This Day (Lagos)

17 February 2013

Nigeria: Calling the Russian Bluff

editorial

Photo: Leadership
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The Russians are being held for economic sabotage. They should be put on trial

The tough talking by Russia over the detention of some of her nationals in Nigeria for their alleged involvement in economic sabotage and other crimes should be seen for what it is: mere hot air or plain blackmail. In a statement issued from its embassy in Abuja, the Russian foreign ministry said Moscow was determined to use all available political and diplomatic measures to secure the release of "our compatriots who got into trouble through no fault of their own".

We might need to put the issue in perspective for a proper appreciation of our view that the Russians are just bluffing. The "compatriots" who the Russian Foreign Ministry spoke about are the same 15 sailors arrested in Nigeria's territorial waters on October 19, 2012, over allegation of oil bunkering and arms smuggling through a Russian vessel Myre Seadiver. The vessel, which departed from the port of Toliara Madagascar en route Conakry in Guinea, was intercepted on Nigerian waters with about 14 assorted AK47 rifles, 3,643 rounds of ammunition and 20 Benelli MRI barrel rifles with 4,955 rounds of ammunition. The Russians had been in custody of the Nigerian Navy since their arrest, but have only recently been handed over to the Police for prosecution, a development which provoked their home government.

While we recognise and respect the legitimate right of the Russian government to press for the release of their nationals, they, at the same time, ought to understand that these nationals were being investigated for very serious offences. Although the sailors claimed the arms and ammunition found in the ship were for "self-defence" they still have a question to answer for not properly declaring them in accordance with standard diplomatic procedure. Furthermore, it is said that the MV Seadiver does not have the requisite papers to enter Nigerian waters, thus making their entry illegal.

Any person smuggling arms into Nigeria breaches the law and should be treated with the gravity it deserves as a national security issue. Presently Nigeria loses over 400,000 barrels of crude oil per day representing an estimated US$5 billion (equivalent of N780 billion) annually, through the criminal activities of illegal bunkerers and their collaborators. We fully support the Nigerian government's declaration of war against those, including Nigerians and their foreign cohorts, who want to harm our economy.

We recall that this is not the first time Russia's nationals have been found to be involved in this criminal enterprise. In 2004, 13 Russians were arraigned before a Federal High Court in Lagos for alleged illegal bunkering. During that trial a bail application brought by the Russians was quashed by the court presided over by Justice Gloria Okeke, who had upheld objections by the prosecution that the accused were foreigners and of no fixed address within Nigeria, and as such, could jump bail.

When foreigners are arrested on criminal charges outside their home country, international law stipulates that the offenders be tried in the country where the alleged crime was committed. Such had been the lot of many our nationals who are currently in jail in various parts of world. We therefore do not see any need for a diplomatic row over the detention of MV Seadiver and its 15 crew members. What the Nigeria authority should do is to hasten the ongoing investigations and thereafter have the men arraigned for trial which must also be speedy and transparent. The Police should also grant the suspects consular access and legal representation.

These are the minimum entitlements which must not be denied the sailors. Anything else the Russian government may demand would amount to interference with the nation's judicial process. Nigeria must not succumb to any attempt to brow-beat her to early release of the 15 sailors and their ship. Let the law take its course.

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InFocus

Nigeria Charges Russian Gun Smugglers

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Fifteen Russians who appeared in court for allegedly smuggling guns and ammunition will remain in custody until their bail applications have been finalised. Read more »