The detained Lebanese’ lawyer seeks respect for the constitution.
President Goodluck Jonathan is in receipt of a forceful request by state security agents recommending the immediate demolishing of one of Abuja’s most popular supermarket, Amigos, but has surprisingly withheld an approval more than a week after investigators sealed the supermarket for its Lebanese owners alleged terrorism link.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported how officials excavated ‘boxes’ from minor excavation works within Amigo. A security official involved in the activities however said no major weapons were recovered from the boxes, contrary to rumours, with only a pistol found in one of them.
Sources at the Department of State Security Service, SSS, told PREMIUM TIMES that the president has refused to communicate his decision on the matter to the Service, more than 72 hours, as is usual with reports sent by the department; stalling further work on the case, and raising concerns he may veto the proposal.
While the department recommends, in the report sent on Monday, that the sprawling mall, estimated at more than N5 billion be bulldozed and the area thoroughly frisked for concealed arms, it suggests Abuja’s biggest amusement park, Wonderland, also owned by the Lebanese, be immediately revoked by the Federal Capital Territory Administration, FCTA.
The property hosting the park is said to be owned by the Abuja administration and was only leased to the group for 10 years, our sources say.
With days passing and without a firm response from the president to what the SSS believes is need of urgent attention, investigators fear the proposal may be turned down by the president.
“We have sent in our report, but we can’t proceed without an approval by the president on such a matter of National Security,” a senior official of the SSS involved in the investigations said.
SSS spokesperson, Marilyn Ogar, did not respond to phone calls seeking to get the agency’s official reaction and next line of action.
The president’s office did not also respond to request for response to this story. Emailed request for comments to presidential spokesperson, Reuben Abati, on why the president has not decided, was unanswered; while his mobile telephone number was not available as at the time of this report.
Reasons for seeking demolition
Officials well briefed about Amigos / Wonderland investigations say the SSS’ recommendation that the supermarket be pulled down is based on three reasons: first, the security agency believes the place was used for stockpiling weapons.
Also, investigators they have evidence that proceeds of sales from the multi-billion enterprise have been used in funding terrorism; and lastly, the SSS is concerned a new administration after Jonathan’s may reallocate the property to the Lebanese group.
The last scenario is reflected upon the well-known case of the Indian business group, Vaswani brothers, who were deported by the Obasanjo administration for money laundering but were ushered back into the country at the advent of a successor administration of Umaru Yar’Adua in 2007.
The Jonathan administration has already faced criticisms for its response to what investigators say is a clear terrorism case, after the authorities took more than 24 hours since the discovery of weapons in Kano last week, before shutting down property linked to the suspects, including Amigos and Wonderland, both in the heart of the Nigerian capital. The Abuja property were sealed on Friday night while the Nigerian military had revealed the discovered weapons in a Kano property on Thursday evening.
In a raid that followed months of investigations, the military’s Joint Task Force and the SSS, last week Thursday, announced the discovery of huge amount of weapons, including rocket launchers and grenades, concealed in a bunker in the home of one of the co-owners of the two businesses after months of investigation.
According to the Joint Task Force, weapons found include 17 AK 47 rifles, 44 magazines, four land mines and 12 RPG bombs, 14 RPG charger, 11 66 mm anti-tanks weapons, one SMG magazine, one pistol and magazine.
Also, 11, 433 rounds of 7.26 mm special, 76 hand grenade, rocket propelled guns, 122 calibre artillery and anti mines weapons were recovered.
Fauzi Fawaz, one of the owners of Amigo Supermarket and Wonderland Amusement Park, was named as part of a Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist cell in Nigeria, who kept the weapons.
The JTF said Mr. Fawaz’ name was mentioned by “all those arrested,” for being in possession of the heavy weapons, and other terrorism related activities. Mr. Fawaz is now on the run.
According to the task force, three other Lebanese suspected of owning the weapons were arrested- one suspect arrested at a house on Gaya Road in Bompai area of Kano, while another in Abuja, and a third suspect apprehended since May 16, at Aminu Kano International Airport, on his way to Beirut, Lebanon.
After the arrest and Kano raid, SSS officials told to PREMIUM TIMES of “boxes” unearthed at the supermarket in Abuja, raising concerns of a broad terrorist network that had operated for years exposing millions of customers to danger.
Counsel seeks due process
A lawyer for the arrested suspects, Bamidele Aturu, however, questioned any rationale behind seeking for a demolition of the Amigo building.
Mr. Aturu had threatened legal action against the federal government if those arrested were not charged to court on Wednesday as required by law.
“What law allows the demolition? Nobody supports terrorism, but what we are asking is that they follow the laws of the land,” the lawyer told PREMIUM TIMES on phone.
Mr. Aturu said he has not been allowed to speak to his detained clients (the three Lebanese arrested) including a co-owner of the two Abuja companies, Mustapha Fawaz, since their incarceration. He said the SSS was yet to respond to his letter and they barred him from entering their Abuja headquarters when he went there to see his clients.
“They (the SSS) said they would contact me, but I’ve not heard anything from them,” the lawyer said.
Mr. Aturu said he wants the government to strongly fight terrorism, but not violate people’s right and the constitution in doing so.