A large cargo of munitions in thirteen containers was imported into Nigeria through the Apapa Wharf in Lagos sometime in July this year. Details of the nature of consignment became public only last week, when officials of the State Security Services (SSS), made an announcement on the issue.
According to them, the weapons of various grades, ranging from bombs, grenades, rocket launchers and assault rifles, among other heavy armaments, were concealed in twenty-four crates of floor tiles. The manifest of the ship that brought in the dangerous goods indicated that its cargo consisted mainly of building materials, such as glass wool and stones.
Since that disclosure, events have proceeded in dizzyingly bizarre turns, from suspicion of local arms importation linked to upcoming general elections, to allegation of international conspiracy in which Israel, Iran, India, the Gaza Strip in Occupied Palestine, have been mentioned. The National Security Adviser, General Andrew Azazi, has already been to the scene; he exhorted the public not to jump to conclusion about those involved in the importation of the arms.
That is a sound advice, but it would help if the investigation that is currently underway is speeded up so as to address the growing concerns among Nigerians on the frequency of such arms imports and their potential danger to the country.
Such concerns are not misplaced. Only last month, on the day that Nigerians were celebrating fifty years of nationhood, two bombs exploded close to the Eagles Square, Abuja, venue of the main occasion, killing a number of people, and injuring dozens more. Responsibility for that act was claimed by the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND), which had issued an alert, days before the fact. Earlier this year, a meeting in the Delta State government House in Asaba, was disrupted when a car-bomb placed near the venue, exploded, killing several people. Those described as ex-militants under the federal government’s amnesty deal, said they were responsible for the blasts, claiming that they were intended to teach the state governor a lesson to take their situation seriously.
Also this year, South-South leaders holding a meeting in Warri, Delta State, a forum organised by Vanguard Media to discuss the amnesty programme, had to run for dear lives when the venue became the target of attack that was also claimed by MEND.
The Atlas Cove in Lagos was also targeted in a bomb attack claimed by MEND, in which some military personnel were killed.
Last year, a cargo plane carrying some arms was forced to land at the Malam Aminu Kano International Airport; it was detained for weeks while security personnel conducted investigation. The plane was later allowed to continue its journey, although to date it has never been satisfactorily explained why it came into the country and who the owners of the cargo were.
There is every cause for concern therefore when arms and ammunitions such as the Apapa cargo find their way into our shores. That is why, every effort must be made to track the importers and identify them for the benefit of the concerned public and peace of the country. The government must resist pressure to enter into a conspiracy to internationalise this episode without first asking for and obtaining credible evidence before embarking on such a position.
There are claims made by Israeli officials that the arms came from the Jewish nation’s arch foe Iran, and that they were destined for its implacable enemy Hamas in Gaza. So far, we have not seen evidence to corroborate the claims, and Nigerian officials have made no comment regarding them. Questions as to why such arms would take the tortuous route through Nigeria, if indeed Israel’s claims are worth looking into, and why it took three months to bring the facts to the public’s attention, should be answered by the ongoing investigation. If on the other hand it is true as being alleged that prominent Nigerians are behind the imports, the government has the bounden duty to expose them. It is only by doing so that it would have a deterrent effect, build a safer environment for the citizens and put a halt to the disturbing trend of easy access to heavy weaponry among dissident groups and militants in the country.