Senate probes Customs invasion of Sango Otta market

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The Senate, Thursday, asked its Committee on Customs and Excise to investigate the alleged unlawful breaking into shops of traders at Kayero market, Sango Otta, Ogun State.

The invasion of the market was said to have taken place on February 22, 2017 at the dead of the night.

The resolution followed a motion by Senator Gbolahan Dada (Ogun West), entitled, “the unlawful and outrageous action of officers of Nigeria Customs Service for breaking into shops of traders at Kayero Market, Sango Otta, Ogun State at 1 am on Wednesday, 22nd February 2017 without the presence of shop owners and carting away thousands of bags of rice and several cartons of vegetable oil worth billions of naira”.

Senator Dada in his lead debate noted that by the provisions of the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA), which set up the agency, Customs officers lacked the constitutional and statutory powers to break into shops or premises of any Nigerian without a valid court order or search warrant.

He said that even when such order or warrant was obtained, it must be executed in the presence of witnesses or concerned shop owner or premises owner.

The lawmaker explained that the essence of the provision was to preserve the rule of law, avoid breakdown of law and order and prevent self-help remedies by aggrieved persons.

He regretted that “at about 1 am on Wednesday, February 22, Customs officers went out of their way and negated the above constitutional provisions by breaking into many shops in Kayero market, where they allegedly carted away bags of rice and other items worth billions of naira.”

Senator Dada noted that the recent Sango Otta saga was not the first time the officers of the Nigeria Customs would engage in such perceived lawless action against Nigerian traders, leading to inflicting untold hardship on them (traders) under the guise of looking for smuggled goods.

He said, “It is highly unconscionable for officers of Nigeria Customs Service to claim that the confiscated bags of rice and cartons of vegetable oil are smuggled products considering the fact that such goods never dropped from the skies to find their ways into the affected shops but rather passed through Nigeria borders under the watchful eyes of Customs officers being paid by tax payers money to protect our borders.

“The unlawful action of officers of Nigeria Customs Service for raiding shops indiscriminately and confiscating goods already in the country is becoming worrisome, disturbing and capable of breaching fragile peace we are enjoying in this country.

“If nothing is done by this hallowed chamber to stop unlawful raids of shops and confiscation of goods already in Nigeria by officers of Nigeria Customs Service without obtaining valid court order or search warrant, a time is coming when affected Nigerians will resist such untoward action with imaginable devastating consequences”.

Senator Adamu Aliero,(Kebbi Central) opposed the motion.

He said that the Customs officers simply carried out their legitimate constitutional assignment, and should not be queried by the Parliament.

Senator Abdulaziz Murtala Nyako (Adamawa Central), countered and insisted that the matter must be investigated to ascertain the true position of the allegation, whether or not the Customs officers acted within the law.

He posited that it was improper for the officers to break into the shops of traders as alleged without authorization as specified by the law.

The lawmaker said that that constituted authorities must respect the law of the land and the rights of the citizens.

When Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the plenary session put the matter to voice vote, the motion was overwhelmingly supported and the prayer adopted.