‘Customs Officials Burgled Our Shops To Steal Rice And Money’…

Traders of Better Life section of the Ikotun Market in Lagos State, have accused men of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) of looting their shops.

The incident, according to the traders, happened in the wee hours of Wednesday, March 31, 2021. learnt that the customs operatives stormed the market in four trucks, among other vehicles.

Amongst other things, the traders claimed that the law enforcement officers carted away local rice, including the money they kept in their shops, even though the agency maintained that only foreign rice smuggled into the state were taken away.

Some of the traders revealed that the officials took no fewer than 592 bags of rice and N5 million cash. They alleged that the men were accompanied by armed soldiers, adding that they broke the locks of their shops.

A trader, Wasiu Ayinde said he hurried to the scene after getting information on the invasion, adding that he was shot at when he queried the officials.

He said, “I only sell local rice. I have a machine that I use for the production of local rice in Minna, Niger State. Since the Federal Government said we should not sell foreign rice again, I stopped selling and focused on local rice.

“I was called around 1am that customs officials were in the market and that they were burgling shops, but I didn’t pay attention since I was not selling contraband. Another call came in around 2am that all my goods had been taken away. I got up immediately, mounted my motorcycle and went to the market.

“On getting to the market, I saw that they had packed all the 341 bags of rice in my shop, so I started screaming at the officials that I was a local rice dealer. They started shooting and did not mind if I was hit. My wife and I had to run for our lives; we got injured in the process.

“By the time they left and we came to the shop, I discovered that the N600,000 in the shop was also gone. I have been at home since that day because there is nothing else for me to do.”

Another trader, Ogbonanya Ngene, said apart from the 246 bags of rice taken from his shop, the sum of N1,236,000 he wanted to deposit in a bank the following day was missing.

A rice dealer, Dickson Ogbonna, queried why the customs men would break into the shops in the wee hours of the night without notice or any search warrant.

He said, “Around 1am, my brother called me that customs officials came with soldiers to the market to pack our goods. I tried to rush down, but my family held me down till around past 2am. When I got there, I found out that everything in my shop was gone. They packed 78 bags of rice, which cost about N24,000 each and took away N278,000.”

The traders’ lawyer, Saidi Sanni, in a letter dated March 29, 2021, and addressed to the Comptroller-General of the NCS, demanded the return of the traders’ goods.

The letter read in part, “Our clients have been rendered financially hopeless without means of livelihood by men of the Nigeria Customs Service led by one Charles. It is very unfortunate that customs men allowed themselves to be used as willing tools of illegality and oppression under the ignoble guise of searching for foreign rice.”

While threatening litigation, he vowed to petition the National Assembly, the National Humans Rights Commission and the Presidency over the matter.

The Public Relations Officer, Nigeria Customs Service, Federal Operations Unit, Ikeja, Theophilus Duniya, confirmed that men of the unit carried out the raid.

Duniya said, “I want you to let members of the public know that our laws enable officers to carry out operations upon reasonable suspicion. The law empowers customs to move into any structure or warehouse without a search warrant. If the shop owners have genuine allegations as to the loss of money and the seizure of local rice, they can come forward to make a complaint and it will be looked into.”

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