THE Murtala Muhammed International Airport command of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) has impounded two civil model Bell helicopters which were imported into the country by unknown persons.
Although the helicopters were classified “civil”, authorities of the Nigeria Air Force said they were found to be configured for combat operations.
The two helicopters have been handed over to the Nigerian Air Force for the failure of the importers to come forward and produce end user certificate from the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA), in contravention of Section 36 (2) of the Customs and Excise Management Act.
Addressing journalists, on Friday, at the command’s office at the Lagos airport, the Customs Area Controller, Frank Allanah, disclosed that the duty paid value of the two helicopters and other accessories was N9,757,135,240.86.
According to Allanah, the helicopters were flown in as a consignment with Airway Bill Number 17232444403 into the country through the Murtala Muhammed International Airport.
The choppers, he said, were, however, detained at the Skyways Aviation Handling Company Limited (SAHCOL) shed pending fulfilment of all legal requirements for the importation.
Upon examination, the consignment was said to have been found to contain two civil models 412 EP of serial numbers 36608 and 36606 Bell helicopters, respectively, in standard configuration and 23 packages, said to contain their accessories weighing 11,475 kilogrammes.
“The unknown importer could not produce end user certificate from the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA), an act which contravenes Section 36 Sub section 2 of Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004. Consequently, a seizure was effected on November 7, 2016 in line with Section 46 of CEMA.”
Giving further insight into the seized choppers, he said all legal issues were considered before the Customs authorities carried out the exercise.
He said the chopper would be useful to the Nigerian Air Force in the fight against insurgency as the chopper were specially designed for such operations.
Speaking during the handing over of the choppers, the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, said the two choppers and their accessories would be taken to the Nigerian Air Force hangar at the Lagos Airport for full examination, in collaboration with Customs officials.
He described the handover as a milestone, because the configuration of the aircraft showed that they were fitted for combat operations.
He said the presidential approval for the release of the two helicopters to the Nigerian Air Force would assist in the fight against insurgency and internal security engagement.
Investigations, however, revealed that the two helicopters may have been imported by the Rivers State government in the twilight of former Governor Rotimi Amaechi’s administration.
But industry sources hinted that the transactions were not documented, making the Buhari administration to conclude that the importers were not known and that the choppers be handed over to the Nigerian Air Force.
An official of SAHCOL, who spoke unofficially, said he could say with a good measure of certainty that the choppers were imported by the Rivers State government.
He said the NCS reserved the right to seize any aircraft or imported item if the importer failed to show up for clearance and payment of necessary duty on the consignment.
He also disclosed that revenue totalling N55,505 ,499,945.35 was collected from January to December 2016 by a highly dedicated work force of the Customs Airport Command, surpassing the collection of 2015 which stood at N24,746,642,881.3.
The increase in revenue collection, he said, was N12.8 billion above the previous year despite decline in cargo throughput from 76.9 million tonnes in 2015 to 64.63 million tonnes in 2016.
The command, he hinted, had made several seizures of elephant tusks, foreign currencies and other items.