The Nigerian government has confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that a former Ogun State governor, Ibikunle Amosun, did not get approval to import weapons into Nigeria.
Mr Amosun, a serving senator, requested and received approval for a duty waiver to import only 13 armoured personnel carriers for police operations in Ogun State in 2012, Ben Akabueze, the director-general, Budget Office of the Federation, told PREMIUM TIMES in a recent letter.
The federal government's confirmation has further debunked Mr Amosun's false claims, coming days after PREMIUM TIMES published exclusive documents exposing how the politician smuggled assault rifles and ammunition into Nigeria during his tenure as governor between 2011 and 2019.
The scandal was first exposed when PREMIUM TIMES reported in June that Mr Amosun surrendered 1,000 units of AK-47 rifles, millions of bullets, an armoured personnel carrier, bulletproof vests and helmets to the police in Abeokuta without evidence they were legally acquired.
Security sources who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES and provided tips about the handing over said the source of the weapons was highly suspicious.
Some of our sources said Mr Amosun had to be placed under intensive surveillance to prevent him from arming political thugs and other criminals with the weapons in the run up to the 2019 elections.
Still, the security agents, who spoke under strict anonymity to avoid being targeted for speaking with the media without permission, told PREMIUM TIMES they were baffled by how Mr Amosun was able to smuggle assault weapons on such a large scale undetected.
They also expressed fears that the former governor might have smuggled more arms into the country than he publicly declared and handed over to the police.
Amidst a nationwide outrage over the story in June, Mr Amosun posted a lengthy denial on his Twitter page, in a desperate attempt to weaken calls for his arrest and prosecution for illegal arms possession.
The PREMIUM TIMES story, he said, "represented everything but the true and factual accounts" of his suspicious handover of stockpiled weapons to federal authorities.
He then claimed he got an end-user certificate from the Office of the National Security Adviser and an import duty waiver from the Federal Ministry of Finance to bring in the weapons in 2012.
He revealed in the statement that he brought in 13 armoured personnel carriers, 1,000 AK-47 rifles, two million bullets, 1,000 bulletproof vests, 500 helmets and other items in 2012.
He said the equipment were imported to support the police in Ogun and that the one armoured personnel carrier he handed over on May 28, 2019 was the last of the 13 APCs that was stuck at the Lagos ports for many years.
Mr Amosun said all the 12 APCs and 1,000 AK-47 rifles he brought were handed over to the police years ago, but he kept the two million bullets and the last APC that arrived late in his own care until his last day in office.
No approval granted
But Mr Akabueze, in a response to a freedom of information request from PREMIUM TIMES last month, said Mr Amosun only asked for duty waiver to import 13 armoured personnel carriers and he was granted approval for it by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
"Having carefully reviewed your request, I wish to inform you that the request made by Sen. Ibikunle Amosun, the former Governor of Ogun State with the ref. BO/R.10260/S.4/T.4/22 dated 10th April 2012 was for (13 Nos.) thirteen Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) vehicles," the director-general wrote in an October 10 letter to PREMIUM TIMES.
DG Budget confirmation
The vehicles were meant for a joint military-police operation in Ogun State based on approval of Mr Jonathan in line with the provisions of Part 1, Item 11, (1) (a) of the Common External Tariff (CET) 2008-2012, Mr Akabueze added.
The government's response further established PREMIUM TIMES' reporting on Mr Amosun's disregard of arms movement regulations of the Office of the National Security Adviser, which prohibited the importation of AK-47 rifles and ammunition without an end-user certificate.
Also, the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act (1984) and the Firearms Act (1990) are amongst several Nigerian laws that outlawed possession of arms without requisite approvals.
Mr Amosun has continued to decline requests for comments. For nearly three weeks, PREMIUM TIMES has been calling him, sending text messages and letters to his office seeking comments, but he has yet to give a response.
The senator has also declined to comment on government's confirmation that he illegally imported assault rifles and ammunition.
But he has previously justified his importation of the arms as a necessary measure he took to combat crime in Ogun State in the early years of his administration. Frequent armed robbery attacks gripped Ijebu-Ode, Shagamu, Sango-Ota and other major settlements in the state at the time, forcing several banks to close their branches there.
Armed robberies reduced significantly in Mr Amosun's first term following deployment of the APCs, but other violent crimes like political thuggery, kidnapping and cross-border smuggling lingered.
Nigerians have been calling on federal authorities to show their independence and act on Mr Amosun's illegality in order to send a strong message that arms smuggling would not be tolerated at a time Nigeria is facing acute insecurity.
Law enforcement agencies have been reluctant to question Mr Amosun on the source of the weapons. It is unclear whether that has to do with his political ties to President Muhammadu Buhari.
But activists who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES said the politician cannot be a sacred cow in a country of nearly 200 million.
Ordinary Nigerians have been sentenced to lengthy jail terms for illegal possession of locally-made firearms, while Mr Amosun has not even been questioned for smuggling a large cache of AK-47, a semi-automatic rifle so powerful it was the first to be banned by the United States in 1989.
The police have also continued to ignore Mr Amosun even after their internal investigation indicted the former governor of failing to explain how some packets of bullets were found opened when he handed them over.
"Mr Amosun's scandal as exposed by PREMIUM TIMES could serve as a major test for the fairness and independence of law enforcement agencies," Kennedy Angbo, an Abuja-based social commentator and lawyer, told PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday.
"Authorities should be ruthless in investigating and prosecuting this matter because he is no longer a governor with immunity from prosecution."