This Day (Lagos)

Nigeria: Arms Importation - Court Rejects Iran's Contract Document

A Federal High Court in Lagos, Monday rejected a contract document sought to be tendered in evidence by counsel on behalf of two accused charged with unlawful importation of firearms to Nigeria.

The accused, Azim Aghajani (Iranian), and Ali Jega (Nigerian), are standing trial on a five-count charge of unlawful importation of firearms and explosives to Nigeria.

Defence counsel, Mr Chris Uche (SAN), had sought to tender the document as proof of an alleged contract agreement between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Gambia.

Uche, who opened the case of the defence Monday, led its first witness in evidence.

The witness, an official of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Bavharan Mohsen, had told the court that the importation of the firearms was reached by an agreement between two sovereign nations, Iran and Gambia and was evident by a contract agreement to that effect.

He said that the arms were meant to be transported to the Gambia government for use by their military, but was only shipped through Nigeria as a transit point, since there was no direct port from Iran to Gambia.

"It is very rare to find a ship in the ports in Iran going directly to Gambia. Therefore, you will need a port of transit between Iran and Gambia," he said.

Mohsen who admitted that the content of the container was concealed in their bill of lading, told the court that the items were so concealed, because they were at risk of loosing them to pirates and terrorist, who confiscates such ammunitions at sea.

The defence counsel had sought to tender the contract document as evidence of the transaction, between the two countries, but was strongly opposed by the prosecution.

Objecting to the admissibility of the document, Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Mrs Fumilayo Fatunde, argued that the alleged contract document between the two nations does not bear the signature and seal of either nations.

She said the learned counsel for the defence had only sought to tender the document which served as a mere presumption that such agreement existed between the two countries.

"Although a letter of authorisation, allows a witness to testify on behalf of a country before the court on certain documents, but not this type of document.

"Under section 149 of the Evidence Act, presumption does not come into play unless and until parties ratify that this document would be admissible in their country of origin without proof of seal and signature authenticating it.

"There is no such proof of authenticity before my lord and as such, my lord is not in a position to accept this presumption. I urge my lord to reject this document in its entirety." she said.

Ruling against admissibility of the document, Okeke said that the document was not relevant in the case as it showed that the agreement was between two companies in Iran and Gambia, and not between the government of the two nations.

"The document sought to be tendered by defence counsel, represents an agreement made between two companies existing in Iran and Gambia, on arms deal for the military.

"It is my view that these document is not relevant to this case and so, it is hereby dismissed," the judge ruled.

Okeke therefore adjourned the case to Nov. 23 for continuation of trial.

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