Following the petition by Senator Kola Balogun who represented Oyo South Senatorial District complaining of the seizures of bags of rice from the marketers during a raid, the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges have directed the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Col Hameed Ali (retd.) to ensure that officers of the service return the bags of rice and money seized from shops in popular Oja Oba market in Ibadan.
According to Senator Balogun, the petition was on behalf of the affected traders who said their shops were raided during which bags of rice and money were collected.
The Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan had referred the matter to the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions to carry out an investigation on the allegation of looting by the Customs.
It was reliably gathered that NCS officers had invaded the Oja Oba market last week and carted away eight truckloads of rice and money found in the shops of the affected traders. The operation was carried out a month after the operatives raided Bodija International Market, Ibadan, where they also carted away bags of rice.
In its resolution, the Senate Committee urged the Comptroller General of Customs, Hameed Ali, to ensure that the seized goods and money were returned to the affected traders within two weeks and their shops unlocked.
Members of the Senate committee expressed reservations that the action of the NCS was a breach of the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) and the Executive Order signed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2007, which empowers the agency to only impound smuggled goods within a 40-kilometer radius to the border.
Chairman of the committee, Senator Ayo Akinyelure, who recalled that a similar operation carried out by the NCS in Katsina State led to the dismissal of the officer who led the operations while the confiscated goods were returned to the traders on the orders of President Muhammadu Buhari, urged the Comptroller-General of Customs to extend the same gesture to the affected traders in Oyo State.
“Why do you allow the goods to come in through the borders and they find their way to the market of innocent citizens? These people are retailers, they don’t have the capacity to import. There is no reasonable ground for your people to go to the market in the thick of the night. The market isn’t within 40km radius of the border. Some people gave you information and you didn’t verify.
“There is a precedence that this thing happened in Katsina and the officers were sacked. Is this the time to go and raid helpless women who borrowed money to do their business? You also took their money from their shops, you admitted. Is money also contraband?” he queried.
“They should return those goods within 15 days. Tell the CG to unlock their shops so that they can continue to do their business. The market isn’t within the 40km radius of the border. The precedence that happened in Katsina and a directive came from above. So, if it happened in Katsina and Ibadan, the capital of south-west shouldn’t be an exception.”
“You are heating up the polity, punishing innocent people. The real people who bring in the rice you know them. We are telling you to return their goods and money in two weeks. Whatever decision you take, you must come back to this committee. The rice and garri must be returned. You must also unlock their shops,” Akinyelure said.
Senator Kola Balogun also said the Customs officers owed Nigerians an apology for the illegal raid. “The procedure is wrong. The Act says you can seal off the shops in the presence of the owners, not to go there in the night. If it happened in Katsina and the goods were returned, why can’t we do similar thing in the case of Bodija? What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander,” he said.