Nigeria Seizes Massive Cache of Weapons Smuggled in Container from Turkey

arms seizure
Nigerian customs showing off the weapons seized at Port Harcourt's Onne Container Terminal (Nigerian Customs)

Published Jul 2, 2024 8:04 PM by The Maritime Executive


Customs officials in Nigeria seized a large cache of sophisticated illicit weapons hidden in a shipping container that originated from Turkey.  One of the largest seizures in the history of Port Harcourt, it comes as the West Africa nation is grappling with rising crime fueled by illegal arms trade.

Though the authorities did not reveal the identity of the ship that transported the 40 feet container, they said it was of interest following a tip from intelligence organizations fighting transnational crimes. Customs was able to follow the container’s as it moved across the continents until its arrival at Onne Port, which accounts for over 65 percent of Nigeria’s seaports export cargo.

Despite the importer paying $2.7 million duty for the container and trying to smuggle it out of the port through a private bonded terminal, officials managed to impound it on June 21. They conducted a search of the container finding the weapons hidden among other items like doors, furniture, plumbing fittings, and leather bags.

The Nigeria Customs Service put the chase on display on July 1 at the port. They reported seizing 844 guns including both rifles and shotguns as well as 112,500 rounds of ammunition.

“In connection with this, we have three suspects in our custody,” said Bashir Adewale Adeniyi, Comptroller-General of Customs. “Furthermore, a thorough investigation is ongoing to ensure all those involved face the full wrath of the law.”

The seizure at Port Harcourt Area II Command, Onne, is the latest in a growing series of confiscations as Africa’s most populous nation continues to grapple with the illegal arms trade. Earlier this year, in mid-March, Customs seized arms and weapons during a routine inspection of imported goods in Lagos while in January, Nigeria’s National Drug Law Enforcement Agency intercepted another shipment of arms in Lagos, along with 1,274 parcels of cocaine and other drugs.

Research by non-profit organizations like the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) show that Nigeria’s seaports and waterways have become hotspots for illicit firearms trade that is controlled by corrupt security personnel and businessmen. Between 2010 and 2017, a total of 21.5 million weapons and ammunition were shipped into Nigeria. The illegal weapons are reported going to kidnappers, armed robbers, petroleum pipeline vandals, urban militias, ethnic militias, and cultists, with data showing that in 2020, Nigeria had an estimated 6.2 million arms in the hands of civilians.

A March ISS study highlights that firearm importers and traffickers use different strategies and concealment methods to smuggle firearms through seaports. The primary method is falsification of import papers and merchandise declarations.