container and fled.

Ginikanwa said she quickly alerted her boss, Bomoi Sulaimon, a Deputy Comptroller of Customs,who quickly drafted other operatives to join her at the terminal to secure the container while her boss also contacted Deputy Comptroller Enforcement Nnamdi Vera.

The witness further told the court that reinforcement from her unit were at the terminal until the arrival of the Enforcement Unit who took the container away for 100 percent physical examination.

"When I get back to the office on that day I received a call from telephone number 08026797600 and the person who called was begging me in Ibo language to help secure the release of the container."

She added that further investigation of call line revealed the caller to be one Emeka Festus

During the trial, the prosecutor, Ajakaiye tendered the certified true copy of the Bill of Lading given to Ginikanwa by Ndubuisi and was admitted in evidence.

Meanwhile, further hearing in the matter has been adjourned till January 16 and 24, 2019.

It would be recalled that the court on Wednesday, refused the bail applications filed by the alleged arm importers, Ayogu Great James and one Ifeuwa Moses Christ.
The duo alongside a company, Great James Oil and Gas Limited, located at Number 1, Warehouse Road, Apapa, Lagos were first arraigned before Justice Saliu Saidu on October 11 this year by the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF).

The defendants were arrested by the men of Nigeria Customs Services (NCS) with the said pump action rifles concealed in two 1×20 feet containers, under the pretence of bringing in wash hand basins and Water Closets (WC) from China.
In a charge marked FHC/L/339c/18, the defendants were alleged to have uttered forged Bill of Laden and Customs Form M, which they used in smuggling the rifles into the country.

The defendants were arraigned before the court on eight counts charge bordering on conspiracy, illegal importation of firearms, forgery and uttering of Customs' import documents

The offences according to the prosecutor, Mr. Julius Ajakaiye, a Deputy Director in the Federal Ministry of Justice, 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.

They all pleaded not guilty to the charge, following which their counsel: Mahmud Mogaji (SAN) and Wale Adesokan (SAN),filed their bail applications and urged the court to grant same.

However, the prosecutor, Mr. Ajakaiye, in his preliminary objection and counter-affidavits to the applications, opposed the defendants' bail applications on the ground that the charges against them bothered on national security.

Ruling on the bail applications of the defendants on Wednesday, Justice Saidu said: "individual liberty cannot be placed above national security.

"The charges against the defendants is considered as a serious charge with the level of insecurity in the country such as armed robbery, kidnapping, terrorism and the rest.

"Considering the nature of the charge, I cannot exercise my discretion in favour of the defendants. I hereby refused the bail applications".

After refusing the defendants' bail applications, the prosecutor, Mr. Ajakaiye, informed the court of an amended charge against the defendants.

He told the court that amendment was sequel to the inclusion of one Emeka Umeh Festus, also known as Amankwa, who is said to be at large when others were arraigned before the court on October 11.
Upon taken the not guilty plea of all defendants on the amended charge, the matter was adjourned for commencement of trial of all the defendants.

Ayogu, a resident of Plot 291, Dawaki extention, opposite Gwarinpa Estate, Abuja, was arraigned alongside his company, Great James Oil and Gas Limited, locates at 1, Warehouse Road, Apapa, Lagos and one Emeka Umeh Festus, also known as Amankwa, who is said to be at large.

The AGF in a charge marked FHC/L/339c/18, the defendants were alleged to have conspired among themselves between September 6 to 20, 2017, to illegally and unlawfully imported a total of 1570 pump action rifles into Nigeria, through Apapa Seaport, Lagos.

They were also alleged to have loaded the said 1570 pump action rifles in two 1× 20 feet containers marked GESU 2555208 and CMAU 1878178.

It was also alleged that in a bid to illegally and unlawfully bring in the weapons, the defendants were alleged to have uttered and forged Bill of lading, issued in July 28, 2017, to read Guandong, China, instead of Istanbul, Turkey, which was written on the conveying container.

They were also alleged to have uttered 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.

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

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