By Olufemi Adediran, Abeokuta
Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, on Wednesday lampooned the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) for its penchant in resorting to extra-judicial measures, as he frowned at killings by its men in the course of their job.
In a strongly worded statement issued on his behalf by Secretary to the Ogun State Government, Barrister Taiwo Adeoluwa, the governor accused the NCS of “recklessness and unprofessional conducts”, following the killing of two civilians by its men.
He said, “The Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun has condemned in strong terms the killing of two persons by men of the Nigeria Customs Service, today at Kobape in Obafemi Owode Local Government Area of the State, along the Abeokuta-Sagamu expressway.
“It was reported that some officers of the Service, in a hot chase of a vehicle suspected to be carrying bags of rice along the expressway, shot at it, killing the driver and another person instantly. On seeing the consequence of their action, and in apparent fear of possible reprisal by symphatisers, they immediately abandoned the chase and fled the scene.
“It took the intervention of a delegation of the State Government and security agencies including the Army, Police, DSS, TRACE and others, that visited the scene on the instruction of the Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, CON, FCA to douse the tension created by aggrieved motorists and residents who had blocked the expressway protesting the killing thereby making the road impassable for over three hours.
“While we do not support economic sabotage, we condemn the needless killing and will not tolerate recklessness and unprofessional conduct by officers of the Customs Service.
“You will recall that only two weeks ago, the State woke up to the unpleasant news of shops of rice broken into overnight by Customs officers in a market at Sango purportedly to recover “smuggled” bags of rice in questionable circumstances. While we have been trying to manage public perspective trailing that incident, this dastardly incident occurred again.
“We maintain that this bravado use of power hundreds of kilometres inland away from the international borders by Customs Officers cannot be justified by any logic. We are of the belief that if these officers had demonstrated this level of patriotic zeal in the discharge of their duties at the border posts and several custom checking points located along the roads leading from the borders, the public would have been saved these agonies and loss of lives.
“We hereby further appeal to the top echelon of the Customs Service to call their officers in the State to order and embrace proper decorum and civility in their operations so as to avoid acts capable of breaching public peace and putting Government in a bad light among the people.
“As a matter of urgency, we also demand a detailed and transparent investigation into the unprofessional conduct of the Customs Officers involved with a view to bringing them to book as a deterrent to others.
“In the mean time, we appeal to our people to remain calm as Government continues to engage every one concerned to prevent a reoccurrence.”
The incident led to a major crisis as angry protesters nearly set the headquarters of the Customs office located at Quarry road, Abeokuta on fire.
The quick intervention of armed police, military men and members of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corp (NSCDC) prevented the rampaging protesters from vandalising the Custom’s office. The protesters also attempted to dump the body of the deceased at the premises of the Custom office but were repelled by the security men.
One of the protesters, Shola Josiah, who spoke with journalists said that a 37 year-old victim, Saubana, was among four other drivers who were carrying 25 bags of rice each from Kuto, Abeokuta to Sagamu when the Customs men accosted them.
He added that Customs intercepted them at Sowo Village along around 9:30a.m Kobape road and gave them a hot chase.
His words, “We had left Kuto Market in Abeokuta with our vehicles loaded with 25 bags of rice each. When we got to Sowo Village we saw Customs’ vehicle with men inside it.”
“I thought there won’t be any issue because we normally pay them N5,000 on each trip. Before I knew what was happening, they had started giving us hot chase. They caught up with me, while Saubana’s car tyres were blown out with gun shot and his Mazda 626 car eventually somersaulted into a ditch”, Josiah stated.
He, however, alleged that customs operative still shot Saubana at close range, after bullet had hit him around the thigh and managed to crawl out the car wreckage.
Josiah, who said his vehicle was seized and driven to the state Command of the customs, stated that two other drivers escaped. He lamented Saubana’s death noting the father of four was an easy going person.
It was further gathered that the four other suspects escaped with gun shot wound and have been taken to the State General Hospital, Ijaiye, Abeokuta.
The victim left behind four children and a wife. He was buried according to Islamic rites.
When contacted, the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the command, Usman Abdulahi, said the allegation was not true. He said the information at his disposal was that smugglers were sighted by customs operatives along Siun-Kobape road and in an attempt to escape arrest, one of the smugglers had an accident.
“The information at my disposal is that one of our patrol teams went on routine patrol this morning along Kobape-Sagamu Interchange. Based on credible information to them that some smugglers were coming through that route, they waylaid the smugglers.
“On sighting Customs vehicle, the occupants of those vehicles now started on top speed. In the course of the operation, one of the vehicles fell into a ditch. The occupants of that vehicle left and ran away. Our men now brought the vehicle down to Abeokuta station. So, that is the information I have.
“There was no shootout with anybody. Our men have no cause to shoot anybody. They are well trained and they operate according to international best practices.
“The police have been invited, we are on top of the situation. The matter is under investigation by the Customs and the police. So after a thorough a investigation, we will now give you full details of what happened”. Usman explained.