661 rifles importation: Court rejects alleged importers bail application

See the 440 pump action rifles intercepted by Customs

A Lagos Division of the Federal High Court on Thursday rejected the bail applications filed by four men who are standing trial for the unlawful importation of 661 pump action rifles into the country.

Justice Ayotunde Faji, in his ruling, said he would rather grant accelerated hearing of the case due to the magnitude of the allegation against the defendants.

Mahmud Hassan, Oscar Okafor, Donatus Achinulo, and Salihu Danjuma were arraigned on June 14 on an eight-count charge bordering on conspiracy, importation of prohibited firearms, forgery, uttering of forged documents and bribery.

The fifth accused person, Matthew Okoye, is said to be at large.

They had pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The defendants had on Monday applied to the court seeking to be released on bail pending the determination of the case.

Counsels to the accused persons – Yakubu Galadima, Godwin Okaka, Olumide Oyewole and Adamu Ibrahim – had urged the court to release their clients on bail, promising that they would not abscond but make themselves available for trial.

But the prosecuting counsel, K. A. Fagbemi, a lawyer from the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, had opposed the defendants’ bail applications, saying it would be too risky for them to be released on bail.

Fagbemi, who noted that one of the accused persons,  Okoye, was still at large, argued that releasing the other defendants on bail could endanger their lives.

“He’s still out there,” the lawyer said. “He could be a risk to their own lives. It’s one of the grounds that the defendants should not be granted bail for their own good.”

Faji, while delivering her ruling on the bail applications, said he was in total agreement with the prosecution’s submission. He consequently refused the defendants’ bail applications.

In the charges, the AGF said the accused persons brought 661 pump-action 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 at Istanbul on January 9, 2017, falsely claiming that it was issued at 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 per cent search on the 40-feet container with number PONU 825914/3.”

The prosecution also alleged that the first accused, Hassan, corruptly gave N1m to government officials at the Apapa Port in order to prevent the search of the container by Customs officials.

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 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.