The arms intercepted at the Lagos Port steeped further into controversy yesterday as Iran said there was no clear evidence linking it to the shipment.
Iranâ€™s response contradicted the claim by an international shipping firm that the weapons originated from the country.
Israeli officials had on Thursday accused Iran of trying to sneak the shipment into the Hames-controlled Gazo strip. By unloading the weapons in Nigeria, the Israeli claim suggested Iran perhaps sought to truck the weapons through Africa to evade an embargo now in place in Gaza.
In Nigeria, the security forces intensified their investigations into the arms haul with the government reportedly summoning officials of countries linked to the incident to explain their linkage.
Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State asked the Federal Government to suspend importation from the country where the arms may have come while cardinal Olubunmi Okogie demanded the prosecution of the masterminds.
The Iranian ambassador to Nigeria, Hussein Abdullahi, disowning the arms shipment yesterday, said â€œthe different speculation doesnâ€™t have any clear sources. At this time, we canâ€™t judge on any of them,â€ Abdullahi told The Associated Press: â€œSometimes they blame India, sometimes they blame Iran, sometimes they say the arms are going to Nigeria, sometimes they say they are going to Gambia. Now, they claim they are going to the Gaza Strip.â€
FG summons envoys
Security sources told Sunday Vanguard, yesterday, that the office of the National Security Adviser had summoned some officials of key countries identified in intelligence report to come forward and explain their linkage with the intercepted arms.
Diplomatic sources confirmed that there had been invitation from the National Security Adviser, but it was a routine process of fact finding and collaboration on security matters as part of the global anti-terror war.
According to the sources, the arms could also have been for domestic use. A breakdown of the unit cost of the arms show that a rocket launcher goes for about $82,000 each while the mortars cost between $85,000 to $95,000 each.
A former Chief of the Defence Staff, who preferred anonymity, told Sunday Vanguard that the diplomatic shifting of blames must not distract the intelligence community from exploring the angle that the arms could have been imported into Nigeria for domestic use. â€œWe know that the projections by some western powers that Nigeria will disintegrate in 2013 is real; those behind the shipment have tried to exploit the often repeated porous state of the countryâ€™s borders but the war against terror has increased international collaboration in the flow of intelligence and security information which those who shipped the consignment seemed to have overlooked.
â€œWe must not allow propaganda of international politics to divert the attention of the investigators as we must do everything possible to get to the root. The placement of Nigeria on the global terror watch by the United States early this year was roundly criticised locally, but two security events in the month of our golden jubilee show that Nigeria has crossed the age of innocence in international politicsâ€.
Former governor of Ekiti State, Otunba Niyi Adebayo, told Sunday Vanguard that although it is relieving to hear that the arms were in transit, the claim must not divert the search light from the internal activities of groups that have become militant as the imported arms are not the type to be used for electoral violence but to levy war on the state or cause a forceful change of governmentâ€.
A senior research fellow at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) told Sunday Vanguard that the need to overhaul the entire security community in Nigeria is long over due as the global network of terror has seen that Nigeriaâ€™s security community can be easily caught napping, â€œWe know that a proposal is before President Goodluck Jonathan to tinker with the countryâ€™s security assets to make them more responsive to the needs of modern statehoodâ€
A source said the president is concerned that â€œthe state security apparatus has not been living up to its responsibility in stopping security threats to the state. â€œThere is something wrong with our intelligence gathering capabilities. A lot of blunders were committed before and after the Abuja bomb blasts. We had a repeat of what happened in Warri last March, when the Vanguard Post Amnesty Dialogue was bombed by MEND in a similar fashion. Yet, the president was misinformed about the situationâ€.
The source said the president is favourably disposed to the idea of creating a ministry to handle home land security as â€œdistinct from the encumbered Ministry of Interiorâ€. Such a ministry will co-ordinate the operations and activities of security and para- military outfits that deal with physical security matters. It will deal with the growing threats of terrorism and religious uprisings; this will leave the Police and the Civil Defence corps with the task of dealing with civil crimes. The proposed National Guard, according to the source, â€œwill be built around the experience and expertise of service personnel who retire when they are still in their active years. â€œWe need their experience and we know that it takes so much resources to train some of those who are made to leave the services because of political exigencies. The National Guard will make use of these retired service personnel who will be trained on how to handle security matters in a democratic eraâ€.
Sanction country of origin of shipment â€” Fashola
Meanwhile, Governor Fashola has asked the Federal Government to order immediate suspension of importation from the country of origin of the arms shipment.
The governor, who made the call during a visit to Apapa seaport where the seized arms and ammunition are being kept, said; â€œThis is a huge trading port, our port and the businesses that it brings in terms of export to other countries create international commercial benefit that must never be abuse against the safety of citizens.
â€œSo this is the time we should be finding out were this cargo originated from and summoning their diplomatic representative if we have not done so, this is where we should be considering whether or not we should suspend import from that country to send the strongest signal to every other countries that ship goods to Nigeria that our port are ports for development of the prosperity of Nigeria and Nigerians and not port for being agents of destructionâ€.
Prosecute importers â€“ Okogie
CATHOLIC Archbishop of Lagos, Anthony Cardinal Okogie, yesterday commended the nationâ€™s security agents for intercepting the weapons, describing the shipment as an act of illegality and criminality.
Addressing journalists in Lagos, the cardinal stressed the need for all Nigerians to be vigilant at this crucial moment of the nationâ€™s history, stating that the authorities should stop at nothing to unveil the importers of the deadly weapons at this point of the nationâ€™s political history.
â€œThe security of this country should be uppermost in our minds,â€ he said, adding that all hands must be on deck. â€œMore security measures should be put in place in this country. The security agencies should double up their efforts just the way they have done to intercept this ones at the ports.â€