Funso Olojo ||The Federal government has expressed disgust and embarrassment at the incessant and often indiscriminate invasion of shops and open markets by the officers of the Nigeria Customs Service in a bid to make seizures.
Often times, the anti-smuggling patrol teams of the Federal operations Units of the Nigeria Customs Service, especially the Lagos zone ‘A’ unit, have incessantly raided in a military ‘sting’ operations, open markets and shops under the guise of seizing contraband goods, especially rice.
In the process, innocent Nigerians have either been killed or maimed.
The latest of such atrocious actions of the Lagos unit recently happened at Sango-Ota axis where a pregnant woman was hit by the strayed bullets of the trigger-happy Customs officers.
However, the Federal government may have given the top echelon of the Customs a stern warning not to engage in such an open display of naked force but to ensure that these contraband goods, especially rice, are intercepted at the borders before they enter the country.
Towards this end, the government has indicated its readiness to empower the Customs to carry out this onerous task, not unmindful of the porous nature of the Nigerian borders and the dearth of operational vehicles and other motivational equipment.
Consequently, the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun has secured an approval of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for the princely sum of N2.32billion to procure 50 operational vehicles dedicated to fight rice smuggling.
According to the Minister, the sum of N1.2billion of the funds will be used to purchase these utility vehicles while the other N1.2billion will be used to procure befitting 81 units of two-bedroom flat to serve as Customs barracks in Abuja.
Adeosun stated that the procurement of the operational vehicles, which would be deployed to the anti-rice smuggling Task Force, was also meant to stop custom officials from invading markets to seize smuggled rice and harassing traders.
“The second approval was for the purchase of 50 vehicles and they are going to be deployed for an anti-rice smuggling Task Force that is being put together which Customs will be leading.
“As you know, our efforts to become major rice producers had resulted to the revival of local rice growers. But what we found was although that there was 90 per cent reduction in the official import of rice, smuggling has increased and of course our borders are very porous.
“We believe that to protect our farmers and to protect the investments that the people had made and gone back to the farm government must really act to stem the tide of illegal rice importation via smuggling.
“We felt that it is important we don’t want Customs going to seize rice in the markets. Customs should actually act to stop rice coming in at the border posts and Customs indicated that they need additional vehicles, additional resources as well as of course other more information-driven strategies to stop it,’’ she said.
According to her, the multi-agency task force on anti-rice smuggling, which has been in operation since July 2017, had been gathering information on how to check smuggling of rice into the country.
On the new barracks project, Adeosun expressed the hope that it would go a long way in addressing the accommodation challenges being experienced by the customs officials.