A polygamous U.S. Navy veteran with a Top Secret security clearance was investigated by federal authorities for allegedly running guns to West Africa, according to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) search warrant affidavit obtained by The Daily Beast.
Adewale Ozioma Otaru, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Nigeria who served as a Seabee until May 2016, was arrested the following year in Niger—Nigeria’s northern neighbor—while “attempting to smuggle one Sterling Springfield SAR-XV AR-15 rifle with an ACOG Optic as well as a Glock 19 Generation 4 9mm pistol in his luggage,” the affidavit states.
After leaving the military, Otaru established a logistics and procurement company called El-Sahel Global Services International Ltd., which operated primarily on the African continent, according to the affidavit. It says Otaru put down roots in America and did contract work as a linguist for the Navy, but maintained a secret second life overseas.
“According to the Regional Security Officer at the American Embassy in Niger, Otaru is currently married to two women and has two children with one of them,” the affidavit states. “One resides at his residence in Ashburn, VA and the second wife resides in Nigeria. Otaru told his wife who resides in Ashburn that he [would] never return [to the U.S.], according to an interview that the RSO conducted with the Consular Officer at the American Embassy, Niger.”
Reached by phone on Thursday, Otaru told The Daily Beast that “it was a trumped-up charge they put against me.”
“Some people between the U.S. Embassy and the local authorities found it necessary to get me expelled out of [Niger], which they successfully did,” he said.
Otaru was never charged with a crime, according to court records.
When he was arrested at the airport in Niamey, Niger on Aug. 2, 2017, Otaru was with late Nigerien diplomat Mahaman Padonou, who had flown over with him, according to the affidavit. Otaru hadn’t declared the two firearms he had with him, nor had he obtained export licenses, a requirement on the U.S. side.
Upon arrival, Otaru and Padonou headed to the VIP arrivals building, where passengers “generally do not get flagged for inspection,” the affidavit explains. The two men claimed they met for the first time on the flight, according to the affidavit, but Otaru had paid for Padonou’s business class ticket, and the diplomat had listed Oyaru’s home address on his entry papers. Authorities were interested in Otaru at this point not for smuggling guns, but narcotics, and had flagged his name due to “flight patterns and finances matching a targeting profile of a suspected smuggler,” the affidavit states. He had also allegedly claimed on customs forms that he was a U.S. military captain and listed his local address as the U.S. Embassy in Niamey.
When cops searched Otaru’s bag and found the weapons, he was detained and questioned by the Regional Security Officer (RSO) assigned to the U.S. Embassy. Otaru claimed he had flown to the U.S. for a vacation to visit his family, and was bringing the firearms back to Niger for “protection,” according to the affidavit. He insisted he had filled out all the necessary paperwork. But Otaru’s U.S. family was in Niger at the time, claiming to be visiting him there, rendering his explanation for the trip to Virginia highly suspect, the affidavit continues.
A search of Otaru’s home in Niger turned up two fully loaded 30 round 5.56 magazines, “which he is suspected of stealing from the U.S. Military,” the affidavit goes on. Otaru claimed to the RSO that he used to arrange for range access for Special Forces soldiers, and he simply forgot to return the two magazines that had been left behind one day by soldiers.
“This claim conflicts with the fact that he still had regular contact with U.S. Military personnel,” the affidavit says.
The receipts Otaru had for the guns also appeared to be bogus which, the affidavit said, was “indicative of Otaru trying to resell the firearm overseas for a profit.”
On Thursday, Otaru disputed the version of events in the affidavit, telling The Daily Beast that he had properly checked in all of the weapons before flying to Niger from Dulles International. The RSO was out to get him, Otaru claimed, for reasons he wouldn’t disclose. Otaru was taken to a jail cell at police headquarters in Niamey, where he was held pending removal from Niger.
On Sept. 8, 2017, U.S. authorities in Niger interviewed one of Otaru’s two wives, who had traveled to the country three months earlier from Virginia, the affidavit says. The RSO told her that another woman had gone to see Otaru at the jail, and that she also claimed to be married to the man she was calling her husband.
“[Otaru’s U.S. wife] replied that she always suspected that [Otaru] was having an extramarital affair but could not believe that he would potentially marry another individual,” the affidavit states. She said Otaru is a Christian and that polygamy is not acceptable. “[Otaru’s U.S. wife] stated that she wanted to return with her two children to the United States but that she has no money.”
Otaru’s wife claimed not to know Padonou, but said he’s “very well connected,” according to the affidavit. She said Otaru’s “life is in Niger now,” and that he spent most of his time there.
Otaru was subsequently sent back to the U.S. and barred from returning to Niger. Today, he lives in North Carolina, he told The Daily Beast, referring on Thursday to his U.S. wife as his “ex-wife.”
“I have a lot of inconvenience traveling through the airport anytime I travel now,” he said. “But I’m back, doing my stuff here.”
Otaru claimed Niger’s interior-minister-turned-president, Mohamed Bazoum, is a close connection of his, and claimed he was the one who signed off on the permits to bring the guns into the country. Bazoum assumed the presidency in 2021, but was ousted by the Nigerien military in August.
“The guys who took over the government are military people I worked with in the past,” Otaru said. “They’re ready to make way for me to come back.”
Whether he eventually sets up again in Niger, or stays put in the U.S., is yet to be seen. And while the incident that got him barred from Niger is still affecting Otaru’s life, he has managed to move on.
“It’s all in the past,” Otaru said. “I’m in a better place today.”