Ex-Customs officer, two others jailed 16 years for smuggling rifles

A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos on Friday sentenced a retired Customs officer, one Mahmud Hassan, and two others, to 16 years imprisonment for conspiracy and unlawful importation of 661 pump-action rifles.

They were also convicted for unlawful importation of prohibited firearms, forgery, uttering of forged documents and bribery.

Others convicted by the trial judge, Justice Ayokunle Faji, were Oskar Okafor, Donatus Achinulo and Mahmud’s company, Hassan Trades Limited.

Justice Faji, who delivered the verdict after reading the judgement for five hours, however, acquitted and discharged Abdulahi Danjuma of all the charges.

The first prosecutor, Julius Ajakaye, and one of the defence counsels, Adamu Ibrahim, passed on while the trial lasted for about four years.

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 (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, while also ordering that the company, Hassan Trading Limited, used as a vehicle to smuggle, be closed and its assets forfeited to the Federal Government.

Justice Faji, however, discharged and acquitted the fifth defendant.

He explained that the offence committed by the convicts touched on the security of the country, adding that though the relevant provisions of the law for the offence which they were charged and convicted, prescribed life imprisonment, but said the court, however, had discretion.

The trial judge said he would refrain from giving a maximum punishment but added that the convicts must be made an example to serve as a deterrent to other would-be criminals.

The convicts had been arraigned before the court for allegedly importing 661 pump-action rifles into the country.

The convicts, who were arraigned before Justice Faji, were Mahmud Hassan, Oscar Okafor, Donatus Achinulo, and Salihu Danjuma, while the fifth defendant, Matthew Okoye, was said to be at large.

According to the prosecution, they also forged a bill of lading issued in Istanbul on January 9, 2017, falsely claiming that it was issued at Shanghai, China.

They were said to have attempted to evade the payment of customs duty by filling “steel door” as the content of the container instead of rifles.

The prosecution also alleged that the first convict, Hassan, corruptly gave N1m to government officials at the Apapa Port to prevent the search by Customs officials.

But the accused had pleaded not guilty when the charges were read to them

The judge said the sentence shall run concurrently.

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