The Babaloja of Oyo State, Alhaji Aderemi Jimoh, in this interview with Punch, laments the recent invasion of Bodija Market, Ibadan, Oyo State by officers of the Nigeria Customs Service, who broke into traders’ shops and carted off thousands of bags of rice
Officers of the Nigeria Customs Service were said to have stormed Bodija Market and seized thousands of bags of foreign rice. How did it happen?
We were told that they came to Bodija Market around midnight on Wednesday (March 31), broke into shops and loaded bags of rice into the trucks they brought for the operation. They were there till around 4am. We were surprised that government agents could be going to a market at night, breaking into shops and carting off goods. This type of operation leaves much to be desired.
How many bags of rice did they cart off?
I was not around in the market when they came. We had all closed and everybody had gone to their various homes. But the security men around said they brought six trucks and each truck had the capacity to carry 600 bags of rice. That means they carried over 3,000 bags of rice away from this market.
We were told they (Customs officers) came with about 50 labourers who served as porters. They were the ones who loaded the rice into the trucks. They broke locks in the shops and carted off bags of rice.
Apart from rice, did they take any other thing?
They were said to have taken away cooking oil as well and some of our people said they took away the money they kept in their shops.
You also sell rice at the same Bodija Market. Was your shop affected in the operation?
Since they came into the market and targeted rice sellers in their operation, it means my shop was also affected because members of my association were affected.
Didn’t the market security guards challenge them?
There was nothing the security guards could do. The Customs men came in a large number and they were fully armed. We were even told that about 20 armed soldiers also came with them for the operation. If they were like five or so, maybe the security men could challenge them but when our security guards saw them in Customs and military uniforms and with sophisticated weapons, they easily allowed them to carry out their operations while they only made calls to some shop owners. They said one Mr Isaiah Jack, a Customs officer, led the operation.
Did Customs authorities hold any discussion with the leadership of the market regarding smuggled goods before the operation?
There has never been anything like that. They have never come to raid this market before, at least to the best of my knowledge. I have never heard of such. There was never a raid on this market by Customs. We are law-abiding people.
Have you lodged any complaint about the raid?
No, we have not. We heard that those that came to carry out the raid came from FOU, Ikeja (Lagos). The police here in Bodija also confirmed that those that came to raid the market were Customs officers. The police here came when they heard gunshots and sounds that shops were being broken into. They came and challenged them and I heard they were told they came from Customs. I was told that the Commissioner of Police in Oyo State (Mrs Ngozi Onadeko) also intervened in the matter that night.
If the police were to carry out such a raid, involving entering into people’s properties, they would show a warrant to conduct such a search but these people just came at night and did as they pleased. I don’t think any law will support this kind of action.
If they came during the daytime, the shop owners would have known the number of bags of rice they took away. But they came and broke into shops behind their owners like thieves. This style is not good in any way.
Apart from the protest staged at the Governor’s Office in Ibadan, what other steps have you taken to express your displeasure?
After the protest, we have written petitions to different people and institutions on the matter. We don’t want things like this to happen in the future. We wrote to Governor Seyi Makinde and a copy of the petition was sent to the Commissioner for Trade. We also dropped a petition for Senator Kola Balogun. It is so painful that after packing all our products, the Customs men still sealed off the shops, so our people have not been able to trade since then. They have been rendered jobless in this economic situation. Many took loans from various sources to buy goods and the goods were taken away, the shops were locked. This is a surprise to us and it is painful.
Are you considering taking the matter to court?
We have started making the moves to get a lawyer for that purpose. We have not been able to do that because of the Easter holidays but we have started that now because we believe the court can order them to remove the seals from the shops. Why will they render us redundant perpetually?
Customs said bags of foreign rice, considered to be contraband, were seized. Were they smuggled rice or how did your members get them?
We can say they are local rice and we can say they are foreign rice. The goods were already in the shops. But are they supposed to be searching shops? Their work is at the borders where they are permitted by the law to inspect goods coming into the country.
But they claim the law allows them to seize contraband anywhere in the country?
These goods, especially the rice, were brought here from the North by traders and our people bought from them to sell. Where were they when the rice was brought in? What they are saying is that very soon they will begin to go inside kitchens in different homes to seize one measure or even grains of rice. The goods were brought in through the borders in the North and how are we supposed to know that they did not pay tariffs to Customs on them? It’s only here in the South that they are strict.
What our people do is buy five bags (of rice) from one trader, another two from another trader, and so on, just to have what to sell. So, when they raided the market, they took away two bags from some shops, they carted 10 bags from others and so on, like that from various shops. It was not as if the thousands of bags of rice were taken away from one or two shops.
We are appealing to the governor to make sure that Customs and the Federal Government were not allowed to cheat us. If such a raid had been carried us during the daytime, it might have led to loss of lives; but even the night raid is not safe because if the people knew, they could have come out even that night and the encounter could have been be bloody. We are appealing to the Federal Government to ask them to open the shops they locked up.