A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos on Friday convicted and sentenced a retired Customs Officer, Mahmud Hassan, and two others, to a total of 16 years imprisonment for conspiracy and unlawful importation of 661 Pump Action rifles, unlawful importation of prohibited firearms, forgery, uttering of forged documents, and bribery.
Others convicted and sentenced to jail terms by Justice Ayokunle Faji led-court are Oskar Okafor; and Mahmud’s company, Hassan Trades Limited.
Justice Ayokunle Faji, however, acquitted and discharged Abdulahi Danjuma of all charges.
The fourth defendant in the case, Mr. Donatus Ezebunwa Achinulo, had been discharged and acquitted on a no-case submission stage on February 7, 2020.
The trial 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.
Justice Faji 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, 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.
The judge also 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.
He also ordered that the company, Hassan Trading Limited, be used as a vehicle to smuggle, be windup and assets forfeited to FG.
Justice Faji, however, discharged and acquitted the fifth defendant.
While delivering the judgement, Justice Faji, said the offence committed by the convicts touches on the security of the country.
He added that 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.
The trial judge said 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.
Justice Faji particularly frowned at the conduct of the second convict, a retired Customs Officer, saying that if the container was not intercepted and the guns fell into the hands of criminals in the society, the negative effect can only be imagined.
The convicts were arraigned before the court for illegally importing 661 pump-action rifles into the country.
The convicts, who were arraigned before Justice Ayokunle Faji are Mahmud Hassan, Oscar Okafor, and Salihu Danjuma, while the fifth defendant, Matthew Okoye, was said to be at large.
In the charge, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice said the accused brought the rifles from Turkey through the Apapa Port in Lagos.
He added that they were imported in a 40-feet container, which they falsely claimed to be steel doors.
The convicts were also alleged 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 on January 9, 2017, falsely claiming that it was issued in Shanghai, China.
He said 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, 00, to an official of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) attached to the Federal Operative Unit to avoid a “100 percent 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-barreled shotguns into the country through Lagos, without lawful authority between 2012 and 2016.
They, however, pleaded not guilty when the charges were read to them.
The judge said the sentence shall run concurrently; the convicts were sentenced on count one and two other counts struck out.