BARELY a month after invading foodstuff shops at the popular Bodija market, Ibadan and carting away truckload of imported rice and other food items, men of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) have carried out similar raid on the Oja’ba and Orita markets in the Oyo State capital, in the early hours of Saturday. 

When Sunday Tribune visited the markets on Saturday afternoon, the affected shop owners were seen agonising over what they described as a very huge loss as over 2,000 bags of 50kg rice were taken away by the Customs officers. 

Speaking with Sunday Tribune, a shop owner, at Oja’ba, Mr Abdulrasheed Tijani, who sells rice and other food items, said: “I received a call around 12 am; I live at Yejide area at Molete. From there I trekked to this place, as a matter of fact I could not move closer to the shop as all roads leading to the market were blocked. 

“They were also shooting sporadically and these gunshots were not directed to the air; they were targeted at anyone who dared to move closer to where the operation is being carried out. They broke into our shops, took away rice, vegetable oil, garri and yam flour. After breaking our padlocks, they put new ones and sealed the shop with a message that we should not tamper with it. 

“When they were about leaving, power supply was restored around 1:30am; it was after the restoration of power to the market that they started leaving. They were accompanied by men of the Nigerian Army. 

“I do not understand why they chose to operate during the night because these bags of rice that we are selling were not brought in at night and it passed through series of checkpoints mounted by Customs and other security agencies before getting here. We want the government to assist us in the recovery of our goods.” 

Another affected shop owner, Alhaja Kafayat Haruna, told Sunday Tribune that: “I got a phone call at 3am that our shops are being raided by men of the Nigerian Customs. When we got here, they have left but we chased them to Lagos-Ibadan expressway. When they started shooting at us, we had to turn back. They took away 164 bags of 50kg rice from my shop; they took away 200 bags from my neighbour’s shop. 

“But what still baffles me is the fact that they also took away bags of garri and yam flour. Are these also imported? Another thing is that it is people from the northern part of the country that sell this rice to us. We did not cross the border to neighbouring country to buy. 

“The government should stop giving us tough times; they should release our goods to us, because I do not know where they expect us to start from.” 

Alhaja Waslat Aderounmu, whose shop located at Orita Merin market was also raided said that being swindled of rice and other food items, her shop was also sealed with a warning that it must not be opened. 

She said: “Government must have mercy on us; we are doing this business to feed our families, give our children good education in order to secure their future. 

“We did not go to Cotonou to buy these goods; we buy them here. We buy what is being brought to us here. They also took away local rice too; I do not understand their mode of operation. The government should please have mercy on us.” 

While reacting to the development, chairman of rice and beans vendors in the two markets, Alhaji Abdulrasheed Jamiu, told Sunday Tribune that: “May God have mercy on us. What baffles me is that this kind of operation the Customs are carrying out in the Southwest part of the country is not applicable in the north. 

“Another thing I see as far as this development is concerned is that the government is just deliberately inflicting pains on us. These Customs officers are unfaithful because they would be the one to ask people to bring these goods and another set of people within them would be the one to say go and retrieve those goods. 

“They have become rich as a result of this wicked act; people are dying as a result of this action of government agencies such Customs. But the government at the centre seems to be less concerned because it does not affect their own. 

“Honestly if Nigeria is still under colonial rule, it would have been better for us. All that we are saying now would still be greeted by deaf ears. We have informed the Olubadan of Ibadan, Oba Saliu Akanmu Adetunji and if not because today is weekend, we would have been to the Governor’s Office and there is a public holiday on Monday, so we would be going there on Tuesday to formally inform the governor,” he stated. 

Sunday Tribune also gathered that the invasion of the market was not known by the Oyo/Osun Area Command, as competent sources within the market said that their findings revealed that. When contacted, the Public Relations Officer, Federal Operations Unit, Zone A, Theophilus Duniya, a Deputy Superintendent of Customs, confirmed the raid. 

He said that the job done by the Customs officers was in line with the Acts that established the NCS. Duniya also confirmed the number of loaded trucks as five, adding that the number of the bags of rice was yet to be ascertained, as they were still being counted. 

According to the PRO, “normally, when we make interceptions like that, we conduct examination to know the actual quantity. We only have five truckloads.” 

On the reason for raiding markets within cities and towns, not borders and other intercepting points, the PRO said it became strategic for the FOU to go for such operations in the night, considering attacks usually carried out by suspected hoodlums and those in sympathy with the traders. 

“Smugglers normally mobilise hoodlums and their sympathisers to attack and confront officers on duty. 

“Going there at night does not mean that the operation is not a legal one. The Act that established Nigeria Customs Service empowers officers of the Service to break any warehouses, stores or shops, upon any reasonable suspicion that prohibited items are stocked therein. 

“Foreign parboiled rice, as it stands, is still a banned product, because the Federal Government banned the importation of foreign rice to boost the local production by our farmers. 

“So, the operation was carried out within the ambit of the law that establishes the Service,” he said.