Monday, September 25, 2017 5:10 pm
By Akin Kuponiyi
Two out of the five men being prosecuted by the Federal Government for unlawful importation of 661 pump-action rifles into the country have indicated their intention to enter into plea bargain with the prosecution.
The defendants – Mahmud Hassan, Oscar Okafor, Donatus Achinulo, Matthew Okoye, said to be at large, and Salihu Danjuma were arraigned by the Attorney General of the Federation on June 14 2017,before a Federal High Court in Lagos,south west Nigeria on 8 count charge of conspiracy, unlawful importation of fire arms and evasion of custom duties.
They all pleaded not guilty to the eight count charge preferred against them, while the case was adjourned till today for trial as the presiding judge, Justice Ayokunle Faji, refused their bail applications in view of the gravity of the charges preferred against them.
At the resumed proceedings today, the second and third defendants,Oscar Okafor and Donatus Achinulo, respectively, who had changed their lawyers, indicated their intentions to change their plea from not guilty to guilty.
The application was made orally on behalf of Okafor by Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), his new lawyer, and on behalf of Achinulo by Mr. Paul Ananaba (SAN) representing the other defendants.
However, the presiding judge,Faji directed the defendants to notify the Attorney General of Federation (AGF)of their intention to change their plea. Thereafter the case was adjourned till September 26.2017
In the charge, filed before the court,the AGF alleged that the defendants 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 were alleged to have 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 alleged to have been committed by the defendants are 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.?