On the night of June 25, Ibikunle Amosun, a serving senator and former governor of Ogun State, issued a lengthy rebuttal to a PREMIUM TIMES story that exposed his curious surrendering of a massive cache of arms and ammunition to the police in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital.
It was a day after our publication detailed how he hurriedly handed over 1,000 AK-47 rifles, four million bullets, 1,000 bulletproof vests and an armoured personnel carrier to the state’s police commissioner on May 28 — a day before he was due to vacate office after an eight-year tenure.
A nationwide outrage had greeted the story from Nigerians who were alarmed by the potential danger and impropriety of a governor stockpiling arms on such a large scale.
Amidst the uproar, Mr Amosun posted a lengthy denial on his Twitter page, in a desperate attempt to weaken calls for his arrest and prosecution for illegal arms possession.
The PREMIUM TIMES story, he said, “represented everything but the true and factual accounts” of his suspicious handover of stockpiled weapons to federal authorities.
Despite its untidiness, Mr Amosun claimed the handover was “a routine exercise” that was conducted in the open and that he got necessary approvals to import the weapons.
“We got all necessary approvals from the Office of the National Security Adviser to procure the 13 units of Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs), the 1000 units of AK 47 rifles, two million rounds of ammunition,1,000 units of bullet proof vests and 500 bulletproof helmets and other security communication gadgets.
“Ogun State not only got approval to import these essential assets, the federal administration under President Goodluck Jonathan gave all requisite approvals to assist the state.
“The Federal Government through the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) issued the state the End User Certificate Serial Number 000001123 dated 5th of March, 2012.
“The Federal Ministry of Finance also granted Import Duty Exemption Certificate through a letter from the Honourable Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy with Reference Number BO/R.10260/S.4/T.4/22 dated 10th April, 2012. Indeed the supplier was an accredited agent of the Nigeria Police Force nominated for the job by the Force who also monitored and supervised the transaction.
“The security materials were cleared through the Murtala Muhammed Airport and confirmed through Nigeria Customs Memo NCS/MMAC/012/S.1,” Mr Amosun stated.
We got all necessary approvals from the Office of the National Security Adviser to procure the 13 units of Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs), the 1000 units of AK 47 rifles, 2 Million rounds of ammunition,1000 units of Bullet proof vests and 500 bullet proof helmets
— Sen. Ibikunle Amosun (@SIAmosun) June 25, 2019
A Lie Exposed
But after an extensive investigation that lasted several months, PREMIUM TIMES can authoritatively report that the end-user certificate and import waiver cited by Mr Amosun contained approval for importation of 13 armoured personnel carriers only.
Our findings disputed Mr Amosun’s claim and highlighted the extent to which the politician was willing to go to deceive the public and federal authorities on the matter.
Mr Amosun, 61, had written to President Goodluck Jonathan seeking to be exempted from paying import duty on 13 armoured vehicles he wanted to donate to the police in Ogun State. The request was made via a February 24, 2012 letter with Ogun State reference number: COS/GOV/11/VOL.II/236.
In the letter titled ‘Request for Duty Waiver on Imported 13 Nos. APC/SWAT Vehicles’, Mr Amosun thanked Mr Jonathan for backing measures taken to tackle insecurity in Ogun State, a support he said would be further bolstered by the approval of his request to import armoured vehicles for the police.
Mr Jonathan subsequently directed expedited treatment of Mr Amosun’s request by the Federal Ministry of Finance. An analysis prepared by Bright Okogu, the then director-general of budget, found that the import waiver would deprive Nigeria of N209 million in potential import duty on the 13 armoured vehicles.
Mr Okogu said the declared value of the 13 vehicles was $6.7 million (a little over N1 billion at the then exchange rate of N155 to a dollar) and calculated import duty of 20 per cent.
Nonetheless, Mr Okogu recommended that the waiver be granted as a way of encouraging Mr Amosun’s security efforts in Ogun State, documents seen by PREMIUM TIMES showed. On March 22, 2012, the president endorsed the request for waiver.
On April 10, 2012, a final import duty exemption certificate was issued to Ogun State Government for the importation of 13 armoured vehicles as requested by Mr Amosun for police use. The certificate carried reference number BO/R.10260/S.4/T.4/22, exactly what Mr Amosun quoted in his June 25 statement to the media.
Meanwhile, as Mr Amosun was seeking duty waiver for the 13 armoured vehicles, he got an approval from the Office of the National Security Adviser to bring them into the country.
On March 5, 2012, an end-user certificate was issued to Alpine Armoring, an American specialised armoured vehicle manufacturer, for 13 armoured vehicles on behalf of Ogun State Government and for use by the police command in Ogun State.
The certificate carried the same serial number Mr Amosun said was issued to him: 000001123. But, contrary to his claim, the certificate was for 13 armoured vehicles only and no mention of 1,000 AK-47 rifles, millions of bullets, hundreds of bulletproof vests and other security hardware he listed.
Furthermore, in 2015, the Nigeria Customs Service confirmed in a memo that Mr Amosun imported 12 armoured vehicles between 2012 and 2013 based on the 2012 import waiver. He had written to the government seeking an extension of the waiver for him to be able to import the last one, which he said was not delivered with the rest due to logistic challenges.
Mr Amosun took delivery of the first set of five vehicles as part of the order on April 19, 2012, Daily Trust reported. He confirmed in his June 25 statement that the last unit was what he handed over to the police in Abeokuta on May 28.
Illegal arms stockpile
Mr Amosun, a political ally of President Muhammadu Buhari, did not return multiple requests for comments on these findings from PREMIUM TIMES. For two weeks starting October 19, PREMIUM TIMES placed telephone calls, sent text messages and reached Mr Amosun by WhatsApp — all remained unanswered.
The senator also did not reply to a letter that was delivered at his Senate office detailing our findings and seeking his comment before publication of this story.
But he has repeatedly justified his importation of arms as a necessary measure he took to combat crimes in Ogun State in the early years of his administration. Frequent armed robbery attacks gripped Ijebu-Ode, Shagamu, Sango-Ota and other major settlements in the state at the time, forcing several banks to close their branches there.
Armed robberies reduced significantly in Mr Amosun’s first term following deployment of the APCs, but other violent crimes like political thuggery, kidnapping and cross-border smuggling lingered.
Still, importing arms without requisite approvals from the Office of the National Security Adviser and other regulatory bodies could carry significant legal implications — its motives notwithstanding.
In May, three Nigerians were sentenced to a combined 120 years in prison, including 20 years each for illegal possession of firearms in Ibadan. The Oyo State High Court relied on the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act to convict the trio.
In March 2018, the Nigeria Customs Service intercepted security equipment (no firearms included) allegedly imported by Kogi State Government at the international airport in Abuja. Officials said an ONSA end-user certificate for the items was not immediately produced by their importer.
Customs officials make regular seizures of controlled weapons imported without ONSA credentials at Nigerian land, air and sea borders.
The AK-47 and its bullet specifications (7.62mm) which Mr Amosun admitted he imported were amongst the items restricted under the ONSA’s guidelines for procuring arms and ammunition in Nigeria. The ONSA is the only agency authorised to issue certification for importation of controlled equipment into Nigeria.
The items were also specifically prohibited for storage by any person or organisation under Part I of the Firearms Act, except with express presidential approval, which Mr Amosun did not seek nor was he granted.
Joseph Attah, the chief spokesperson for the Nigeria Customs Service, told PREMIUM TIMES no individual or organisation can legally import AK-47, its ammo and other controlled items without an end-user certificate from the ONSA.
A perennial loophole
How Mr Amosun imported the weapons without ONSA credentials remains unclear.
But for decades, Nigerian borders remained notorious for their porousness. People bring items into the country either to circumvent duty on those items or because they do not have requisite certification to import them in the first place. And officials often lack the capacity to intercept such items or they simply look away after taking bribes.
“Our port officials not only lack the capacity to intercept many illegal imports, but the nature of power in Nigeria also means that if the importer proves that he has links to the government, then whatever he is bringing in, no matter how illegal, will go through,” Cheta Nwanze, lead analyst at Lagos-based SBM Intelligence, told PREMIUM TIMES.
“So it is not just a simple matter of bribes, but also of the subservience to perceived authority.”
Mr Nwanze said one of the most dangerous thoughts a person can hold in a society is to feel insulated from all consequences, even in cases of unbridled lawlessness.
“Call me cynical, but there would be no consequences” against Mr Amosun, he said. “And that is a very powerful incentive for other governors and politicians to abuse their positions of trust and import weapons.”
Mr Nwanze said there was a direct link between illegal arms imports and election violence and general criminalities in Nigeria, a situation that has worsened consistently after each election cycle.
“A chart of violence in Nigeria shows that at least since 2003, as elections approach, violence goes up. This violence is caused by politicians importing weapons and arming various groups. The problem is that after the elections, they are unable to retrieve the weapons, and the cycle of violence gets worse,” he said.
Mr Amosun was locked in fierce political battle with his political rivals in the run up to the 2019 elections. There were deadly attacks involving the use of deadly arms by political thugs during the contest, Mr Nwanze said.
No sacred cows
During an exchange with reporters on May 28 in Abeokuta, Mr Amosun said he personally managed a manifest of distributing the weapons to security agents and would have taken personal responsibility had any of them gone missing.
Yet, when PREMIUM TIMES reported that Ogun police commissioner, Bashir Makama, had informed Inspector-General Muhammad Adamu that at least 780 bullets were missing from the boxes Mr Amosun handed over to them, the former governor refused to comment or turn himself in to authorities.
In the June 27 memo, Mr Makama said Mr Amosun handed over 1,201 boxes, each holding 1,200 AK 47 bullets.
However, “one of the boxes was met opened and contains four hundred and twenty (420) rounds of live ammunition,” Mr Amosun said.
There were no immediate indications that Mr Amosun was ever questioned by the police since PREMIUM TIMES began reporting the arms scandal in June.
Abimbola Oyeyemi, Ogun State police spokesperson, told PREMIUM TIMES the command has no comments about fresh revelations that Mr Amosun did not have approval to import assault rifles and munitions.
“The former governor has not only lied but also breached the processes and procedures for importation of arms and ammunition,” Okechukwu Nwanguma, a security analyst and police reform expert, said. “He has simply engaged in arms smuggling and illegal possession and proliferation of firearms.”
Mr Nwanguma, who heads the Lagos-based Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN), said federal authorities should not only go after Mr Amosun for possible violations of extant firearms regulations but should also investigate the movement of all arms he admitted to importing without requisite approvals.
“Mr Amosun should be investigated and appropriately sanctioned as to ascertain the ends to which he has put those illegally imported arms and ammunition,” the security analyst said. “He clearly constitutes a threat to national security.”