Aftermath Customs’ rice raid: Our nightmare not over —Bodija traders

Following the raid and seizure of bags of rice by operatives of the Nigeria Customs Service, Bodija traders inform
WALE AKINSELURE and IFEDAYO OGUNYEMI of their fears, frustrations and losses.

For over a week, rice traders of Bodija market, Ibadan, are still in a state of shock and dilemma over the invasion of their shops by men of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS). Shock, on the one hand, as the rice sellers described the magnitude of last Thursday’s raid as epochal; dilemma, on the other hand, as the shop owners are stuck at how to get their sealed shops reopened. Rice traders had locked their shops on Wednesday with the hope of returning the next day to reopen for their usual business. Unknown to them, Customs officers, said to be from its Federal Operations Unit (FOU) had other plans for the rice traders between the time they left their shops and the following morning when they hoped to reopen. Through that night, Customs officers, in what could be likened to a Gestapo, broke open 88 shops and warehouses and carted away an estimated 3,600 bags. Rice traders with shops at sections of the market especially those at Akala complex, Iwo Road garage and Monde Suya had their mouths agape when they arrived to see that their shops had been broken open, padlocks changed and sealed.

But greater shock awaited those whose shops were left open after the raid as they realized that cash from sales that they planned to take to the bank the following day had also gone. An estimated sum of N10million cash was said to have been carted away as well as other items like kegs of groundnut oil, bags of rice, bags of local rice, cartons of soap, and packs of spaghetti. After standing down the market guards while the operation lasted, the Customs men were reported to have left with six trucks full of various items. In an ensuing melee when the Customs officers, in conjunction with other security officials, carried out the operation, one person was shot.

Alhaja Ronke Mosope

While still in shock at the magnitude of the raid, the traders also faced a dilemma as the Customs officers left with a warning that anyone who removed the seal put on the shops’ doors was liable to seven years imprisonment or the payment of N100 million in fine. In seeking for help from relevant authorities, the rice traders led a protest from Bodija market, down to the state secretariat and through the secretariat-University of Ibadan road last Thursday.

In addition to the protest, the market leaders have sent a “Save Our Soul” letter to Governor Seyi Makinde, the police, the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, demanding a thorough investigation into the “horrible incident”.

In the letter, the traders also prayed the government to “give us maximum security as regards our products left in the market overnight noting that hoodlums may as well take this as an opportunity to loot.”

The affected traders also urged the Federal Government to “advise the Customs to stop using cruel method in infringing on people’s properties.”

But what was the offence of the rice traders? The raid was said to be in a bid to rid the market of foreign rice in compliance with the directive of the Federal Government that the consumption of local rice be promoted. Justifying the operation, Public Relations Officer, Oyo/Osun command of the NCS, Wey Kayode said the men of the FOU acted within their statutory rights and in compliance with the mandate of the Federal Government to ensure that no foreign rice is allowed into the country. He added that nobody was shot while the operation lasted.

When Nigerian Tribune visited the market on Thursday, some traders remained in fear of another visit by the Customs officials as many shops remained under lock and key, with the Customs seal, though fading away and looking rumpled. More importantly, the great dilemma for the traders is that their attempts to speak with Customs on the way out for them to reopen their shops and continue their businesses have been unsuccessful.

Mr Jimoh Akinremi

One of the traders who spoke with Nigerian Tribune on the raid decried the decision of Customs officials to forcefully break into shops where local rice, garri, groundnuts, noodles and spaghetti were kept.

The trader, Sulaimon Ibrahim, also alleged that millions of naira kept in his shop were also taken away, adding that the alabarus and shop owners who were able to enter the market during the raid could not stop the Customs officials as they were threatened with guns. One of them eventually sustained gunshot wound.

Ibrahim said, “those who could see them from atop the mosque told us they ransacked the shops and took away many bags of foodstuffs including foreign and local rice, packs of spaghetti and noodles, beverages and huge sums of cash after which they locked and sealed the shops with new padlocks. They took those items out in trailers.

“In our shop, they took away N15 million cash, in other places, they took varying sums of money from N500,000 to N5 million away. There was no notice that they would be here.”

‘Some of us had 900 bags of rice in our shops; they are all gone’

“When they got here, they took more than the foreign rice they consider as contraband. We have not heard from them till now even after our protest on Thursday. Those who came here are from the FOU unit of the service and not those stationed here in Ibadan. They even broke into shops at Babaloja’s complex.”

Ibrahim said most traders whose shops were raided couldn’t move on with their activities because the seal on the shops stated that whoever opens it is liable to seven years imprisonment or the payment of N100 million in fine.

One of the victims, Mrs Mariam Isiaka described the action of the Customs as tantamount to burglary.

Isiaka alleged that the Customs officers did not only cart away bags of rice but also large sums of money.

She noted that the traders sold imported rice because it was cheaper than Nigerian rice, adding that the rice sellers were now in debt because they got loans to purchase the bags of rice that were carted away.

She said, “At about 1am, Customs invaded Bodija market and took away all the bags of rice in our shops. Some of us had 900 bags while others had 400 bags in their shops.

“They came in with trucks to pack the bags. We have been robbed by Customs. They raided no fewer than 88 shops. They came with Hilux vehicles. Nigerian rice is expensive. Cotonou rice goes for N21,000 while Nigerian rice goes for N24,000.

Sealed shops

“We are not against selling Nigerian rice but it is more expensive than the one gotten from Cotonou. We do not get profit from selling Nigerian rice and this rice comes through Hausa states. We want government to save us. We all got loans to get rice; with this raid, we are now in debt.

“One of our people was shot and is in the hospital. They also carted away money from our shops. They tied down the guards and shot one person.”

Head of female rice sellers in the market, Alhaja Ronke Mosope said they had never witnessed a raid of this magnitude, alleging that the operations of the officials point to the fact that they had carried out a secret surveillance on the market during the day.

“What we have seen before is that they sometimes chase smugglers into the market and all. Their operations point to the fact that they had come during the day to mark some shops because those who saw it told us they were identifying shops with their torches except at Iwo Road Garage section where they didn’t spare any shop. A total of 88 shops were broken into including those with just five bags and sealed them all.”

Mrs Mosope told Nigerian Tribune that they kept some sums of money inside the shops because “the banks always turn us back whenever we want to make deposit after 2pm. Being the last day of the month, we had an accumulation and we kept them in the shops. I had N3.7 million inside my shop that was taken and I have records for that.”

She observed that the traders are looking forward to the reopening of the shops, adding that “nobody has been here to summon us and there have been threats that they will detain us should we go to them. They should stop all this intimidation. You can’t do something as such as a raid and not open a line of communication. And that was why we went to the governor on Thursday.”

The Babaloja of the market and head of rice sellers, Mr Jimoh Akinremi told Nigerian Tribune that persistent efforts to open a line of communication with the Customs authority have failed.

He held that the leadership of the market had stamped out the sales of foreign rice in line with the dictates of the FG but were forced to resume sales following the widespread sales by traders from the northern extraction, adding that their actions not to sell foreign rice was making them lose patronage to their northern counterparts.

He also alleged that they got the items from traders, who deliver goods in the market from the north, saying: “We never went to the border or beyond it to get these items. We got them here. How did they get across the borders?”

Akinremi said, “People bring these items from the North and sell to us here inside the market. The committee took a stand before now not to sell foreign rice but we started seeing the northerners selling foreign rice while we were gradually losing our customers because we were selling only local rice.

“We are into this business to make profit and not losses, so, we started buying from the northerners to resell. What privilege do they give them in the North to bring contraband and sell that they are not giving us? And you are saying we are One Nigeria. The government is only bent on frustrating us in the South but things are smooth in the North.

Customs office Oyo/Osun Command shut during the protest.

“We can’t dictate to the FG to prefer foreign rice as against local rice. We are even happy to sell local rice than to sell imported rice but is local rice enough? How does it taste?”

When asked about the estimates of items seized in the raid, the Babaloja said: “We are saddened that they broke into the shops and warehouses, took goods and even money. They came with six trucks and loaded them fully and that’s about 3,600 bags of rice because a truck can only take 600 bags of rice.”

He further told Nigerian Tribune that the leadership of the market has intensified efforts to open a line of communication with the authorities as part of efforts to broker peace.

He, however, said none of them have yielded positive results probably due to the Easter holiday and long weekend.

“We protested because we don’t want a crisis and our governor doesn’t want crisis too. If not that we are peace loving like our governor, there would have been crisis that may probably lead to the loss of lives.

“Now we want them to reopen our shops and that is why we went to the government to intercede on our behalf. They came here and even took more than necessary when we were still preparing for Easter and Ramadan period sales.

“Our federal lawmaker has been here. He was here during the protest. Honourable Musiliu Akinremi said he was in Kano at that time but he came here on Saturday. He said he had reached out to the highest quarters in the Customs but had not got a response.

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