As preparations for the 2015 general elections* and* 2014 governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states gather steam, there are strong indications of increase in the smuggling of arms and ammunition into the country.Saturday PUNCH also learnt that the demand for imported bulletproof cars had increased in the last few months.A report of the Nigeria Customs Service obtained by our correspondents on Thursday showed that the records of seizures of arms and ammunition in 2013 by the Nigeria Customs Service were seven times more than those of 2012. The police also gave indications of a rise in the number of arms in circulation even though its spokesperson did not give a definite figure.The Public Relations Officer of the NCS, Mr. Wale Adeniyi, said in Abuja on Thursday that the service now seizes contraband including arms and ammunition daily.* He said the agency* had beefed up security along the nation’s borders to curtail the influx of arms and ammunition into the country.“We know the porosity of our borders, we had to change patrol strategies and the patrol strategy that we are using now is yielding dividends, we are making seizures of contraband on daily basis including arms and ammunitions,” he said.Late Thursday, the State Security Service Operatives intercepted high-calibre ammunition in a 20-foot container at the Port Harcourt* Port in River State.The vessel identified as MV Iron Trader was carrying 2,700 anti-aircraft and anti-tank bombs, according to security sources.The Customs report entitled, “2013 Summary of Suppression of Smuggling/Seizures Report,” showed that the arms and ammunition were seized at* airports, seaports, creeks and border stations nationwide.The report is prepared by the Enforcement, Investigation and Inspection Department of the NCS and it details the general anti-smuggling activities of the agency for a specified year.Specifically, the report showed that the cases of seizures represented an increase of about 700 per cent when compared with the single seizure recorded in 2012.Analysts say the increase in smuggling of arms and ammunitions to the country might not be unconnected with the increase in political activities towards the 2015 general elections and other governorship elections this year given the violence that usually accompanied* past electoral activities in the country.The Independent National Electoral Commission had announced the timetable for the 2015 general elections and* governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states last Friday.Though the electoral body is yet to give the go-ahead for the commencement of political* campaigns,* many politicians including the Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, have indicated their interest in contesting in the oncoming elections.The 2007 governorship election turned bloody in Osun State when thousands of residents, who felt that the election was rigged by the Peoples Democratic Party took to the streets, burning houses and properties. Soldiers and policemen were drafted to quell the uprising, which spread from Osogbo to Ilesa, the hometown of Action Congress of Nigeria candidate in the election, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola, who eventually emerged as governor after three and a half years of legal battle.No fewer than eight persons were killed in the countdown to the election while about three persons lost their lives on the day of election, which gave a contentious victory to the PDP candidate, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola.The latest in the series of political violence in Ekiti State was the killing of a supporter of the House of Representatives member representing Ado/Irepodun Ifelodun Constituency, Opeyemi Bamidele, who was shot dead at Emure Ekiti during a political rally.The 1983 general elections erupted in violence in Ondo State when the Federal Electoral Commission declared the candidate of the National Party of Nigeria, Chief Akin Omoboriowo, as the winner of the governorship election.A month-by-month analysis of ammunitions seized by the NCS, showed that the agency recorded the highest seizure of 56,570 in May 2013 and the lowest of 49 seizures in April.Findings by one of our correspondents revealed that the seizure of 56,570 rounds of ammunition was recorded in Oyo/Osun Command of the NCS* and it was the highest ever recorded in the history of the anti-smuggling agency. Oyo State is one of the country’s border states sharing boundaries with the Republic of Benin.It was gathered that the ammunition, which were neatly loaded in 227 cartons, and conveyed in a vehicle, were concealed in bags packed with dried cassava tubers.Adeniyi emphasised the importance of intelligence gathering and said it was one of the* viable ways by which security agencies could* effectively stem* the influx of illegal weapons into the country.He said, “Intelligence plays a very crucial role in interception of smuggled goods particularly arms and ammunition. People must be willing to give us intelligence reports; they should not just abandon the job of** intelligence reports* to the* customs and other security agencies alone.“We will continue to intensify our efforts to ensure that dangerous cargoes that could impede on national security are not allowed into the country. We will continue to count on the assistance of well meaning Nigerians* to give us
information.”Bulletproof carsThough statistics of the total number of bulletproof vehicles imported into the country* in the last few months could not be obtained from the Customs, a key player in the sector said the demand* for imported bulletproof* cars had risen from about 800 to 1,500 annually.“When you talk about the normal passenger vehicles, I think it is about 500 and 800 in a year. There are Armoured Personnel Carriers imported by the Police and the Customs. By the time you add the ones imported by the military, you will be talking of about 1,500 in a year,” the Chief Executive Officer,* Proforce* Limited, Mr. Adetokunbo Ogundeyin, said.Ogundeyin explained that demand for bulletproof** vehicles might not be unconnected with political* activities in the country.“We are having another election next year. Politics in this country is a bit of do-or-die. A lot of people just feel that they will be insecure. So, they want to protect themselves. That is one reason.“The other reason is the level of threat to life in the Northern area. I am talking about the Boko Haram issue. Unfortunately, the situation is escalating; people feel threatened in the North, and it is even spreading to the South. This is the reason why people feel they have to be protected. Armed robbery is also a factor.”Saturday PUNCH findings also reveal that the police have sent operatives* to the nation’s ports, where weapons are concealed inside innocuous imports and brought in illegally into the country to be used by desperate politicians.The Force Public Relations Officer, CSP Frank Mba, who confirmed this in Abuja, explained that the arms embargo policy was a deliberate move to check the flow of illegal arms as the nation prepared for the elections.Mba could, however, not give data of the weapons so far seized in the last six months. He promised to get back to one of our correspondents but later said he could not get specific figures.He stated that the Force Intelligence Department had been re-organised for better performance, stressing that the police were better prepared to nip in the bud any threat to public peace and order.Mba noted that there had not been any report of assassination or cases of threat to life by politicians in recent times.* He said, “We believe that there would always be conflict and political disagreement but not all disagreements lead to violence. In any case, we are watching the political scene and we are ready to call to order anyone that takes any action that may lead to a breach of public peace.”Meanwhile, human rights activists have reacted to reports of arms increase in the country by calling on the government to take national security more seriously.A human rights lawyer, Wahab Shittu, said the country “is sitting on a keg of gun powder capable of exploding at anytime.”Shittu also described the Customs report as “quite worrisome, disturbing, very frightening and constituting a fundamental threat to national security.”* He added that government at all levels had a lot of work to do to guarantee safety of lives and properties.Attributing the increase in the arms seizure at the borders to multi-dimensional factors, Shittu also suggested multi-dimensional solutions to the problem.He said, “There are lots of crises taking place in the neighbouring countries and we are beginning to see the effects here. The increase can be attributed to multi-dimensional factors which include the build up to 2015 elections, deep-seated grievances by the ethnic nationalities that constitute the Nigerian federation, poverty, the rising rate of unemployment and the collapsing ethical and moral values.“The solutions are also multidimensional because there is a little of religious extremism, politics, hunger, poverty and a collapse of values in the society. The situation necessitates collaboration between our country and the neighbouring countries through the exchange of intelligence and information.”Another human rights lawyer, Fred Agbaje, however, blamed the Customs Service for the increasing smuggling of arms and ammunition into the country, describing the agency’s claims as false.He said, “The figure they are parading is shameful and embarrassing when compared with the level of banditry in Nigeria today. The arms and ammunition that hoodlums are using in Nigeria all came in through the borders, which are patrolled by Customs and other agencies of the Federal Government.“Customs service has woefully failed Nigerians in terms of checking the sophisticated weapons that are arriving the borders of this country on a daily basis. The situation has created a lot of fear in the minds of Nigerians and come 2015 elections, it’s going to be worse. The earlier the Federal Government addresses the problem of insecurity, the better, particularly with regards to arms proliferation.”Copyright PUNCH.
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