Monday, 22 September 2014

The $9.3m arms scam in S-Africa

Still fresh and trending is the recent report that South African authorities held two Nigerians and an Israeli, who had attempted to smuggle $9.3 million in cash into the country early this month. The private jet (a bombadier Challenger 600 with a Nigerian crew) that conveyed the hard currency reportedly departed from Abuja, the Nigerian capital. On arrival at South Africa’s Lanseria Airport, northwest of Johannesburg,
suspicious Customs officers searched the luggage of the visitors and found the raw cash and seized it, discountenancing claims by the suspects that the money was for the purchase of arms for Nigeria’s security services. South African Revenue Service officials claimed the $9.3 million was detained because it was undeclared, and more importantly, it was above the prescribed legal limit. The South African officials also said the National Conventional Arms Control Committee, which approves the import and export of weapons, as well as issues permits for such transactions, was not aware of any application from Nigeria for such.
Shortly after the incident was exposed, however, it was reported that the Federal Government opened diplomatic talks with South Africa in an attempt to resolve the controversy. The FG, it was stated, released data and documents related to the transaction to the South African authorities. Sadly, however, not quite long after, it was again reported that a South African court had approved the seizure of the $9.3m; and that FG’s explanation that the money was meant for the purchase of arms for Nigerian intelligence agencies was rejected by South Africa’s Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) and the National Prosecuting Authority of South Africa (NPA). The NPA was quoted as saying that the company ‘Tier One Services Group’, which the Nigerian government claimed it wanted to procure the arms from, was not authorised to sell or rent military hardware.
Coming on the heels of President Goodluck Jonathan’s request for a $1 billion loan to upgrade the equipment, training and logistic needs of Nigeria’s Armed Forces and security services to enable them be more forceful in confronting the serious threat of insurgency dogging the nation, the handling of the purported South Africa arms purchase deal is a huge national embarrassment. It is obvious that most official arms deals all over the world are done in the dark; and that most countries indulge in it because of the secretive nature of security and intelligence management worldwide. But it is on rare occasions that such deals are exposed to the point of suspicion as the Nigeria-South Africa case has now turned out. It is quite clear that there were worrisome communication and procedural failures on this arms deal that has gone bust.
Indeed, for a country like Nigeria, which preaches a cashless policy, all legitimate processes involved in the procurement of arms and the remittance of funds ought to have been strictly adhered to, considering the all-important use the arms would have been put to had it been procured. Many are already voicing their reservations concerning how the $1b loan Jonathan is seeking would be spent with the suspicion now trailing the seized $9.3 m. The impression which the Nigerian government is creating of late, that it can carry hard currency about to any corner of the earth without due process, is unacceptable. We recall that during the recent World Cup fiesta, the FG also flew over $3.5m to the Super Eagles in Brazil to settle the players’ World Cup appearance fees.
Besides, the use of a private jet linked to Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), to convey the cash, is already being misinterpreted by the opposition, rightly or wrongly. In a secular state like ours, with several aircraft in the presidential fleet and with an air force in place, using an aircraft such as the one described becomes easily being misconstrued. This is a tactical blunder by all involved in the deal. We, therefore, support all efforts by the National Assembly to investigate the ramifications of the deal with a view to unearthing what truly transpired and the roles played by all interested parties – from the Central Bank of Nigeria to aviation sector agencies, armed forces and the intelligence services. Perhaps more importantly, no effort should be spared in ensuring that the confiscated $9.3m is returned to the nation’s coffers. The FG should be more circumspect before getting involved in such deals in the future.

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