Six Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles brought into Nigeria from Cameroon were intercepted by soldiers manning a checkpoint at Konkol, a border between Nigeria and Cameroon in Maiha Local Government Area of Adamawa State.
Though sources said the fighting equipment were meant to be delivered to the Nigerien authorities, security and civilian authorities in Cameroon and Nigeria have declined to comment on the actual owner of the equipment; or why those in charge of the shipment decided to pass through the Nigerian soil for onward delivery to Niger.
Some sources said the armoured vehicles belonged to Nigerien government; while others said they belonged to the Cameroonian authorities. Others said the vehicles belonged to the United States (US).
However, when the story of the interception became public, the commander of 23 Armoured Brigade, S.G. Mohammed, on Saturday, handed over the vehicles to the Comptroller of Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) in charge of Adamawa and Taraba states, Olumoh Kamaldeen, at a brief ceremony in Konkol.
A press conference called by the Customs service in Adamawa State yesterday in Yola, the capital with a view to giving details on the vehicles, was suddenly shelved, with sources saying everything about the matter had been transferred to Abuja.
Kamaldeen neither answered his calls nor responded to text message from our reporter last night.
More investigations ongoing
But the Daily Trust leant yesterday that the Customs service had launched further investigation into the matter.
The Public Relations Officer (PRO) of NCS, Deputy Comptroller Joseph Attah, confirmed to Daily Trust yesterday that the Comptroller General of Customs (CGC), Col. Hameed Ali (rtd) directed further investigation into the issue.
He said: “It is true that six mine resistant, all-terrain military vehicles were impounded at Konkol, Maiha Local Government Area of Adamawa State. They were impounded by a team comprising the army, DSS, and the Customs. They have been kept in the custody of the army, that is the military; but now the military has handed them over officially to the Customs.”
He also revealed that the drivers conveying the military hardware had been taken into custody.
“From the detail we got from the drivers of these six vehicles who are also with the Customs, they claimed that they were supposed to pass through Nigeria on transit.
“They had to be impounded because there was no paper documentation. If you have to pass through a country on transit, you have to do paper documentation and, in this case, there was no clear documentation,” Attah said.
But a top source in Abuja told the Daily Trust that the vehicles were a gift to the Nigerien military by the US government.
The source recalled that the US had sometimes ago donated similar fighting vehicles to the Nigerian government.
It was further learnt that all documentation between the Nigerian government and US officials to allow the vehicles to travel through Nigeria were done.
According to the source, US officials were surprised about the interception and subsequent impounding of the equipment.
The source blamed the incident on “avoidable gap in communication occasioned by lack of sharing of information among Nigeria security agencies.”
The source expressed confidence that the equipment would be released for delivery to the Nigerien military soon.
Other sources wondered why the Nigerian authorities had not made public its finding in relation to the intercepted equipment.
Another security officer involved in the operation said the military equipment were intercepted following an information obtained by the DSS that suspicious consignment of heavy weaponry was approaching the Nigerian border.
“The DSS quickly informed its headquarters in Abuja and coordinated with other security agencies. So, we got wind of the situation beforehand,” he said.
According to the source, “As soon as the equipment was ferried across the border, we asked for relevant papers which were not provided. We realized that Niger violated the procedures,” he said.
One of the soldiers that escorted the vehicles from Jamtari village at the Nigeria-Cameroon border to Yola, the capital of Adamawa State said the vehicles were imported to Cameroon from the US and were on transit to an American military base Niger Republic.
The military source added that the heavy-duty trucks carrying the armoured vehicles and the drivers were hired from Nigeria.
Meanwhile, a former councillor in the area who represented Belel ward in Maiha Local Government Council, Dauda Abubakar said residents gathered to watch the controversial weapons after the seizure at the Nigerian border in Jamtari village, adding that the vehicles were then moved to the military base in Konkol where they were kept for about two weeks.
“People were not frightened because the military vehicles did not roll into the area but were being carried on trucks. So, there was no rumour of attack,” he said.
“The trucks were able to cross through the shallow river in to the village because it did not rain for some days. Rainy season makes transportation very difficult in Maiha area. All the bridges have broken down.
Sometimes, it takes six hours to cover a distance of eighty kilometres. Federal government had been promising to fix the bridges since 1999,” he said.
But another source said the equipment were being taken to Niger at the instance of the Cameroonian authorities.
“Beside the issue of Multi National Joint Task Force (MNJF) which has Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger as participants on one hand, Cameroon and Niger have another relationship that binds them together,” the source said.
“It was based on that relationship that Cameroonian authorities gifted Niger the equipment to help it beef up its fighting capacity.
“And I want to assure you that no protocol was breached, the higher authorities in the three countries are aware of the movement, but the fact is there was gap in communication among Nigeria’s top echelon on one hand and the various security operatives in the boarder including the military and Customs operatives.
“If the military leadership in Adamawa had been alerted from Abuja, nobody would have heard of the movement of the equipment.
“Again, if really the equipment were being illegally transported through the Nigerian soil, the military will not hand them over to the Customs; they will not,” he said.
‘Similar MRAPS procured by Jonathan’
Daily Trust was also told yesterday that similar MRAPS were procured by the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan at the height of the Boko Haram crisis in 2014.
Though not all the MRAPS had been delivered, the few that arrived were used in reclaiming local governments under the control of the Boko Haram ahead of the 2015 general elections.
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