Reckless Customs officers

A few days ago, the media was awash with reports of three young Nigerian women who died in a bus that was being chased by operatives of the Nigeria Customs Service.

According to the reports, the three women aged between 25 and 30 years died after the hummer bus in which they were travelling was knocked off the Lagos-Benin highway by an operational vehicle driven by Customs officials.

The commuter bus with registration number EDO AKA 35 LG, carrying used clothes, summersaulted during the mindless pursuit by the Customs officials attached to the Federal Operations Unit, Zone A, Ikeja from one of their checkpoints in Ijebu Ode. The driver of the bus was said to have refused to stop when flagged down at their checkpoint, which resulted in the tragic chase.

According to the driver who survived the accident but lost one leg, when the Customs pick up van could not overtake him, it hit his bus from the rear, causing it to summersault several times into the bush at a place indigenes called J3.

On sensing that the bus had crashed into the bush, the Customs officials beat a hasty retreat to avoid reprisal attack by members of the public who immediately rushed to the scene of the accident.

Three women in the bus died on the spot and the other injured victims were taken out of the bus, writhing in pains from the severe injuries they sustained.

At the time of the accident, there was no policeman or road safety official on hand to assist the victims. Some of the sympathisers at the scene lamented that sometime ago, road safety officials had similarly chased some passengers to their untimely deaths in the same area.

About three days before this tragic incident and precisely on Monday 23rd February 2015, the actions of Customs officers from the same Federal Operation Unit led to the death of two innocent Nigerians with several others wounded at the ever-busy Sango area of Ogun State.

For those who might not know, Sango is a large market and an important road junction located north of the old tollgate on the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway.

The Customs men were said to have clashed with rice smugglers whom they had chased to Sango motor park and seized from them, a lorry loaded with second hand clothes and 10 cars loaded with rice.

After the seizure, the suspected smugglers were said to have blocked the road to prevent the customs officials from taking away the seized goods. And what did the Customs officers do? They opened fire – shooting indiscriminately in such a densely populated and busy environment leading to the death of a 27-year-old Kogi indigene identified as Ms. Angela Abba.

Abba was preparing food in front of her shop when she was hit by stray bullet on the head. She died on the way to hospital. Three other persons who sustained injuries were rushed to the hospital and one of them died at the hospital.

These incidents, among several others, immediately raise questions about the Customs officers’ use of deadly force, especially in a crowded area with bystanders in the line of fire.

Was the hot chase and ramming into a passenger vehicle a justifiable action, notwithstanding the perceived offence? Was the firing of shots at Sango defensible? Has the response of the Customs hierarchy demonstrated empathy for the relatives of the victims of this irresponsible inconsiderateness?

I think some of these officers are poorly trained in the use of firearms and thereby constitute danger to members of the public and their fellow officers.

Customs officers cannot afford to exhibit a reckless disregard for the lives of citizens while discharging their duties. It is unacceptable that an agency legally empowered to protect Nigerians and their businesses has now won more notoriety for acts of mayhem.

These acts of recklessness must be checked immediately before it becomes the norm. The officers involved in these mindless killings in Sango and the Lagos-Benin Expressway have to be fished out and prosecuted to deter others.

They should be paraded in public – in handcuffs and leg chains – the same way police parades suspected criminals and Customs parades suspected smugglers.

Periscope Column

Written By Bolaji Akinola

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