The House of Representatives has begun an investigation of the alleged extrajudicial killing of five persons in Iseyin, Oyo State, by men of the Nigeria Customs Service.
The House Committee on Customs and Excise grilled officials of the NCS at an investigative hearing, where the lawmakers condemned the Service over how it handled the crisis that followed the interception of rice smugglers on May 13, 2021.
Tijani Rasak, a leader in the Iseyin community, who spoke on behalf of the victims’ families, said, “On the 13th of May 2021, the incident occurred around 4:30pm during the Eid-el-Fitr celebration after Ramadan. The majority of those people that were killed were not smugglers; they were only performing their official duties. Some were okada (commercial motorcycle) riders, some were painters while some were just going on the road where the stray bullets hit most of them and they died.
“We are not saying that the Customs or any other government agency should not perform their official duties but what baffled us most is that when you consider the nearness of Iseyin Town to the nearest border, if not more than 200 kilometres, it will be 200 kilometres to the border. And we believe that there is a stipulation of 25 kilometres to the order, where the Customs can operate.
“If they were able to catch these smugglers within that limit, we will believe that they were performing their duty. But coming down to the town where people were going on, performing their duties, going here and there; most of the people were not even aware that there was something (clash) between the Customs and the smugglers.
“They wasted five lives. There were some who were hit by these bullets but they did not die. But five persons died instantly. This is not the first time that this is happening in Iseyin, and that is why the community’s head said enough is enough.”
Chairman of the House Committee on Customs and Excise, Leke Abejide, while leading the grilling of the NCS’ representatives, asked how the alleged contraband was smuggled through 50 towns covering about 200 kilometres before being intercepted at Iseyin.
Abejide said, “Why was it that they (smugglers) were not arrested there at the border before coming to this long distance?”
Responding, the Acting Deputy Controller-General of Customs (Enforcement, Investigation and Inspection), Elton Edorhe, stated that all recruits undergo training especially on weapon handling in the NCS.
Edorhe also stated that, “Customs operations are not necessarily limited to the borders. We are not under any limitations. Under Section 158 of CEMA, we are to patrol freely. CEMA is an Act of Parliament.”
While Abejide said the CEMA Act is moribund the Acting DCG said, “It is still the Act we are working with. You are working on the amendment and until that is done, we are working with what we have.”
Edorhe added, “Under Section 158, we are to patrol freely; no inhibition. So, we are not limited to 25 kilometres from the border. Then, the incident in Iseyin relates to our Federal Operations Unit, not the Osun/Oyo Command. Federal Operations Control Zone A covers the whole of the South-West, and on intelligence, they can go to anywhere to operate. But the particular incident of 13th of May, the Assistant Legal Adviser has come up with a position, which he would read out.”
The Assistant Legal Adviser, NCS, Umar Lawal, noted that the Customs has a base in Iseyin. He also said on the day of the incident, men and officers of the FOU were on patrol when they intercepted two Nissan Pathfinder Sports Utility Vehicles laden with parboiled foreign rice.
Lawal noted that after the interception, attempts were made to arrest the smugglers base on Section 8 of the CEMA Act, “which gave Customs personnel the powers, same as that of the police; they have the powers of police officers to make arrest, detain and possibly prosecute.”
The lawmakers, however, picked holes in the presentation by the lawyer, asking why the NCS denied killings when where were evidence of deaths during the shootings; why the officers decided to shoot over seized rice thereby putting lives at risk; if Customs’ base had ever been attacked in Iseyin if not for the killing of the residents, among other queries.
The lawmakers said they had been informed that the NCS had sent emissaries to leaders of Iseyin to beg the community.
The committee also presented a doctor’s report on one of the victims, 30-year-old Tobi Akintola to the Lawal, which he read out to the audience, indicating that the slain resident died from gunshot wounds.
The committee resolved to adjourn the hearing and summon the Customs officials in Oyo who were directly involved in the incident.