Bodija Traders Protest Seizure Of Rice Worth Millions Of Naira By Customs

·Customs Raid Ikotun Market, Cart Away Bags Of Rice

Traders at the Bodija market in Ibadan, on Thursday protested the seizure of bags of rice worth millions of Naira by operatives of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).

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Hundreds of traders took to the streets of Ibadan to protest against what they called invasion of their shops by men of the Custom service who they alleged broke into shops at midnight to seize the bags of rice.

It was gathered that operatives of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) raided Bodija market around 1.00am on Thursday and broke into shops, warehouses and carted away bags of rice in 6 trailers.

The rice traders; both men and women, who were seen carrying placards with various inscriptions, called on the customs authority to return all the rice and money carted away from their shops.

The protesters, who marched from market to the state secretariat, also claimed that large sums of money left in some stores were also discovered missing after the operation of the Customs personnel.

One of the affected traders, Mrs Olayemi Oladunni, of Block 1, shop 406, said that 100 bags of rice and N2 million cash were taken away from her shop.

Also, Mrs R O Mosope and Mrs E A Iyadunni, whose shops were situated at Alao-Akala shopping complex in the market, said the action of the customs operatives was unacceptable.

The duo called on the authority of the Nigeria Customs Service to intervene, by ordering its men to return goods and money carted away from their shops.

Addressing the protesters in front of the state secretariat, Agodi Ibadan; Mr Sunday Odukoya, the Executive Assistant to Gov. Seyi Makinde on Security Matters, implored the traders to be patient, saying effort was ongoing to speak with the customs’ authority on the matter.

Odukoya appealed to the protesters to desist from taking laws into their hands to avoid escalating the issue at hands.

The protest led to traffic congestion for hours as vehicular and human movements were affected.

Speaking on the development, the Oyo/Osun Customs Area Command’s Public Relation Officer; Mr Kayode Wey, said it was not the officers of the command that raided the market.

Wey said that the officers of the Federal Operation Unit (FOU), Zone A raided the Bodija market, but did not know what happened during the operation.

He said that the FOU Zone A has their own Comptroller that control its operation.

In a related development, Customs operatives from the Federal Operation Unit Zone ‘A’ in Ikeja also invaded the Better Life section of the Ikotun Market in Lagos State on Wednesday.

While some of the traders claimed that the law enforcement officers carted away local rice, including the money they kept in their shops, the agency said only foreign rice smuggled into the state were taken away.

It was gathered that, just like the Ibadan raid, the incident happened around 1am on Wednesday.

Some of the traders, who spoke to one of our correspondents, claimed that the officials took no fewer than 592 bags of rice and N5m cash.

They alleged that the men were accompanied by armed soldiers, adding that they broke the locks of their shops.

It was learnt that the customs operatives stormed the market in four trucks, among other vehicles.

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.”