Named importers: Sheikh Ali Abbas Othman; Mr. Azimi Agajany; Mr. Sayed Akbar Tahmaesebi and Mal. Aliyu Oroje Wamakko.
Sheikh Ali Abbas Othman Hassan, better known in Nigerian activist Muslim circles as Sheikh Abbas Jega, was the man who facilitated the importation of the controversial arms consignment into Nigeria, Daily Trust learnt from top security sources in Abuja yesterday. It was Sheikh Abbas who issued invitations to the two Iranian businessmen who imported the arms to come to Nigeria and thus helped them to secure visas, the sources said. His name was also given on the shipping documents as the owner of the 13 containers in Nigeria. The Sheikh is currently in Tehran.
On the other hand, the two Iranian businessmen who actually arranged for the imports, Mr. Azimi Agajany and Mr. Sayed Akbar Tahmaesebi, Daily Trust learnt, are currently holed up in the Iranian Embassy in Abuja. They had arrived in Nigeria to facilitate the receiving and re-export of the weapons consignment and when Nigerian security agents seized the goods, they fled into the Embassy grounds, regarded in international law as sovereign Iranian territory.
Daily Trust also learnt that after the containers arrived at the Apapa Ports in July, an attempt was made to clear them by Malam Aliyu Oroje Wamakko, a retired Senior Inspector of Customs who is into goods clearing business. Wamakko is the only man currently being held by the State Security Service [SSS] in connection with the arms cargo, Daily Trust also learnt.
Daily Trust learnt that Sheikh Abbas, holder of a National Certificate of Education [NCE] from the Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, has been very active in Muslim activist circles since the mid-1980s. He first went to Iran on a student visa in the early 1990s and subsequently began to work for the Hausa Service of Radio Tehran, a work that he still does. The Sheikh, who is about 45 years old, also visits Nigeria regularly and delivers lecturers at various Muslim fora around the country. Daily Trust learnt from his associates that he occasionally imports some goods from Iran, notably ceramics and Islamic literature.
According to our sources, of the two Iranian businessmen now hiding in Abuja, the Foreign Ministry was able to confirm that Agajany obtained a visa from the Nigerian Embassy in Tehran upon Abbas’ recommendation, but it is believed that Tahmaesebi obtained his visa from another, yet to be determined embassy.
Daily Trust learnt that when the arms import scandal broke last week, Foreign Ministry officials in Abuja summoned the Iranian Ambassador to Nigeria and demanded that he hands over the two businessmen for questioning. Sources said although the ambassador did not deny that they were hiding in the embassy, he asked for three days from last Friday to consult with his government.
Daily Trust also learnt that the Iranian Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, who is currently on a tour of West African countries, arrived in Benin Republic from Ghana yesterday and could come to Nigeria this week to help break the impasse. Sources further said the Nigerian Ambassador to Iran, Alhaji Abubakar Chika Sarkin Yaki, has been in Nigeria trying to organise meetings of the Nigeria-Iran Joint Commission and is now working to solve the crisis.
According to security sources, the clearing agent Wamakko’s attempt to clear the goods from the Apapa Ports since its arrival in July was frustrated by the absence of two key papers: Form M and RAR, or Risk Assessment Report. When it became impossible to clear the goods, Wamakko and the Iranian businessmen applied for permission to re-export the goods to The Gambia. This ultimately led to the goods’ seizure and the discovery of the arms cache.
Wamakko, who is now being held by the SSS, retired from the Nigeria Customs Service in 2007 and promptly waded into politics, contesting for the Wamakko/Kware Federal house seat on the platform of the Democratic Peoples Party [DPP]. After losing the election, he went into goods clearing at the ports.
Daily Trust learnt from some security sources yesterday that the Israeli government’s claim that the weapons were meant for Hamas in the Gaza Strip was apparently true because Iran is the main weapons supplier to Hamas and the Lebanese Hezbollah groups through many secret channels. The sources also pointed out that the Iranian businessmen and Wamakko tried to take the consignment out of Nigeria.
Diplomatic sources told Daily Trust that the Federal Government was keen to resolve the developing crisis over the arms import because Nigeria and Iran have an important partnership, being co-members of OPEC, the G-8, the G-15, the Organisation of Islamic Conference [OIC] and the Non-Aligned Movement. However, the Foreign Ministry was insistent that the only way to avoid a row in relations is to allow the SSS access to Agajany and Tahmaesebi now holed up in the Iranian Embassy.
Associates of Sheikh Ali Abbas Othman told Daily Trust yesterday that he was in Nigeria for about a month earlier this year and that he was frequently seen with Wamakko, the clearing agent. The associates also told Daily Trust that Sheikh Abbas introduced many Iranians to the Nigerian Embassy in Tehran over the years for the purpose of acquiring visas and may not have known that the consignment contained weapons.
It will be recalled that on Tuesday last week, security agents in Lagos intercepted 13 containers that contained a variety of weapons, including rocket launchers and rockets. The containers, loaded in India, were brought to Apapa Port last July by the ship MV. The ship’s owners have since denied knowledge of the weapons inside the containers, saying they were delivered to it sealed. Israeli sources later told Associated Press that the weapons were from Iran and were meant for Hamas in the Gaza Strip.