Sour tales of Customs’ raid on markets, communities
Ongoing campaign by personnel of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to combat smuggling, has suddenly assumed a more dangerous dimension, wrecking businesses and leading to loss of lives.
Every outing by the Customs personnel often left in its trail anguish as both smugglers and innocent victims are not spared, as stray bullets have brought down many victims.
On several occasions, Customs officials have been accused by border communities of being responsible for extra-judicial killings recorded in their domains. The affected communities are Ilashe, Ajegunle, Ihunbo, Ogosa, Ajilete and Owode, all located along the Idiroko road.
Their onslaught against traders and private car owners in the last two weeks has left in its trail sorrow and pain. For instance, Sango rice sellers whose over 18,000 bags were carted away on Wednesday, February 22, 2017, when Customs officials invaded their market in the night, are yet to come out of trauma.
Angered by the action that left them inconsolably indebted, they staged a protest on the Lagos/Abeokuta Expressway, hampering both human and vehicular movement for several hours.
The intervention of the Area Commander of the Sango Police Command, Fayoade Adegoke and pleas from the Ado/Odo-Ota Local Government Chairman, Prince Oladele Adeniji did not calm the aggrieved traders.
Though, men of the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) of NCS claimed they confiscated 1,870 bags of rice and 43 kegs of vegetable oil, one of the victims, Nimotalai Ayinde said over 18,000 bags were carted away. She added that contrary to Customs claim that their officials impounded seven truckloads of rice, they actually went away with 15 trucks.
“You are a journalist, is their action justifiable? Tell me if what they have done is normal. Where on earth would someone invade markets to seize goods that had passed through the border? We have lost goods worth several millions of naira and we don’t know how we are going to recover it. Justice must prevail because we don’t know where to start again,” she said.
Barely 24 hours after this, despite of the criticisms that trailed the Sango invasion, the officials reportedly invaded another rice market in Alaba area of Lagos State. Unlike in Sango, they were resisted from carting away the goods. The scuffle took several hours, but they failed in their bid.
Their operation however, took a tragic dimension last Wednesday, when the officials from Ogun State unit chased a man suspected to be a smuggler on the Sagamu-Abeokuta express road, leading to his death and that of three innocent people.
It was learnt that the smuggler, Saubana Onila, who drove a Mazda 626 loaded with 25 bags of rice, was in a convoy of other cars. The convoy was allegedly flagged down by men of customs, but the drivers, including Onila refused to stop, forcing the operatives to chase them. They reportedly opened fire on Onila’s car and he lost control of the vehicle and hit a Toyota Camry, conveying three occupants.
Before now, the operatives have allegedly killed, maimed and render homeless many people. On Monday, February 23, 2015, four innocent traders were allegedly killed by officials of Customs at the popular Sango Motor Park, while pursuing smugglers. Also, in 2015, a commercial motorcyclist was hit in Onigbedu area of Ewekoro Local Government, when Customs officials were on the trail of smugglers.
Mrs Oyinlola Gabriel, who condemned the development, said her goods worth N700, 000 were seized last year when the officers invaded her shop around Meiran area and took hundreds of bags of rice away.
She called on government to do something very urgent, warning that rice traders would be forced to acquire arms to protect themselves, as the action of customs have rendered several people hopeless.
Mr. Sulaimon Oyetunde, an engineer, who claimed to have experienced Customs officers in action, said government needs to control their recklessness and sanction anyone found wanting.
He added that aside the impounding of goods in shops, their recklessness while chasing vehicles in daylight has sent many people to their early grave, while they always deny knowledge of such occurrence.
The spokesman of the FOU, Jerry Attah, denied the claim that his men broke into the Sango rice market to cart away allegedly smuggled rice, saying they only impounded half of the rice stacked outside in their thousands.
“After physical examination, we counted 1,870 50kg bags of different brands of foreign parboiled rice, and 43 kegs of 25 litres foreign vegetable oil. As at when they left, there was no crossfire or any casualty. It was a peaceful operation.
However, the Public Relations Officer of the Ogun State command, Usman Abubakar, while reacting to Wednesday’s incident, dismissed the allegation, noting that one of their patrol teams went on routine patrol along Kobape-Sagamu Interchange, where smugglers who sighted the vehicle, drove on top speed and fell into a ditch.
“The occupants of that vehicle ran away. Our men now brought the vehicle down to Abeokuta. There was no shootout with anybody. Our men have no cause to shoot at anybody. The police have been invited; we are on top of the situation. The matter is under investigation by the Customs and the police.”