Managing Customs/Smugglers Face-off

Managing Customs/Smugglers Face-off
Men of the Nigeria Customs Service
By Oyeniyi Iwakun

The increasing face-off between smugglers and men of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) in recent times is becoming disturbing and challenging. It is more worrisome because of the innocent citizens who often fall victims during the gun battles between the duos.

Early in the year, there was a Face-Off between customs officers of Federal Operations Unit (FOU), Ikeja and some suspected smugglers around Agbara axis along Badagry expressway in Lagos which led to the death of some innocent residents.

In a related development, commuters and passersby wеrе caught in a pandemonium that broke out sometime January, 2018 аt thе Abule Egba area оf Lagos State whеn operatives’ оf thе NCS opened fire оn suspected smugglers’ vehicles. Thе shootings allegedly claimed thе life оf оnе Toyeeb Olayiwola аnd left thrее оthеrѕ injured. Thе оffiсiаlѕ attached tо thе FOU, Ikeja, wеrе ѕаid tо hаvе chased ѕоmе vehicles conveying suspected smuggled foreign parboiled rice frоm thе Sango-Ota area оf Ogun State. On gеtting tо thе Abule Egba undеr-bridge area аrоund 6:00am, thеу reportedly opened fire оn оnе оf thе vehicles. Toyeeb Olayiwola who boarded a public bus to convey him to his place of work was hit on his head and hе died оn thе spot. Nоt done, thе оffiсiаlѕ wеrе ѕаid tо hаvе moved intо a commercial tricycle park in thе area аnd continued firing аt thе occupants оf thе оthеr vehicles, whо hаd disembarked tо protest thе killing. Thе suspected smugglers reportedly hurled stones аt thе officials, whilе thе shootings intensified. Thе chaos wаѕ ѕаid tо hаvе caused confusion аѕ commuters and passersby scampered tо safety.

Although, the FOU Ikeja Public Relations Officer (PRO), Jerry Attah who spoke with MMS Plus on the issue explained that the young man died in an unclear circumstance because the customs officers only gave warning shots to escape mob attack. He said a group of hoodlums defending the smugglers had descended on the officers with various dangerous weapons in the course of intercepting the suspected smugglers.

Not quite long, another pregnant woman, identified as Olugunna Bukola, was reportedly hit by stray bullets from Customs officials attached to the Federal Operation Unit, FOU, Ikeja, on her way to the office around Iyana-Iyesi area of Ota in Ado-Odo/Ota Local Government, Ogun State. A resident of the area, who witnessed the incident, disclosed that the woman was hit by bullets on her back and the left side of her body, when the Customs officials were in the pursuit of rice smugglers. She was however lucky to only sustain some degrees of injuries and later discharged safely at the hospital.

Again, on February 21, 2018, a young man identified as Amiru Abdulaziz was shot dead in front of his father’s shop at Daddara village, in the Jibia Local Government Area of Katsina State, by some operatives of the NCS. The customs officials was said to have intercepted some men who packed bags of suspected smuggled rice in a vehicle and after impounding the rice and the vehicle, they reportedly opened gunfire to ward off any reprisal attacks from the smugglers. Abdulaziz was said to have been hit by a stray bullet and died on his way to a hospital

Most recently, a primary six pupil, Bello Salisu, of Morawa Primary school, in Morawa village, Batagarawa local government area of Katsina State was hit by stray bullet allegedly fired by operatives of the NCS on Friday 6th, April, 2018. The incident happened along Katsina – Kano road when the customs operatives shooting sporadically, were allegedly chasing smugglers conveying rice and second-hand clothes in a J5 bus.

Salisu who sustained injuries on his hand, around his shoulder and neck later spoke to journalist from his hospital bed, said they were on break when they heard gunshots and ran to see what happened when he was hit by the bullets from the customs officers.

Although, the NCS National PRO has defended that it wasn’t substantiated if the child was actually hit by customs bullet or not, even as he frowned at the regular apportion of blames to the customs by the masses rather than joining them in combating the menace of smuggling.

This is becoming recurrent, and the federal government seems to be silent on the issue. Could this be as a result of unprofessionalism or inadequate training of customs officers? Do we assume that it is inevitable for innocent people to lose their lives in these kind avoidable circumstances? Are there punishments and enforcement mechanisms for extra-judicial killings or related issues in Nigeria? Is it justifiable to kill people indiscriminately in the course of chasing smugglers? Are there no other technological and professional ways of apprehending smugglers?

MMS Plus findings have revealed that most of the incidents where death or injuries of innocent persons are recorded occur in towns, villages and where normal citizen’s activities are ongoing. It is very irrational to engage smugglers in a gun duel in towns, villages and other areas where we have substantial population of people as the probability of recording casualties of innocent people is very high.   The spate of killings called accidental discharges in the course of chasing smuggling doesn’t transmit into effective service delivery and responsibilities discharge. 20 trailers of rice aren’t equal to a life, so our customs officials must take adequate cautions.

It is quite understandable that some patriotic customs officers have lost their lives to smugglers in the course of discharging their official duties but it is not enough to unleash terror or transfer aggression to innocent citizens.

It is imperative for customs management to subject their officers to expedient trainings and re-trainings to help equip them with globally acceptable and effective ways of suppressing smuggling and intercepting smugglers.

The use of drones and other surveillance cameras capable of tracking the hideouts and monitoring suspected smugglers to their destinations for possible arrest and interceptions can be implored. This will help avert unnecessary killing of innocent people and will as well put the customs operatives on a safer side. It will as well be more effective, time and energy saving.

There should be intensified sensitization programmes and renewed relationship between the customs and residents of border communities since it has been observed that they often misconstrue the actions of customs operatives, hence their usual defense of smugglers against customs.

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