Raid or burglary? Bodija traders’ agonising wait for justice

Two weeks after the alleged midnight raid of Bodija market by operatives of Nigeria Customs Service, traders are yet to get intervention from the government and Custom authorities. KOLA MUHAMMED reports that the wait is one which may continue for much longer.

With the notoriety that accompanies the first day in the month of April which is popularly known as April fool, traders at the popular Bodija market, Ibadan, Oyo State capital, would have been forgiven if they thought that news of the raid of their shops was an attempt to play an expensive prank on them.

However, there was no element of falsehood when they set eyes on the shops they thought they left intact and well closed on the night of March 31st. Many of the shops had been forced open, locks and doors left in tatters, while some other shops were sealed off with a note of warning not to be tampered with else a fine of 100 million naira or ten years’ imprisonment awaits whoever tries to break the seal and open the shops.

Even though the news of the operatives of the Nigeria Customs Service raiding and seizing bags of rice, among other commodities, at the Bodija market in the midnight of April 1st has since spread across the nook and cranny of the South-Western region, and Nigeria by extension, many of the affected traders remain in disbelief as they continue to rue their losses and wonder if their entrepreneurial lives will ever return to normal.

Findings by Sunday Tribune revealed that the total number of rice bags that were reportedly carted away by Customs officials is about 3000, with a bag of rice estimated to be N22,000.

Some of the traders also revealed to Sunday Tribune that apart from rice, other commodities like garri and groundnut oil were also carted away. Those who kept money in their shops could only rue their luck as millions of naira were also reported missing in the aftermath of the raid.

 

‘Midnight raid is tantamount to burglary’

When Sunday Tribune interacted with the traders, it was gathered that the Customs often come to their market for routine checks, to examine if they were not selling contraband goods, rice especially. Any bag(s) of rice found to be imported, since the closure of borders was announced presumably to encourage local production and consumption of Nigerian-made rice, would be impounded by Customs officials.

Any of such routine was done during the day, when the shops are open for business and buyers available to patronise. However, a midnight raid, the Bodija traders told Sunday Tribune, was unprecedented. It was something that had never happened before.

One of the market women, Alhaja Ronke Mosope, expressed that to burgle people’s shops and cart away with their goods, the ones within and without their jurisdiction is tantamount to burglary and such people could take lives with their act.

“We have been in this business for long. NAFDAC, SON and other agencies all come for inspection. For goods they are not sure of, they take samples to the lab and inspect. After that, we are cleared. Never have they seized our goods without reason.

“We do not sell contraband goods. The bags of rice we sell were bought within Nigeria. The groundnut oil, noodles and garri that were also carted away, are they contraband imported goods too? 3.7 million naira cash was taken away from my shop. Is that also part of what they are supposed to do?

“People that can come in the midnight to raid our shops of goods without bothering to check the kind of goods they want to seize are capable of killing. This one has no other name, it is burglary,” Mosope added.

 

Road to recovery

With the losses of goods and money Bodija traders have experienced, it was perhaps unsurprising when Sunday Tribune visited the market on Thursday that many of the shops remained closed and those that were open had scanty goods in them, compared to what used to be the norm before the April 1st incident.

A trader like Alhaja Tawa Oyesiji who lost over 900 bags of rice to the raid lamented that things have not remained the same again ever since and the struggle still remains to even keep their shops open.

“Many of us have been run aground because we took bank loans to finance our businesses. Those that didn’t take loans from banks relied on cooperative societies. Where do we start from this?

“Not only have our goods which worth millions of naira been stolen from us, but our shops have also been sealed off. How do we even go back to business as usual? Both the goods and the shops have been taken from us.

“And we can’t try to tamper with the sealed shops because the warning is there that we’d either face imprisonment or pay 100 million naira,” Oyesiji added.

For those who only lost their goods but did not have their shops sealed off, the tales of woes still persist. For MrsRonkeMosope and a few other traders, they continue to compound their already heavy load of debt.

“Even though our businesses before the raid have been a case of take goods now and pay later, this recent disaster has meant that we have to contend with more debt.

“The news is all over and our suppliers also understand the misfortune that we have suffered. They have been giving us what they can give us and we have been selling what we can afford to, for now.”

 

‘We need intervention, not intimidation’

With the traders still counting their losses, the only way out of the quagmire, according to them, is intervention from the government and the Nigeria Customs Service, as opposed to the body language of intimidation they have been getting from the latter.

“We appeal to the government to release our shops which has been put under official lock. Our goods have been taken away and sealing off the shops thereafter is adding insult to injury. There’s no way we can do business if our shops remain under lock and key,” Alhaja Tawa Oyesiji said.

Corroborating the words of Oyesiji, a trader who pleaded anonymity disclosed that they have been getting threats and intimidation from the Custom quarters.

“We have not gone to the Customs office ourselves but the people that have gone on our behalf, including Police officers have relayed back to us that we should go ourselves. And we all know it is a ploy to get whoever shows face at their office arrested.

“They should show some mercy and allow us to use our shops.We need intervention, not intimidation,” the trader added.

On government intervention,Alhaja Ronke Mosope and the secretary to the Market women association at Bodija market, Mr  Afolabi Toyin, disclosed to Sunday Tribune that the association of traders in the market had already gone to the Oyo State Secretariat to appeal to Governor Seyi Makinde and they have also made a list of their losses and submitted to the Senator representing their constituency, Senator Kola Balogun but they are yet to get anything from either party.

“Two weeks have passed since that incident and we have gone to the secretariat to make our grievances known to Governor Seyi Makinde. We heard about the fire at the spare part market at Gate and we were deeply pained. The governor went there on the third day but we are yet to see him here.

“We have also made a list of everything that was taken away from our shops and submitted through the association to Senator Kola Balogun. Nothing we have heard from them.

“We passionately appeal to the government to come to our rescue,” Mosope added.

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