Claim: A set of 661 pump action rifles donated by the French government and destined for Boko Haram terrorist camps was intercepted by the Nigeria Customs Service.
False. The pictures date back to 2017 and there is no part about the Customs’ official statement linking the weapons to either France or Boko Haram.
A Twitter account, LA America (@LavinyAsocUSA), on Tuesday shared two pictures of firearms. It claimed that they are weapons funded by France and planned to be acquired by Boko Haram terrorists.
“Container full of weapons held by Nigeria’s customs office destined for Boko Haram by France. Weapons intercepted by Nigeria customs for Boko Haram supplied by France, concealed in a container with the name of an NGO,” the account wrote.
A similar claim was made the previous day, January 4, by a different Twitter user.
“Ammunition from France concealed in containers with food said to be meant for IDPs in Borno State. Some Customs officials insisted on a thorough check and they found arms and ammunition concealed for humanitarian aid delivery,” Yusha Abdul (@yusha_abdul) wrote in a tweet where he attached an additional picture of the scene.
“Boko Haram is not about Islam or Muslims and it doesn’t represent either. It is more of economics and politics. May God continue to expose them and make our country safe. Amin.”
Abdul has over 12,100 followers on the microblogging platform. His tweet was liked by 45 people and shared a total of 37 times as of midday, January 6.
Many of those who interacted with the post believed the claim.
“We believe France and other humanitarian workers help insurgency and terrorism in Nigeria and other West African countries. Last month more than 150 Niger military men were killed and Niger government suspecting France of masterminding the attack. So we must stop them,” one person commented.
Another wrote in a quote retweet, “France is one of our major problems in Nigeria And Africa. We cannot divorce our security challenges from the French and the United States. But when we explain, politically ignorant people call us conspiratorial theorists.”
It is not the first time this claim would be spread on social media. In December 2019, the Global Pan-Africanism Network (GPAN) shared the same set of three pictures and blamed France for attempting to send the firearms to the Boko Haram terrorist group.
“Weapons arrested by the customs of Nigeria destined for Boko Haram provided by France, hidden in a container with the name of an NGO,” the organisation’s Twitter account wrote. The tweet was liked by 472 users of the platform and shared over 380 times.
Around the same period, Savn Daniel (@savndaniel) shared a now-deleted tweet with the same pictures and claim.
The claim has also circulated in French among nationals of Mali but was slightly edited to say the weapons were bound for Kidal in northern Mali. According to other claims, the weapons were seized in Ivory Coast or Burkina Faso.
A reverse image search done using TinEye revealed that the pictures date back to May 23, 2017. One of the earliest publications containing the pictures is a report by Legit Newspaper, which stated that a container loaded with arms was intercepted by officers of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) in Lagos.
In a post shared through its verified Facebook account on the same day, NCS shared five pictures of the interception, which it said was of 440 pump action rifles and other items concealed with POP cement. This contradicts Yusha Abdul’s claim that the firearms were kept inside foodstuff.
Seized items from the truck included 100 pieces of Black Tornado single barrel rifles, 75 pieces of silver magnum single barrel rifles, 50 pieces of alter pump action rifles, 215 pieces of black single barrel rifles, 516 50kg bags of POP (Plaster of Paris) cement, and so on.
“Answering questions from the media on the circumstance surrounding the seizure, the Customs Area Controller hinted that the importer declared the consignment as Antisera and Cannule (chemical formula),” the NCS said in its statement.
“Speaking further on the status of the seizure, the Customs Area Controller stated that investigation is still ongoing with a view to unravelling those behind the importation and that further profiling of the importer will be carried out to get other details.”
The government agency further revealed that it had arrested one person in connection with the illegal importation and stated that the guns originated from Turkey.
Earlier and later that year, other batches of 661 and 1,100 pump action rifles were similarly imported from Turkey through false declaration.
The NCS neither linked the firearms to the French government nor Boko Haram.
Five of the smugglers responsible for importing 661 in January 2017, Mahmud Hassan, Oscar Okafor, Donatus Achinulo, Matthew Okoye, said to be at large, and Salihu Danjuma, were charged with conspiracy, importation of prohibited firearms, forgery, altering of documents, and bribery.
They were not charged under the 2011 Terrorism Prevention Act which prohibits support for terrorist organisations, including “the offer of material assistance, weapons, including chemical or nuclear weapons, explosives, transportation, false documentation or identification.”
The rifles and other seized objects were shipped from Turkey and not France, and there is no evidence suggesting that they were intended for Boko Haram terrorists.