The House of Representatives on Tuesday flagged off the investigative hearing into the activities of Customs officers who allegedly killed five persons at Iseyin, Oyo State, after the seizure of bags of smuggled parboiled rice loaded in two Nissan Pathfinder vehicles two months ago.
Speaking during the investigative hearing held at the instance of the House of Representatives Committee on Customs and Excise chaired by Honourable Leke Abejide, the Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Hameed Ali, disclosed that the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) provides for death penalty for anyone who confiscates or uses any weapon against the servicemen while on duty. Ali was represented by NCS Assistant Comptroller-General, Enforcement, Etom Edorhe, and Assistant Legal Officer, Umar Lawal, who affirmed that the Customs officers shot into the air to disperse the mob who carried sticks, trees, stones, cutlasses and machetes during the alleged attack of the Customs base in Iseyin, but eventually destroyed two vehicles and burnt the command.
Lawal said: “There is also Section 11 of CEMA, which makes it a very grievous offence for anyone to interrupt a Customs officer when performing his duty. There is also Section 59 of CEMA, which also makes it an offence to interrupt an officer and it gives the officer the power to make seizure. Section 159 of the same CEMA gave a punishment for death for anyone to confiscate or use any weapon against the servicemen. So in a nutshell, what happened on the 13th of May 2021, the officers were on their legitimate duty as permitted by law. The allegation that they were shooting sporadically and they had left about 50 communities and villages from the border calls for concern before this honourable House.”
After cross-examining the medical certificate of cause of death presented by the mother of the slain 30-yearold Tobi Akinlotan, Lawal argued that nobody was killed by the Customs officers. He further noted that when the Customs officers went to base, more crowd emerged and, in the process, two officers were caught and wounded by the mob, got overpowered and attempt was made to abduct an officer, “so the leader had to make a call for intervention of sister agencies; the army was contacted but before their arrival, they had successfully disposed one of the injured officer of his rifle. The army joined hands to calm the situation and retrieve the rifle.”
In his submission also, the NCS Deputy Comptroller Enforcement, Mr Edorhe, who affirmed that NCS is empowered to patrol freely without any inhibition in line with Section 158 of CEMA, disclosed that the whole of the South-West is controlled by the federal operations. Speaking earlier, leader of the Iseyin community, Alhaji Rasaki Tijani, who was accompanied by relatives of the victims to the investigative hearing, had alleged that five members of his community were killed by stray bullets, while two others were injured. While stressing that the Customs officers, during the operation, invaded Iseyin community after leaving about 50 towns and villages from the border, Alhaji Tijani argued that the victims, including motorbike riders and painters, were not smugglers. “Those killed were not smugglers. We are not saying Customs or any other government agency should not do their job, but they came into the town to shoot innocent people,” adding that “this was not the first time we can count one, two, three and that was why we the community heads said we can no longer bear it.”
While frowning on the presentation of the NCS Assistant Legal Officer, Alhaji Tijani stated that the NCS officers have approached the kabiyesi (king of the town) to appease the families of the slain indigenes with a promise to take over the sponsoring of the education of their children.
After several unsatisfactory answers to questions by the committee members who cautioned that care must be taken since lives were involved, Honourable Jerry Alagbaoso came with the suggestion for adjournment of the session since the Zonal and Area Commanders, as well as the legal officer where the matter was incidented were absent at the hearing.
Source: Nigerian Tribune