Armed Customs officers and public safety

Again, Customs officers kill suspected smuggler in Ogun

 

In recent past, news of police brutality and police stray bullets killing innocent citizens was very common. These days such ugly incidents have reduced. Curiously, the brutalization of the public and stray bullets mowing down hapless citizens appears to have shifted to the Nigeria Customs Service, which incidentally, does not deal with the general public, but only the trading public.

These days news of customs officers pursuing smugglers into their village squares and markets, and people being killed in ensuing shootings is becoming commonplace. Similarly, customs officers clashing with drivers and passengers in commercial vehicles, resulting in deaths or injuries is also becoming rampant.

In February last year, a civilian, Godwin Onoja, was killed by bullets fired by a member of a five-man Customs patrol team while they were allegedly trying to extort N5,000 bribe from some travellers at the Sagamu end of the Lagos-Ore-Benin Expressway.

Last month, there was pandemonium in Saki Town in the Oke Ogun area of Oyo State when men of the Customs Services allegedly chased an alleged rice smuggler into the town and shot him dead. In retaliation, an angry mob killed a customs officer and burnt their patrol van. The encounter was so violent that it necessitated the declaration of a curfew in the town as the crisis threatened to escalate.

Similarly, a few weeks later, some Customs men in a private car chased a bus into Iseyin Town and fired shots, which hit one of the Nigeria Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) officers on the leg. Eventually, it was discovered that there was no bag of rice in the bus.

Just last week, a middle-aged man, Atanda Idowu Moses, was killed in his workshop. Idowu, a panel beater, was working in his shop in Oja Odan, Yewa South Local Government Area of Ogun State, when he was hit by bullets shot by operatives of the Nigeria Customs Service.

The customs officers immediately fled the scene on realizing what they had done, only for the Nigeria Customs Service to deny the killing later, claiming that the stray bullets that killed the late Atanda was fired by smugglers who used one of its operative’s rifle.

What can be more preposterous than this?  Are the customs officers saying that the smugglers snatched their gun and killed Atanda, yet they fled the scene after seeing what happened, and with their rifles intact? However, this naked lie has been debunked by residents of the community who witnessed the gruesome killing.

We make bold to say that this latest killing of an innocent member of the public by customs, right inside his workshop where he was trying to eke out a living, is one killing too many. The attempt by the Nigeria Customs Service to twist the truth and absolve its officers of blame is very unfair to both the dead and his family, and this is most reprehensible.

We condemn this senseless and avoidable killing as well as the attempt by the Customs Service to shield its men from blame or prosecution. We find it appalling that the Service has not apologized to the family, let alone arrange any compensation for them.

We, therefore, call for justice for the family. We join members of public to also demand for adequate compensation for the family. By the action of a trigger-happy customs officer, this family has lost its breadwinner. Atanda Moses had a wife and children that must be taken care of. They cannot be left to suffer after a government agency has snuffed life out of their breadwinner in cold blood.

In the same vein, we urge the government to call customs men to order. They should be given adequate training and orientation on the use of firearms. They should be made to understand that their job is mainly trade facilitation, revenue collection and suppression of smuggling. And that suppression of smuggling does not mean killing of smugglers; they are meant to be prosecuted.

Sadly, it must be observed, customs officers collaborate with big-time smugglers who smuggle trailer loads of rice or other banned items into the country only to chase, and sometimes, kill somebody who carries two or three bags of rice to eat or sell to feed his family.

Truth be told; the real smugglers are known to the customs. They do the necessary settlement and carry on their business. If this is not true, why is foreign rice still found in abundance in the markets?

We say enough is enough. We again call for proper orientation of customs officers, especially the various task forces and the federal operations units who appear so free with their weapons. They should be made to understand that engaging in anti-smuggling operations is not a licence to kill.

Above all, they should be made to be responsible for their actions instead of the Service trying to shield them from justice, as has always been the case.

In other climes, customs anti-smuggling operations do not jeopardise public safety. Nigeria should not be an exception.

In recent past, news of police brutality and police stray bullets killing innocent citizens was very common. These days such ugly incidents have reduced. Curiously, the brutalization of the public and stray bullets mowing down hapless citizens appears to have shifted to the Nigeria Customs Service, which incidentally, does not deal with the general public, but only the trading public.

These days news of customs officers pursuing smugglers into their village squares and markets, and people being killed in ensuing shootings is becoming commonplace. Similarly, customs officers clashing with drivers and passengers in commercial vehicles, resulting in deaths or injuries is also becoming rampant.

In February last year, a civilian, Godwin Onoja, was killed by bullets fired by a member of a five-man Customs patrol team while they were allegedly trying to extort N5,000 bribe from some travellers at the Sagamu end of the Lagos-Ore-Benin Expressway.

Last month, there was pandemonium in Saki Town in the Oke Ogun area of Oyo State when men of the Customs Services allegedly chased an alleged rice smuggler into the town and shot him dead. In retaliation, an angry mob killed a customs officer and burnt their patrol van. The encounter was so violent that it necessitated the declaration of a curfew in the town as the crisis threatened to escalate.

Similarly, a few weeks later, some Customs men in a private car chased a bus into Iseyin Town and fired shots, which hit one of the Nigeria Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) officers on the leg. Eventually, it was discovered that there was no bag of rice in the bus.

Just last week, a middle-aged man, Atanda Idowu Moses, was killed in his workshop. Idowu, a panel beater, was working in his shop in Oja Odan, Yewa South Local Government Area of Ogun State, when he was hit by bullets shot by operatives of the Nigeria Customs Service.

The customs officers immediately fled the scene on realizing what they had done, only for the Nigeria Customs Service to deny the killing later, claiming that the stray bullets that killed the late Atanda was fired by smugglers who used one of its operative’s rifle.

What can be more preposterous than this?  Are the customs officers saying that the smugglers snatched their gun and killed Atanda, yet they fled the scene after seeing what happened, and with their rifles intact? However, this naked lie has been debunked by residents of the community who witnessed the gruesome killing.

We make bold to say that this latest killing of an innocent member of the public by customs, right inside his workshop where he was trying to eke out a living, is one killing too many. The attempt by the Nigeria Customs Service to twist the truth and absolve its officers of blame is very unfair to both the dead and his family, and this is most reprehensible.

We condemn this senseless and avoidable killing as well as the attempt by the Customs Service to shield its men from blame or prosecution. We find it appalling that the Service has not apologized to the family, let alone arrange any compensation for them.

We, therefore, call for justice for the family. We join members of public to also demand for adequate compensation for the family. By the action of a trigger-happy customs officer, this family has lost its breadwinner. Atanda Moses had a wife and children that must be taken care of. They cannot be left to suffer after a government agency has snuffed life out of their breadwinner in cold blood.

In the same vein, we urge the government to call customs men to order. They should be given adequate training and orientation on the use of firearms. They should be made to understand that their job is mainly trade facilitation, revenue collection and suppression of smuggling. And that suppression of smuggling does not mean killing of smugglers; they are meant to be prosecuted.

Sadly, it must be observed, customs officers collaborate with big-time smugglers who smuggle trailer loads of rice or other banned items into the country only to chase, and sometimes, kill somebody who carries two or three bags of rice to eat or sell to feed his family.

Truth be told; the real smugglers are known to the customs. They do the necessary settlement and carry on their business. If this is not true, why is foreign rice still found in abundance in the markets?

We say enough is enough. We again call for proper orientation of customs officers, especially the various task forces and the federal operations units who appear so free with their weapons. They should be made to understand that engaging in anti-smuggling operations is not a licence to kill.

Above all, they should be made to be responsible for their actions instead of the Service trying to shield them from justice, as has always been the case.

In other climes, customs anti-smuggling operations do not jeopardise public safety. Nigeria should not be an exception.