One killed in deadly Nigeria Customs chase of rice dealers

The scene of the killing.

One person died Wednesday after being chased by personnel of the Nigeria Customs Services, Ogun State Command, witnesses said.

The victim was conveying bags of rice when Customs officials gave him and other rice dealers.

Four other people were injured in the encounter.

The Ogun State government condemned the death that resulted from the Customs operation.

A witness, Shola Josiah, said he and the deceased, identified as Saubanna, and three other drivers, had left Kuto market in Abeokuta around 9:30a.m with their vehicles loaded with 25 bags of rice, heading to Sagamu.‎

He said Customs officials intercepted them at Sowo Village along around 9:30a.m Kobape road and gave them a hot chase.

“We had left Kuto Market in Abeokuta with our vehicles loaded with 25 bags of rice each. When we got to Sowo Village, we saw Customs’ vehicle with men inside it,” he said.

“I thought there won’t be any issue because we normally pay them N5, 000 on each trip. Before I knew what was happening, they had started giving us hot chase. They caught up with me, while Saubana’s car tyres were blown out with gunshot and his Mazda 626 car eventually somersaulted into a ditch,” Mr. Josiah said.

He alleged that Customs operatives still shot Saubana at close range, after he had managed to crawl out the car wreckage.

Mr. Josiah said his vehicle was seized and driven to the state command of the customs, while the other two other drivers escaped.

The incident caused pandemonium in the area as colleagues of the dead driver mobilised, took the corpse of Saubana Customs’ office Quarry Road in Abeokuta and tried to force their way into the Command.

It, however, took the combined effort of men of Nigeria Army, police and men of Ogun state Vigilance Service, to prevent the irate protesters from gaining entry into the Command.‎

When contacted, the Public Relations Officer of the command, Usman Abdulahi, said the information at his disposal was that smugglers were sighted by customs operatives along Siun-Kobape Road and in an attempt to escape arrest, one of the smugglers had an accident.

“The information at my disposal is that one of our patrol teams went on routine patrol this morning along Kobape-Sagamu Interchange. Based on credible information to them that some smugglers were coming through that route, they waylaid the smugglers,” he said.

“On sighting Customs vehicle, the occupants of those vehicles now started on top speed. In the course of the operation, one of the vehicles fell into a ditch. The occupants of that vehicle left and ran away. Our men now brought the vehicle down to Abeokuta station. So, that is the information I have,” Mr. Usman said.

“There was no shootout with anybody. Our men have no cause to shoot anybody. They are well trained and they operate according to international best practices,” he claimed.

He however said the matter was being investigated by Customs and the Police.

‎In his own comment, Ogun State Police Command Public Relations Officer, Abimbola Oyeyemi, said the command haD deployed its personnel to the scene to avoid any bloody clash.

“The Commissioner of Police has already deployed officers and men of the command to the scene to calm frayed nerves. Right now, the Area commanders Of Shagamu and Abeokuta metro are there with other senior police officers. We are on top of the situation,” he said.

Ogun State Government condemned the death in “strong terms”.

“While we do not support economic sabotage, we condemn the needless killing and will not tolerate recklessness and unprofessional conduct by officers of the Customs Service,” a statement signed by Secretary to State Government, Adeoluwa Taiwo, said.

“You will recall that only two weeks ago, the State woke up to the unpleasant news of shops of rice broken into overnight by Customs officers in a market at Sango purportedly to recover ‘smuggled’ bags of rice in questionable circumstances”.

“While we have been trying to manage public perspective trailing that incident, this dastardly incident occurred again. We maintain that this bravado use of power hundreds of kilometres inland away from the international borders by Customs Officers cannot be justified by any logic.

“We are of the belief that if these officers had demonstrated this level of patriotic zeal in the discharge of their duties at the border posts and several custom checking points located along the roads leading from the borders, the public would have been saved these agonies and loss of lives,” the statement said.

“We hereby further appeal to the top echelon of the Customs Service to call their officers in the State to order and embrace proper decorum and civility in their operations so as to avoid acts capable of breaching public peace and putting Government in a bad light among the people.

“As a matter of urgency, we also demand a detailed and transparent investigation into the unprofessional conduct of the Customs Officers involved with a view to bringing them to book as a deterrent to others’.

“In the meantime, we appeal to our people to remain calm as Government continues to engage everyone concerned to prevent a recurrence,” the government stated.

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