Iran′s Aghajani convicted over illegal arms in Nigeria | Africa | DW | 13.05.2013
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Iran's Aghajani convicted over illegal arms in Nigeria

An Iranian, along with his Nigerian co-accused, have each been sentenced to five years jail for illegally shipping arms to Nigeria. Having already been held in custody for two years, the men will be released in 2016.

Many Nigerians hailed the Federal High Court's decision on Monday (13.05.2013) to hand down five year jail terms to Azim Aghajani, a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and his Nigerian co-accused, Usman Abbas Jega.

Commenting on the court's ruling, DW's correspondent in Abuja, Ben Adam Shemang, said many Nigerians think the verdict shows that the government, through the Federal High Court, has reached a proper decision. Otherwise, he added, those 13 containers full of weaponry, which were seized in 2010 at the country's main port, would have been used against Nigerians.

Aghajani and Jega were arrested while attempting to smuggle 13 containers full of military grade weapons such as 107 mm mortars, rifle rounds and other weapons into Nigeria.

The final destination of the shipment is said to be The Gambia, a claim officials there dismissed. Diplomatic ties between The Gambia and Iran were immediately cut as a result of the dispute.

At an international level, various leaders voiced their concern about whether Iran, by shipping such a large amount of weaponry, had violated United Nations sanctions against them pertaining to the sale of weapons.

Containers in a ship with crains above them © Tran-Photography -

Aghajani and Jega were arrested while trying to ship 13 containers of weapons into Nigeria

Tensions also mounted in West Africa with government's accusing Iran of trying to deliver weapons to militants in the region.

Mixed reactions to the ruling

"I now pronounce them guilty as charged," said Judge Okechukwu Okeke, as he handed down the five-year sentences to the two men.

"In sentencing the accused, I have take into consideration the plea for mercy by the defence, but the law has to take its course," he added.

Following the ruling, law experts said that, due to the significance and scale of the illegal shipment, the maximum penalty the court could and should have granted would be a life sentence.

The judge was moved, he said, to grant a much lesser sentence, commenting during his findings that the significantly lesser punishment was given because of "what the two men had endured during the past two years in detention."

With time already spent in custody deducted from their sentences, Aghajani and Jega will remain in jail for another three years. They will be eligible for release in 2016.

Although some Nigerians are happy with the judgment, some analysts were shocked by the light jail terms granted to the men. Jiti Ogunye, a Lagos-based lawyer and legal commentator, is not happy with the way the Nigerian criminal justice system handled the case.

"Given how the case was going and the avalanche of evidence...everybody was expecting a conviction with a heavy sentence," Ogunye said.

While Prosecutor O.O. Fatunde declined to comment on the verdict, defense lawyer Chris Uche, who represented Aghajani, said prosecutors failed to prove the case against his client.

"I strongly feel that a lot of pressure from the international community has influenced the way this case has gone on," Uche told journalists following the ruling.

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