Court slams 16-year sentence on 3 accused persons for illegal import of 661 pump action rifles

*A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, Nigeria, has convicted and sentenced a retired Customs Officer and two others to 16 years’ imprisonment for conspiracy, illegal import of 661 Pump Action rifles as prohibited firearms, forged documents, and bribery

Emmanuel Akosile | ConsumerConnect

For conspiracy and unlawful importation, a Federal High Court, sitting in Lagos, has convicted and sentenced Mahmud Hassan, a retired Customs Officer, and two others to a total of 16 years’ imprisonment for conspiracy and illegal import of 661 Pump Action rifles, prohibited firearms, forgery, forged documents as well as bribery.

It was gathered others convicted and sentenced to jail terms Friday, December 3, 2021, by Justice Ayokunle Faji led-court are Oskar Okafor; Donatus Achinulo and Mahmud’s company, Hassan Trading Limited, Salihu Danjuma, while Matthew Okoye, the fifth defendant, was reportedly at large.

Col. Hameed Ali (Rtd.) (centre), Comptroller-General, and Top Personnel of NCS at the discovery of 661 Pump Action rifles in Lagos   File Photo 

However, the Justice was said to have acquitted and discharged Abdullahi Danjuma of all charges.

In the charge sheet, Nigeria’s Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister for Justice said the accused brought the rifles from Turkey through the Apapa Port, in Lagos.

The AGF noted that the prohibited firearms were imported in a 40-feet container, which they falsely claimed to be steel doors.

The court verdict

Justice Faji delivered the verdict after reading the judgement five hours in a trial that lasted almost four years in the course of which the first prosecutor, Mr. Julius Ajakaye, and one of the defence counsel, Adamu Ibrahim, passed on.

While delivering judgment in a charge brought against the convicts on count two of the offence of illegal importation of 661 Pump Action rifles into the country, Justice Faji sentenced them to eight years’ imprisonment each on the said count.

On count one which was on conspiracy, Justice Faji found the first, second and third defendants guilty and also sentenced them to eight years imprisonment each.

Besides, the Justice 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.

Court orders Hassan Trades Limited to be liquidated

Justice Faji further ordered that the company, Hassan Trading Limited, used as a vehicle to smuggle, be liquidated and assets forfeited to the Federal Government.

Faji, nevertheless, discharged and acquitted the fifth defendant.

On delivering the judgement, Justice Faji ruled that the offence committed by the convicts touches on the security of the country.

Although the relevant provisions of the law for the offence for which they were charged and convicted prescribed life imprisonment, the court, however, has discretion, said the presiding Judge.

The Justice stated that he would refrain from giving a maximum punishment, but that the convicts must be made examples to serve as a deterrent for other would-be criminals in the country.

Justice Faji particularly frowned on the conduct of the second convict, a retired Customs Officer.

Illegal firearms and rising spate of insecurity in Nigeria

According to Justice Faji, if the container load of illegal firearms was not intercepted, and the guns fell into the hands of criminals in the society, the negative effect could only be imagined.

The convicts were also purported to have forged a number of documents, including a bill of lading, a Form M and a Pre-Arrival Assessment Report to facilitate the smuggling of the said rifles.

According to the prosecution, they also forged a bill of lading issued in Istanbul, Turkey, January 9, 2017, falsely claiming that it was issued in Shanghai, China.

The Justice also said that their intention was to evade the payment of Customs Duty by filling “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 (NCS) attached to the Federal Operative Unit to avoid a “100 per cent search on the container with number PONU 825914/3.”

The prosecution also alleged that the first convict, Hassan, corruptly gave N1 million to government officials at the Apapa Port to prevent the search by Customs officials.

In the last count, the AGF accused the convicts of illegally importing several double-barreled shotguns, pump-action rifles and single-barrelled shotguns into the country through Lagos, without lawful authority between 2012 and 2016.

They, nonetheless, pleaded not guilty when the charges were read to them.

But Justice Faji ruled that the sentence should run concurrently, and the convicts were sentenced on count one, while the two other counts were struck out.

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