Confusion trails raid by Customs men over imported rice

The hues and cries over the recent invasion of Bodija Market in Ibadan by men of Nigeria Custom Service over alleged imported rice are yet to settle as BAYO AGBOOLA reports. 
It still remains a mystery for rice traders at the Bodija Market in Ibadan over the raiding of 88 shops at the Akala Complex axis of the market by men of the Nigeria Customs Service who came in search of imported rice which were allegedly found and reportedly siezed after three hours operation by men of the Federal Operation Unit (FOU) of the Customs Service.

The raid though has come and gone but its ripple effects on the morality, legality and sentiment still linger in and around the market, Ibadan and the country at large considering the importance and prominent place of the market to the nation’s economy.

Traders allege bias

To the rice sellers, the FOU men raid of last Thursday can best be described as one raid too many, while to others especially public  commentators in the media in and across the state, the FOU raid goes beyond mere carrying out official duty to an action bedevilled with bias. Most of the commentators are of the views that the raid was not only targeted at traders at the market alone, but a clear war against the South-west and its economy for which they were quick to ask the FOU to publicly spell out its similar raid for such offensive bags in any of the  notable markets in the northern part the country particular in big cities like as Kano, Kaduna, Sokoto, among others. To others, it is an alleged ploy to ground the South-west economy while the border posts in the northern parts of the country are allegedly left unmanned but with strict checks at the border posts in the South west part of the country.

Rice union chairman speaks
Chairperson of Rice Sellers Association, Bodija market, Alhaja Ronke Oyebamiji Mosope minced no words in condemning the raid saying, the Customs men during the  day break commando-like  raid carried away 3,600 bags of rice in  six trucks from the market as well as over N3.7 million cash, cartons of vegetable oil, indomie and bags of gari from the 88 shops  allegedly broke into by the FOU men.
According to Alhaja Mosope, from her shop alone, a sum of N3.7 million cash she reportedly parked inside a  used bag was allegedly taken away alongside 100 bags of rice from her shop and that the bags taken away by the FOU men were not smuggled or imported rice as claimed by the Customs men as they  were bought from rice dealers that brought the rice to Ibadan at Ori Igi selling point.

Questioning the invasion of the market at the suspicious hour, Alhaja Mosope stated that there was no basis for what she referred to as act of wickedness on the traders as they were never involved in the smuggling of banned contraband as claimed by the FOU men.
She said that as at Friday, (April 9 2021), all the affected rice sellers are still in dark over the whereabout of their missing goods and money as there has been no link or communications to them from the Customs FOU men.”Our shops are still under lock and key. We are yet to hear anything from the FOU men since the day they raised our shops.”

We are not aware – Customs area command

Amidst the controversies over the raid, another confusing aspect of the saga is that the Oyo/Osun Customs Area Command have maintained that they had nothing to do with the said raid. Spokesman for the command, Mr Kayode repeatedly insisted that the command was not aware of the raid and that none of the Oyo/Osun Area Command Customs officials was involved in the operation in question.Some traders in Ibadan on Thursday last week protested against the alleged storming of a shopping  complex at Bodija market by men of the Nigeria Customs Service in the early hours of the day to impound bags of suspected imported rice which they insisted were not imported.

Custom FOU defends action

However, Customs Federal Operation Unit (FOU) Public Relations Officer Mr Theophilus Duniya when contacted on Friday  April 9 to speak on the matter strongly defended the action of his men, saying that it was done in line with the extant act of the service whenever such information reaches them.Specifically, Dunia said the Nigeria Customs Service is empowered by law to seize or intercept smuggled items anywhere in the country including warehouses or stores and that such searches can be carried out with or without any warrant to such a place provided there is a strong indication to that effect. He said, “You know that there is a ban on importation of foreign rice. This was done to empower local farmers. It was done to avoid casualties during confrontation with smugglers.”
Asked to speak on the over N3.7million cash and bags of gari allegedly seized alongside the seized bags of rice from the market, Dunia said the command was not aware of such insisting that during the operation, the men that went on the operation did not take any other things beyond the imported bags of rice which according to him remains a contraband in line with the federal government’s directive that it remains banned for now.
The Customs FOU spokesman emphasized that as far as the service is concerned, it has nothing to do with the seizure of bags knowing fully well that gari, indomie are not contraband items saying, “Customs has nothing to do with gari, indomie and others. They are not on our prohibition list.”He stressed that all the Customs FOU men involved in the operation are professionals; therefore insisted that they carried out the operation professionally. Mr Dunia challenged any of the rice sellers with genuine prove on either the said over N3.7million cash, bags of rice or indomie to approach the FOU office at 8, Mobolaji Bank Anthony Street in Ikeja, Lagos. A visit to the Akala complex axis of the market clearly showed that the March ending raid on the rice sellers shops could no doubt be called a big blow to the dealers, the market and the South-west states in general going by the key roles of the market to the supply of rice and other edibles in the region.

As all  hands are no doubt on deck over the Bodija Market raid by the Customs FOU unit, Nigerians are awaiting what comes out of it especially with the insinuation that such operation seems to be concentrated only in the South-west markets just as authorities of the Customs service do not seem to see the need for such operation in other major markets in the other parts of the country particularly in the north where the borders are so porous. 

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