The Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) on Thursday insisted that its officers and men did not kill anyone during the open confrontation with members of the Iseyin community in Oyo State on the May 13, 2021.
Although, the community established that five lives were lost and many persons were injured in the milieu, the NCS denied knowledge of the killings.
An assistant legal adviser with the NCS, Umar Lawal, during an investigative hearing into the matter by the House of Representatives Committee on Customs and Excise alleged that a mob from the community attacked the Customs officers who had intercepted and seized bags of foreign rice conveyed in two pathfinder SUVs.
He also said the Customs personnel were empowered by law to kill if attacked with weapons. He, however, denied that the Customs operatives killed anyone on the same day.
He narrated that on that day, the suspected smugglers escaped and incited a mob against the officers to dispossess them of the seizure.
He said the mob blocked the officers, who fired shots into the air to disperse them before taking the seized items to their base in Iseyin.
According to him, the mob regrouped in larger numbers and attacked their base with cutlasses, sticks, stones, and sundry weapons.
But while presenting the death certificate of one of the deceased before the committee, representative of the community, Alhaji Tijani Rasaq, noted that the five people who met their untimely death were not smugglers.
Rasaq, however, demanded compensation for the next of kin of the deceased, noting that they were breadwinners of their respective families going about their lawful activities before they were killed.
According to him, it was not the first time such incident happened in the community, and that the people of Iseyin were fed up with such excesses from the Customs.
Rasaki said Iseyin is located about 200km from the nearest border, hence the incident should not have happened as Customs’ operations should not exceed 40km from the border.
He further noted that the Customs officers involved crossed about 50 towns before getting to Iseyin where the unfortunate incident occurred.
Meanwhile, the acting deputy comptroller-general of Customs in charge of Enforcement, Investigation and Inspection, Elton Edorhe, noted that the officers acted within their rules of engagement.
“Officers and men of the Service are being guided by SEMA particularly Section 8 which gives the Customs the powers of the police. There is also Section 11 of the same SEMA which makes it an offense – a very grievous offense – for anybody to interrupt a Customs officer when performing their duty.
There is also Section 159 of SEMA which also makes it an offense to interrupt an officer and it gives the officer the power to make seizure. Section 159 gives a punishment of death for anyone to confiscate or use any weapon against the Service’ men. So, in a nutshell, what happened on the 13th of May, 2021, the officers were on their legitimate duty as permitted by law,” he stated.