Ridding the Customs of incessant killings
Blood, tears and public outrage over killings of innocent souls are frequently becoming the outcome of many battles between the men of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) and the dreaded smugglers.
Indeed, controversies surrounding the alleged killing of innocent citizens by the Customs have brought to the fore the need to caution armed security personnel while on duty.
The officers of the Federal Operations Unit, Zone A, were recently involved in a shootout, in a move to attack rice smugglers in Kola, and Moshalashi bus stops in Alagbado area of Lagos State, an incident which allegedly resulted into the killing of four innocent souls.
The four persons, who were allegedly hit by stray bullets, were commercial motorcyclists.
But Police spokesperson, Dolapo Badmos, a Superintendent of police (SP), said one person was killed in the incident.
She said: “Some Custom officials were on the trail of a vehicle, in the process they started shooting. One passerby was shot to death around Ajegunle in Alakuko. A patrol team led by the DPO of Alakuko Division, moved to the area to douse the tension.
“They fired sporadically and escaped from the scene. The dead body was evacuated to the morgue. Investigation is ongoing.”
Strangely, the spokesperson for the NCS, Federal Operations Unit ‘A’, Ikeja, Jerry Attah, denied that nobody died in the incident.
“Our operatives gathered information that three vehicles were loaded with smuggled rice and ammunition, with a particular reference to a Gulf Vento.
“The smugglers incited a mob attack on the customs officers. They were towing the vehicles with the content inside before the mob attack.
“The attackers were in their numbers with machetes, guns and other weapons. Our men later overpowered them, towed away the gulf car and arrested a smuggler. There was no casualty; nobody died,” he said.
The counterclaims on the number of causalities have remained contriversial, while some of the people arrested have been arraigned before the court and remanded at the Ikoyi Prison, Lagos as the case was adjourned to February, 15, 2017 for further hearing.
In May this year, another incident occured at Oke- Odan township in Yewa South Local Government Area of Ogun State, where three children and four others were allegedly killed by Customs officers while pursuing smugglers.
The Customs officials pursued some suspected smugglers, who allegedly smuggled two vehicles loaded with rice, coming from Igolo, a border town between Nigeria and Benin Republic and heading towards Sango in Ado Odo/Ota Local Government Area of Ogun State.
Also, a young lady was allegedly killed in Sango last year, during a gun battle with the rice smugglers.
The 27-year-old Kogi indigene who was identified as Angela Abba, was preparing food in front of her shop, and eventually hit by a stray bullet on her head and she died on the way to the hospital.
Going by these unfortunate incidents, stakeholders believe that it is high time Nigeria took a cue from the advanced countries that make the protection of lives and the dignity of their citizens an utmost priority. This should be practiced by the Nigerian Customs in the course of discharging their duties.
The President of National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero, said the Customs its acting beyond thier mandates for killing innocent citizens.
He noted that they are only mandated by the law to arrest and arraign smugglers in their pursuit to protect national integrity.
“It is not part of their mandate to pursue smugglers to the town and start shooting. They are expected to fight smuggling, but they should avoid killing.
The families of the casualties should take them to court.
“The smugglers are expected to be arrested and not to be killed. They are not smugglers until you convict them in the court of law. The government should intervene and make necessary corrections in the Customs.
“You don’t kill smugglers, you should arrest them. In fact, it is better they go with their consignment than killing them. That is just the truth,” he said.
Amiwero alleged that the Customs has a very bad system, and the Comptroller-General is not doing enough to checkmate their excesses.
Some concerned youths of Sango Ota, told The Guardian that the activities of the smugglers and the Customs have been given the residents sleepless nights, hence the need for caution in to preserve their lives and properties.
The youths, represented by Ajayi Abegunde, said the Customs is fond of frequently harassing residents in the Ota environs in the course of discharging their duty.
“The fact that we live close to the borders does not mean that we are not Nigerians. We have human rights too. The smugglers will drive into our roads carelessly and hit people, cause accidents and chaos. The Customs will also come and kill us. Is living close to border a sin. This does not classify us as criminals neither. I think government should intervene in this matter. We are not safe in Ota,” he said.
He therefore enjoined the Comptroller-General of Customs to call his men to order.
The Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), has also petitioned the Comptroller-General of Customs and the Lagos State House of Assembly, calling for thorough investigation and prosecution of Customs officers involved in the killing of an automobile technician, Saheed Omotosho, in Alagbado area.
The petition signed by CDHR Lagos chapter chairman, Alex Omotehinse, and secretary, Kushimo Olumuyiwa reads: “Only a beast and vampire would display such act as done by these men of Nigerian Customs Service.
“Also in a bid to cover up their shame and lack of competence, they abducted a relation of the late Omotosho, Rasheed Oyedeji, who raise the alarm over the killing of his brother.”
The group demanded the “immediate and unconditional release of Oyedeji; justice for the deceased and adequate compensation to his family; investigation and arrest of all the Customs officers involved in such criminal act and subsequent trial.”