Customs Service: There they go again – Tribune

The Ibarapa area of Oyo State is fast becoming a hotbed of blood spillage, thanks to the activities of state and non-state actors. Time and again, Fulani herdsmen have attacked the area, killing and maiming at will, but so have men of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) who, as Nigerians were to learn after considerable apprehension, staged yet another gun duel with alleged ‘smugglers’ last Friday, turning the community into a war zone. The latest attack, which reportedly took place at about 8pm, led to deaths and grievous injuries. The dead included an Amotekun commander who had reportedly responded to the distress calls by residents, and three other persons. And no one knew who the attackers were until the NCS owned up to the incident. The question is inevitable: what is it about this area of the South-West that has drawn the ire of the Nigerian state, making it a site of ceaseless bloodshed?

On that fateful Friday night, the Ibarapa North areas of Igangan, Ayete, Tapa, and Igbo-Ora witnessed yet another moment of agony. Initially, going by the alerts that had rent the airwaves regarding the possibility of another wave of attacks by Fulani herders, the incident was linked to the murderous herdsmen. But the Oyo State government promptly disclaimed that narrative. A statement issued by Mr. Taiwo Adisa, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Seyi Makinde, said: “The political and traditional leaders of Ibarapa extraction at the meeting described the Friday raid on Igangan, Igbo-Ora and other communities in the area by men of the NCS as unnecessary and not well-thought-out. They called on the leadership of the Customs service to the regulate operations of its personnel. It will be better if the authorities restrict them to border towns to end unwarranted attacks on innocent communities.”

Having allowed the wrong narrative to trend, the NCS then owned up to the inexplicable violence. Its spokesperson in charge of the Federal Operations Unit, Zone A, Theophilus Duniya, in a statement on Saturday, said that Ibarapa was not attacked by armed herders but by men of the NCS who were in hot pursuit of contraband bags of rice being allegedly smuggled from the borders into the area. According to Duniya, “The injured Customs Officers who are operatives of the Zone A, Federal Operations Unit, sighted eight trucks carrying smuggled foreign parboiled rice whose drivers and armed accompanying passengers launched an attack on the officers. One of the attackers was shot and disarmed while the others retreated with their smuggled wares.”  Claiming that three of its officers and a soldier were injured in the attack, Duniya said investigations were ongoing with the aim of arresting and prosecuting the attackers. In his own reaction, the Acting Controller of the Unit, DC Usman Yahaya, said that the NCS was resolved to suppress smuggling and would not be intimidated by attacks on its officers and men.

To be sure, the raid on Ibarapa has revealed once  again, the  unconscionable and dysfunctional aspects of Nigeria’s federalism. Recently, rising from a meeting held in Lagos, the Southern Governors Forum flayed the penchant by security operatives for invading their states to carry out provocative and bloody nocturnal operations of which they are not aware as Chief Security Officers of their respective states. This was in the wake of a similar invasion of the Soka, Ibadan residence of the Yoruba self-determination crusader, Mr. Sunday Igboho, which left two people dead and property vandalised. Last Friday’s Customs raid, like previous ones, was illegal, rude, incongruent, suspicious and bizarre. Only recently, NCS operatives raided some markets in Ibadan in the dead of night, carting away bags of rice, other food items, and money kept by traders in their shops. Worse still, in a very insolent and lawless manner, the NCS recklessly impugned the oversight powers of the Nigerian Senate which called on it to return the goods and money illegally taken from the shops.

As Nigerians are well aware, the NCS has virtually abdicated its border policing duties. Its officers and men have not mustered the courage to challenge the activities of Fulani herdsmen and other terrorists who bring arms into the country through the borders, committing genocide in every part of the country. They are shamelessly content with combing towns, going beyond 40-kilometre radius to the borders to fish for evidence that is a direct manifestations of their failure and gross irresponsibility. If the NCS was up to billing, there would be no contrabands escaping border scrutiny. Sadly, in the face of obvious failure, it waxes garrulous, purveying illogic. The distance between Ibarapa and the nearest Nigerian border is said to be about 204 kilometers. In saner climes, if perchance contrabands escape from the border, it would be the constitutional duty of the police to apprehend the criminals.

Besides, it is troubling that, as the NCS claimed, the bloody operation in Ibarapa was carried out in conjunction  with men of the Nigerian Army. Pray, why would it choose to work with the Army rather than the police during a supposed raid on contraband rice? Again, why would an Amotekun operative be killed, rather than the alleged smugglers? The identities of the two others killed are yet to be ascertained, but Nigerians deserve to know who they were. More fundamentally, why were  the NCS operatives and soldiers who carried out the operation unable to provide even a shred of evidence that rice was being allegedly smuggled into the area? Why could they not apprehend even one of the eight trailers allegedly used during the act, nor any of their consignment? All that was shown were the bodies of the slain Amotekun commander and those of the others. These questions are pertinent, and they must be answered.

Already, the subsisting claim by the people of Ibarapa is that the NCS merely claimed responsibility for the attack in order to deflect the original perception that it was Fulani herders who stormed the area. In a Nigeria where there is a clear governmental favouritism of Fulani herders and disdain for other ethnic groups,  that allegation is understandable. As we noted in previous editorials, the NCS has opened up itself to the charge of ethnic favouritism in a multi-ethnic state, and that is a terrible path to tread. The latest raid on Ibarapa must be investigated thoroughly and appropriate legal steps taken.

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