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Illegal Firearms: #End SARS: Protests Frustrate Suspects' Appearance In Court


The continued trial of defendants who were standing trial over illegal importation of firearms into the country, before Justice Ayokunle Faji of a Lagos Federal High Court, was on Friday truncated due to non production of the suspects, owing to ongoing end SARS protest.

The defendants in the alleged illegal firearms importation are: a Retired Customs Officer, Muhmud Hassan, his company, Hassan Muhmud Trading Company: Saliu Abudulahi Danjuma, and Donatus Ezebunwa.

The defendants were charged before the court on a nine-count charge of conspiracy, illegal importation of 661 pump action rifles; offering bribes to government officials, forgery and altering of documents.

The offences according to the prosecutor, Julius Ajakaiye, a Deputy Director in the Federal Ministry of Justice, are contrary to and punishable under sections 3(6),1(14)(a)(I) 1(2) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act Cap. M17, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, and section 98(1) (b) of the Criminal Code Act.

It would be recalled that the prosecution had closed its case against the defendants, while they opted to file no case submissions.

In his ruling, Justice Ayokunle had dismissed all the defendants' no case submissions, except that of Donatus Ezebunwa, who has been accordingly discharged and acquitted by the court, while others were ordered to open their defence on the charges against them, a decision which was also upheld by the Court of Appeal sitting in Igbosere, Lagos.

The first defendant, Mahmud Hassan had opened  and closed his defence on the charges, while the matter was adjourned till yesterday (Friday), for his cross examination by the prosecution.

However, while counsel for both prosecution and defence were in court yesterday, all the defendants were nowhere to be found. 

But upon enquiry from the prison officials who were in court, they responded they don't want to take risk of being hijacked by the #end SARS protesters.

The prison officials' response was communicated to the court by the prosecutor and defendants' counsel, and they consequently sought for adjournment, which was granted by the court.

The case was consequently adjourned until Monday, October 19, 2020.

All the accused persons except Matthew Okoye, who is said to be at large, were first arraigned before the court on June 14, 2017, on the offences. 

They had all pleaded not guilty to the charge, but the court while citing plethora of authorities concluded that 'the charges against the defendants bothers on national security', dismissed their bail applications and ordered that they be remanded in the custody of the Nigerian Correctional Services.

During the trial of the charges, the prosecutor, Ajakaiye called nine witnesses, who told the court the roles played in arresting the alleged arms smugglers, as well as tendered several exhibits, which were marked as exhibits 'A to R'.

Specifically, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and the Minister of Justice had in a charge designated  FHC/L/190c/17, alleged that all the accused persons conspired with one another to illegally import into Nigeria 661 Pump Action Rifles.

They were also alleged to have forged the documents which includes: two Bill of Ladings, one reads 'Shanghai China', as Port of Loading, instead of 'Istanbul', and another one which reads: 'Steel Doors', as the contents of the container instead oIm Customs' Form M, Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) used in smuggling the said 661 rifles Into the country.

In particular, the Customs Official, Mahmud Hassan, was alleged to have corruptly offered the sum of N400, 000.00, to one Aliu Musa, the Examination Officer of the Federal Operations Unit of the Customs Service with an intent to prevent hundred percent search on a container marked PONU 825914/3, which was used in bringing into the country the said arms.

Mahmud Hassan was also alleged to have corruptly given the sum of N1 million to government officials at Apapa Port, through his colleague, Danjuma Abdulahi, in order to prevent the searching of the said container used in bringing in the 661 illegally imported Pump Action riffles.

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