Nigerian National Union of Customs Officers have denounced the request of the Nigerian authorities to return the seized 4.6m Euros (N1.05bn) cash found on a fleeing money launderer Diori Hamani Airport in Niamey, the capital of Niger, en route Dubai in the United Arab Emirate.
The Nigerien police had said that they suspected that the man was fleeing with the money in order to avoid being caught by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, who has been prosecuting an anti-corruption campaign since assumption of office on May 29.
They also expressed worry that there had been an upsurge in the number of Nigerians trafficking huge sums of money in cash through the neighbouring country.
The police in Niger are already working on the suspicion that the money traffickers have accomplices in the country.
The arrest of the Nigerian has been a big news item in the Nigerien newspapers and television stations.
Curiously the authorities here on Wednesday claimed ignorance of the money seizure in the neighbouring country though the Customs officers in Niger were already kicking against repatriating the cash to Nigeria.
Kicking against the return of the money to Nigeria, the National Union of Customs Officers at a press briefing “denounced the request of the Nigerian authorities” to return the seized money.
The Customs official said there had been several similar seizures in Niamey from people trafficking money from Nigeria, putting the amount that had been so seized in several billions of naira.
They said the seized money had been mainly in dollars, euros and pounds sterling, asking the Niger authorities to allow the Customs officials to do their job without interference.
When contacted, the Senior Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, said he could not speak on the development because his brief was to speak for the President.
He therefore referred one of our correspondents to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“I speak for the President. On this kind of issues, I will advice that you speak with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” he said.
At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the officials denied knowledge of the seizure in Niger Republic. The ministry’s spokesperson, Ogbole Ahmedu-Ode, said the ministry had not received official communication on the arrest of any Nigerian.
“I am hearing about this incident for the first time from you, we have not received any communication on the matter from any quarters,” he said over the telephone.
Calls to the Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Immigration Service, Emeka Obua, did not elicit any response.
He also did not respond to text messages to his mobile telephone on the issue.
The Nigerien embassy in Abuja could not be reached for comment on Wednesday as calls to the mission’s phone lines failed to connect.
The spokesman for the Nigerian Customs Service, Mr Wale Adeniyi could not be reached for comments as text message and repeated calls made to his mobile line were not replied as of the time (8.30pm) of filling this report.
But a senior official of the Service told one of our correspondents in confidence that the issue had yet to be brought to the attention of the agency.
The official said since the matter was a diplomatic issue, there were protocols that must be adhered to before the customs could step in.
The official said, “As we speak now, the matter hasn’t been drawn to our attention. This is a diplomatic matter that has to be treated with caution in order to avoid diplomatic row between both countries.
“The identity of the person in question has not been established and it is the Nigerian embassy in Niger that would verify that.
“After that is done, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be notified before other security agencies would be invited on the matter.
“So, it is not something that the Customs will jump into and start investigating because the Customs in Niger don’t report directly to us in Nigeria.”