When Isaac Asimov said that violence is the last refuge of the incompetent, he may not have had the unpalatable conduct of armed security personnel in Nigeria, but his apt saying epitomizes the folly of overzealous officers who feel comfortable to display their militia training on civilians.
Two weeks ago, a journalist with Media Hotline Platform, Theophilus Oyekanmi was a victim of assault by officers of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).
He narrates his account: “While on my normal Media Surveillance visit to the Owode/Idiroko Border route, I was seriously attacked by one Adamu said to be an officer attached to the Federal Operations Unit ‘A’ and said to be under influence of alcohol. I perceived smells of gin (ogogoro) on him while he held me so tightly and rained blows on me.”
“My mission was to verify issues relating to continued closure of the borders in Ogun State and the movements of some vehicles smuggling diverse goods. On sighting me, without any provocation, he decided to molest me. While I made to leave, he still followed me, pulled me from behind and started raining blows; though he was not in Customs uniform I tried to defend the blows but I could not get off his grip.”
“This beating occurred because I tried to snap nothing less than ten smuggled vehicles at Atan. The officer in Nojeem’s base attacked me, destroying my clothes, belt and my android phone. It took the intervention of other officers who saved me after not less than five blows (2 to my eyes) and 3 head booths. They pulled me by the waist like a criminal. I called Theo Duniya, a Deputy Superintendent of Customs, but he did not pick my calls. When he reached me later, he blamed me straightaway. I have all damaged items as evidence”
“I have spoken with the Base S/O and CPRO of FOU ‘A’ Theo Duniya, as well as the Base OC in Atan. I have sent a text to the Acting Controller of FOU ‘A’ while I was prevailed upon not to report to the Nigerian Police.
“When I spoke to the OC of Atan Base, FOU ‘A’, SC Nojeem Ogundeyi and told him that I tried to defend myself when the guy fell, I pinned him down to return some of his blows on me; he echoed: “You pinned down my officer!”
“All further investigations I have seen have been biased. Theo also influenced them to say the guy was not drunk. On Wednesday a picture of where I was defending myself was sent by Theo through WhatsApp as a way of blackmailing me.”
If this incident isn’t appalling enough, let us look at the judgment and statements of the Acting Controller of the FOU ‘A’ Ikeja, Deputy Controller (DC) Usman Biri Yahaya.
Yahaya who is presiding over the investigation has also heaped the blames on the journalist for visiting the area for investigation when he was not invited officially.
“On Monday when I met the Controller, FOU ‘A’, DC Yahaya, he too heaped all blames on me for visiting when Nojeem did not invite me officially; he forgot that journalists never await invitations to visit for investigation,” the victim said.
The alleged misconduct of Adamu’s drunkenness has neither been mentioned to the Customs leadership nor reported. If Adamu wasn’t drunk as his colleagues claim, what inspired him to attack an unarmed media personnel? Should Customs exonerate Adamu of drunkenness and turn around to accuse the journalist of not seeking permission to carry out his onus of investigation? Was Adamu trained to attack people without provocation?
It’s not enough for the National PRO and some Customs officers to appeal to the victimized and brutalized reporter on this matter without any sign that the offender will be punished. A public appeal to entire journalists across the nation would also be baseless if concrete measures aren’t taken to forestall occurrence of such anomaly in the future.
Should journalists continue to call Customs officers friends while they continue to attack newsmen in the course of their legitimate duty to keep the public abreast of the most concealed activities?
This is not the first time maritime journalists were given this kind of maltreatment. About five years ago, a magazine publisher in the maritime industry was stripped naked at Seme Customs command on the allegation of blackmail against the command’s Controller. He was stripped and blindfolded while being marched to a nearby river to be drowned, allegedly. It took the intervention of the local divers who were instructed to drown him to save him. The story went viral with the slant that he was caught in blackmail snare. Of course, he was abandoned like a leper to carry his blackmail baggage by his colleagues while the Customs Service smiled to victory with the assault and violation of rights and humanity.
But the question remains: Why are customs officers and personnel always object of alleged blackmail? Perhaps, because they have many skeletons in their privacy; they are a symbol of rot and therefore are always edgy on the sight of a journalist.
Ironically, most customs officers and personnel encourage unprofessionalism in journalism with the willingness to throw around illicit funds to conceal their corruption in the system.
If the government is determined to rid or curtail the rate of corruption amongst the officers and men, some customs police or external bodies should be empowered to search and arrest officials at their office gates daily. Government would be amazed at the amount of funds that would be recovered daily from the cars of officials daily as proceeds of blackmail from shippers, who in turn are mostly import duty evaders while the national treasury suffers.