Illegal arms: Nigeria steps up security

2010-10-29 22:25

Lagos - Nigeria has stepped up port security after the discovery of an illegal arms shipment, including rockets and grenades, an official said on Friday, with the find sparking concern months ahead of elections.

Security agents this week intercepted 13 containers from a ship at the country's busiest port of Apapa in Nigeria's economic hub of Lagos declared as building materials, after suspicions were raised.

An intelligence agency spokeswoman has said authorities were on heightened alert following October 01 twin car bombings in the capital that killed at least 12 people.

The ship's last port of call before arriving in Nigeria was India's Jawaharlal Nehru port near Mumbai, the customs service has said. The vessel berthed in the Nigerian port on July 10 and sailed out on July 15, and the containers have been awaiting customs clearance since.

Ten of the containers opened so far contain an array of weaponry, a customs spokesperson said.

"Certainly security at the ports has been beefed up and we are trying to move up ahead ... and tighten our own systems to block such shipments," Nigerian customs spokesperson Wale Adeniyi said.

Regarding paperwork for the shipment that contained the weapons, Adeniyi said "the documents were irregular... and we felt that the names given on them were false".

Precise quantities of the weapons will be known after all the containers are opened, he said.

So far, the 10 examined contained "similar contents - mortars, grenades, light ammunition and of course tiles", said Adeniyi.

Fresh concerns

Two people have reportedly been arrested in connection with the cargo, but security officials have not confirmed the reports.

The origins of the shipment remain unclear. The vessel that discharged the containers was the CMA-CGM Everest, according to the customs service.

The Marshall Islands-flagged vessel, operated by French shipping firm CMA-CGM, is deployed to ply the Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf and West African routes, according to the company's website.

Authorities have publicly refused to speculate on the origins or destination of the shipment.

Illegal weapons are widespread in Nigeria, and the discovery has sparked fresh concerns with presidential elections set to be held early next year. Ballots have frequently been tainted by violence in the oil-rich nation.

Militants in the Niger Delta, the country's main oil-producing region, have carried out scores of attacks there in recent years.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the country's most prominent militant group, claimed the October 1 car bombings.

A series of attacks have also been carried out by suspected members of an Islamist sect, known as Boko Haram, in the country's north in recent months.