The invasion of rice shops at Kayero Market, Sango Ota, Ogun State by operatives of the Federal Operations Unit (FOU), Zone ‘A’ of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) two weeks ago have continued to generate reactions from Nigerians including the senate and the legislators condemning the action.
The officers had raided the market on February 22 and allegedly carted away over 4,000 bags of rice and vegetable oils worth millions of naira.
Justifying its action days after the incident which disrupted activities at the axis for close to 7 hours, Public relations officer of the FOU, Zone ‘A’ Joseph Attah explained that the NCS has the constitutional right to raid any shop or warehouse suspected to harbour smuggled goods in the country.
Explaining further on the action of the FOU operatives, Area Comptroller, Oyo/ Osun command, Temitope Ogunkua last week maintained that there is no action taken by Customs officers without the backing of the law.
Citing section 147 of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1990, Ogunkua said officers of the service are well empowered to embark on raiding at anytime, anywhere and that the fact that they don’t do that regularly does not mean they lack the power to.
To this end, industry stakeholders have called for a quick amendment of the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) of 1958 describing it as an obsolete law.
The bill has already scaled through the second reading on the floor of the senate.
A maritime lawyer, Fred Akokhia acknowledged that while Customs has the power to enter and search any warehouse where smuggled goods are kept even without search warrant, the law is too draconian and when such power is given to anybody or agency, it is often abuse.
According to him, no laws give absolute power to a person or institution.
“Customs has the right under CEMA to enter a warehouse even without warrant but we have always said that even when the law is so wide, you need to use discretion. Even if they know they have the power, they can break into a place and make sure the owner of the warehouse is there.
“They don’t have the power to raid markets because markets are known internationally as places where you trade so they can’t just come in and say things that are in there is contraband when they could have stopped them at the border or at the ports.
“I believe that no law gives absolute power to somebody. When the provision of the law is so absolute, what the lawmakers presume is that you will use your discretion in consonance with the constitution. You can’t break into somebody’s shop when he is not there.
That part of the law is too draconian and when you give such absolute power to people, they will corrupt that law and act with impunity and that does not go in line with the constitution,” he said.
Also speaking, a front line freight forwarder, Ugochukwu Nnadi said the act of raiding markets is illegal as no law supersedes the nation’s constitution.
“The law give them the power but it is a total aberration. The law that they are operating which was the law that was given to us by the colonial masters is obsolete.
“So it is wrong for customs to go to the market and be harassing people. Nigeria constitution allows for free trade. A trader is in the open market and somebody now comes that the goods are smuggled. How the goods get there? Can they prove that those goods are smuggled? So it wrong for them to go the markets,” he said.
It would be recalled that last year, the senate commenced moves to repeal the Customs Service Act, describing it as an obsolete and antiquated colonial law which militates against strict professionalism in the operations of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).
The bill, tagged: ‘A Bill for an Act to Repeal the Nigeria Customs Service Management Act (Repeal and Re-enactment) was sponsored by Senator Samuel Anyanwu (Imo East).
The bill does not only seek to repeal the customs and excise laws in Nigeria, it also seeks to reform the administration and management of customs and excise.
In his lead debate, Anyanwu said the bill would bring the NCS in line with international best practices by providing for organisational structure, modern customs procedure and penalty scheme geared towards boosting government revenue.
He also said the bill, when passed into law, would improve trade and facilitate investment in business community and also protect the society against smuggling, illegal weapons, narcotics, counterfeit goods, other trade related crimes and money laundering.
Deputy President of the Senate, Sen. Ike Ekweremadu Ekweremadu had last week directed the Committee of Customs, Tariffs and Excise to investigate the matter urgently.
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