Pandemonium broke out on Tuesday when one person was killed by a stray bullet, while three others were injured in a clash with men of the Nigeria Customs Service in Ayetoro, Yewa North Local Government Area of Ogun State.
The incident happened at the Kikelomo area of Ayetoro early in the morning as the Customs men clashed with youths in the area.
The Customs men reportedly stormed the area following a tip-off that smuggling activities were taking place there.
The Customs officers, who stormed the area to evacuate the suspected bags of smuggled rice, allegedly fired gunshots.
According to an eyewitness, the fracas started when a young man, identified simply as Sola, was allegedly hit by a stray bullet fired by the NCS personnel.
It was gathered that the Customs men stormed the town following a tip-off about smuggling activities in the area, but they were resisted by the youth, who mounted a roadblock to prevent the officers of the NCS from gaining entry into an alleged illegal warehouse.
It was gathered that Sola was pacifying his fellow youths to allow the officers go about their duties.
The eyewitness said, “The Customs officers were going to their duty post when some youths formed a roadblock to stop them. The guy, who was shot, was one of those that came to appeal to the youth to allow the officers to go about their duty.
“He was hit by a stray bullet when the officers started shooting.”
The eyewitness claimed that Sola and four others were feared dead during the violence.
Another eyewitness said Sola was a 35-year-old transporter of goods, who plied Ilara, a border town in Imeko-Afon, and Abeokuta.
A building suspected of being used as a warehouse was said to have been ridden with bullets.
Many residents of the area reportedly ran helter-skelter.
Our correspondent gathered that the violence took another dimension when some youths from the village of the deceased arrived at the scene with weapons and confronted security agents.
When contacted, the Police Public Relations Officer in the state, DSP Abimbola Oyeyemi, confirmed the incident.
Oyeyemi, however, said only one person died, while three others were injured in the violence between the indigenes of Ayetoro and men of the NCS.
The PPRO said the Commissioner of Police, Edward Ajogun, had directed the Area Commander in the area to move to the scene and douse the tension.
When asked to confirm the rumoured death of four others during the fracas, Oyeyemi said the command was not aware of any other death except that of one person.
He challenged anyone, who could provide information about the corpses of the other four alleged to have been killed, to do so.
Oyeyemi stated, “We can confirm that one person was killed during the clash between smugglers and the NCS men.
“We learnt that the Customs men wanted to seize bags of rice that were smuggled into the area and in the process one of them was attacked with a bottle.
“The Commissioner of Police has ordered the Area Commander and other DPOs in the area to move into the area and calm the situation.
“And as of now, the situation has been brought under control; there is no more violence in the area.”
On its part, the NCS, Zone ‘A’, blamed hoodlums for the attack that led to the death of a civilian and said three of its officers sustained injuries.
In a statement by its Public Relations Officer, Theophilus Duniya, the NCS said the officers intercepted six Ford buses laden with foreign parboiled rice and were attacked by hoodlums supporting the smugglers.
Speaking on behalf of the acting Controller, Federal Operations Unit, Zone ‘A’, Ikeja, Lagos, Duniya explained that three Customs officers were injured and one civilian died in the process.
While thanking residents for their support during the operation, he warned youths against being used for criminal activities.
The statement reads, “The acting Controller is very concerned about the loss of life and the serious injuries inflicted on the officers, which were totally avoidable if only the youth were patriotic enough to know that the officers were just performing their lawful duties. He also cautioned the youth to reject being used by economic saboteurs to confront operatives of the service from carrying out their lawful duties.
“Normalcy has since returned to the area through the combined efforts of officers of the service and the Nigerian Army. DC Usman Yahaya, while thanking law-abiding citizens for supporting our operations, also warned people with criminal intentions to immediately desist from such, because officers/men of the unit are well mobilised and backed up by extant laws and shall remain resolute at enforcing the laws without fear of intimidation.”
Meanwhile, the Senator representing Ogun West Senatorial District, Tolu Odebiyi, has condemned Tuesday’s incident in the Kikelomo area of Ayetoro.
While expressing displeasure over the incident, Odebiyi described it in a statement as unfortunate but avoidable.
He said, “It is unfortunate that an incident such as this could still be happening after all that had been done and said about border reforms, modern techniques and monitoring.
“The Customs officials in the area need to be guided to refrain from killing the youth.
“Nigeria is going through a trying time with insecurity, COVID-19 pandemic and economic challenges already.
“The Customs should be professional for once. This should not be happening at all with Christmas around the corner.”
The senator urged the Customs to refrain from causing unnecessary crisis in the border areas and use the remaining part of the year to redouble their efforts at improving border management instead of killing innocent citizens.