THE Nigerian government and its South African counterpart are currently in talks over a Russian vessel conveying illegal weapons to Lagos ports which has been intercepted in South Africa.
Findings by Sunday Tribune in the diplomatic circle showed that the matter was being handled at the highest level of government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs because of the sensitive nature of the issue.
While all necessary agencies of government have been placed on the red alert following the seizure, the matter was being handled by the ministry because it was an issue between two sovereign states.
Authorities of the Nigerian Navy and the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), who spoke to our correspondent on the interception of the ship loaded with arm, confirmed the seriousness the authorities attached to the curious development and their determination to get to the roots.
It will be recalled that in September 2017, the NCS intercepted and seized 1,100 pump action rifles at the Tin Can Island Port, Lagos, then regarded as the biggest arms haul in the Lagos Port that year.
The arms were concealed in a 20-foot container that originated from Turkey but the container was falsely declared to contain “wash-hand basins and water closets.”
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Contacted by Sunday Ttribune on the matter, spokesman of the Nigerian Navy, Commodore Ayo Olugbode stated that contact had been established with the Nigerian mission in South Africa and investigations is already ongoing.
“Very clearly, a vessel was detained in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, but because of investigations, we cannot really start talking now.
“A lot of investigations is going on now, and we wouldn’t want to predicate the investigation by saying anything now. I have some facts, but they are not for public domain. Facts that were gathered not just today,” he said.
When asked if the Navy had established any contact with their counterpart in South Africa, the naval spokesman explained that, “This is not a Navy issue,” he stressed, adding that, “this is a government to government issue. This goes beyond the Navy. There has been intervention on the issue at the level of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. So you see it is not a Navy issue. It has gone beyond the Navy. The crime was intercepted at a port, not at sea.
“If it was intercepted at sea, then it would have fallen under the Navy jurisdiction; but it occurred at the ports, so its a government to government discussion.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is currently in discussion with South African authorities. However, we have established contacts too. We have a mission there, and discussions are ongoing. Hopefully, by early next week, we will have clearer details.
“There is no point making statements when there is nothing yet on ground.”
In a separate chat with the Spokesman of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Joseph Attah, the Service said that its officers are well positioned at the seaports to nip in the bud any effort to bring in dangerous shipments into the country.
“Our job is to ensure that any shipment that will harm Nigerians is not allowed into the country. This we have been doing by the numbers of arms and ammunition seizure that we have intercepted in the past. Anything that is harmful, that arrives our shores, we will make sure we seize it,” the Customs spokesman told Sunday Tribune.
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