By Innocent Anaba, Lagos
On Monday trial commenced before a Federal High Court, in Lagos, of an Iranian and Nigerian, who is being prosecuted by the Nigerian Government for alleged illegal importation of arms into Nigeria from Iran, as a former suspect, Mr. Muhammed Tukur, was called as prosecution witness.
The witness, a clearing agent, who testified at the resumed hearing in the matter, told the court that he and the accused persons had tried to clear the 13 containers at the Nigeria port, before they were discovered to contain arms and ammunition by security agents.
Azim Aghajani, an Iranian, and Alli Abass Jega, a Nigerian, are facing a fresh four- count of illegal importation of arms and ammunition into the country (Nigeria), comprising bombs, grenades, rockets among others.
The accused according to the charge, were alleged to have imported ‘without license’ 13 container loads of firearms and ammunition into Nigeria from Iran contrary to S1. (14)of the Firearms Act, Cap MI7, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria.
Tukur, who testified in court, said he was misled into collaborating with the accused, adding that it was Jega, who introduced him to Aghajani sometimes in July 2010 and co-opted him into the deal to assist in the clearing of the 13-containers of firearms and ammunition after it was already brought into Nigeria.
Tukur, who had described Jega as “a brother and friend,” said he was made to believe that the containers contained building materials which were to be trasported to The Gambia and that he and Aghajnai went to pay the shipping charges of the sum of N1. 2 million at the Fanu Terminal before the containers were moved to Apapa Wharf, Lagos, Nigeria.
According to him, the money was brought by Aghajani, who also gave him his business card during their talk.
The said business card was tendered in evidence by the prosecution and admitted by the court.
Tukur added, ”I was on the ground on the day when the State Security Service, SSS, operatives came to examine the containers. I was present as Jega’s representative when the containers were found to contain arms. I was arrested immediately. That was the first time I knew the containers contained arms and not building materials as I was earlier told. That was how I became a suspect at a stage in this matter”
Mr. Ewuola Ayomipo, second prosecution witness, told the court that SSS obtained evidence that there was e-mail communication between Jega and Aghajani. According to Ayomipo, an SSS officer, he obtained both the e-mail address and the passwords of the accused ‘voluntarily’ from them while they were being interrogated by the SSS.
He also told the court that he gained access into their e-mail accounts and discovered that there were communications between them. At that point, a printed copy of the said message was tendered by the prosecution and admitted as exhibit.
Mr. Alamina Legg-Jack, a Deputy Controller of Customs, told a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, Nigeria, on Tuesday, at the resumed trial of an Iranian and Nigerian, who are being prosecuted for alleged illegal importation of arms into the country, that representatives of the United Nations and the United States government were allowed by the Nigerian government to inspect the arms illegally shipped into Nigeria from Iran.
Legg-Jack, the 4th prosecution witness, told the court that one of the 13 containers was half-opened before he got to the scene at the examination Bay at the Apapa Port, while the remaining 12 were opened in his presence.
An Iranian, Azim Aghajani, and a Nigerian, Alli Abass Jega, are both standing trial before Justice Okechukwu Okeke.
He also said the containers were re-sealed by the customs and the operatives of the State Security Services, SSS, before they were transferred to the depot of the Nigerian Navy for safe keeping.
According to him, while the containers were still with the Navy, he was invited on two occasions to supervise the inspection of the arms and ammunition with the first occasion being when a team of United Nations, which came to inspect the weapons.
He said that the second time he was invited to supervise the inspection of the arms and ammunition was when a representative of the United States government came for inspection of the seized weapon.
He said, “I was in the office on October 26, 2010 when the Area Commander of Customs sent me a letter that a cargo had arrived for our inspection. I sent a team of my men to the scene. Later they telephoned me when they opened the first container and discovered arms and ammunition. I called the Area Commander on phone and told him of the discovery of my men.
“I left immediately for the Examination Bay; upon getting there, the examination of the first containers was still in progress. I saw some of the crates removed from the first container on the ground. They contained arms and ammunition. The remaining 12 containers were opened and examined in my presence, the first row of crates in each of the containers contained marble stones, while all the remaining contents were full of arms and ammunition such as mortars, rockets and hand grenades.’
“After the inspection, the containers were re-sealed and were being watched by men of the customs and operatives of the SSS, until December 4, 2010 when they were transferred to the depot of the Nigerian Navy,” he added.
The matter has been adjourned till April 13, and 14, 2011 for continuation of hearing.