Trigger-happy anti-smuggling patrol team of the Customs’ Federal mOperation Unit, Lagos, has inflicted serious injuries on a nine-month-old pregnant woman in their pursuit of fleeing alleged smugglers around Sango-Ota in Ogun state.
The woman who was initially left for dead was later rushed to a nearby hospital where he was placed on intensive care.
It was gathered that the Customs team tried to apprehend smugglers around the area but a group of young men trooped to the scene trying to prevent the arrest.
Information has it that the Customs officers while trying to escape, were eventually over powered and in desperation, began to shoot sporadically in a bid to escape the mob action;
However, in the process, one of the strayed bullets hit the woman said to be working with IBEDC company.
Two trigger-happy officers of the patrol team were said to have been detained at Obasanjo Farm police station but the FOU Spokesman, Jerry Attah, said they were only taken into custody for protection following the attack by the young men.
Attah, who resorted to blame game in a bid to exonerate the offending Customs Officers, said the two officers have since been released and that he has also spoken to both the woman and the doctor at the hospital where she was taken to.
Witnesses said operatives of the Federal Operations Unit (FOU), Zone A, Ikeja, of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) were on the trail of the LT bus suspected to be conveying smuggled rice.
One of the passengers, Yemi Saheed, said: “The vehicle is a commercial bus and we were coming from Sango-Ota and the driver of the bus stopped when he noticed the Customs vans trailing the bus. While we were still inside the bus, the driver alighted to inquire why he was being followed and about six Customs men that alighted from their vans surrounded our bus.”
The driver, Ajayi Olayinka, said he was conveying the rice to Agege for the owner.
He said: “I am not a smuggler and I don’t ply the Idiroko border route. I ply Sango-Agege route every day and I am used to carrying goods including foodstuff for traders and passengers who purchased them at Sango Market. I had just five passengers and about 10 bags of rice which a trader asked me to convey to Agege. Suddenly, I noticed that some Customs men riding in two operational vehicles were following me and I stopped at Abule-Egba to inquire from them why they were trailing me unnecessarily.
‘’Two of the Customs men blocked my vehicle and demanded to know what I was having in the bus and I told them that I was conveying 10 bags of rice for a passenger. As I was trying to explain further, their colleagues came down from their vans and shot indiscriminately at my bus knowing full well that there were passengers inside the vehicle. In the process, three passengers were hit while they beat me with the butt of their rifles. Unfortunately, one of the passengers, a boy, who was shot in the head died instantly while two others who sustained gunshot injuries have been taken to a General Hospital. And knowing the consequences of what they did, the Customs men immediately shot into the air and escaped from the scene.
The incident caused confusion but Rapid Response Squad (RRS) operatives promptly moved in to douse tension.
In a statement, FOU’s Public Relations Officer, Mr. Jerry Attah, said the Customs operatives were attacked by suspected smugglers, who attempted to resist arrest.
Attah disclosed that a bus with unspecified quantity of rice was being trailed by the Customs men when the smugglers resorted to confrontation. Fortunately, he said, nobody died.
The statement reads : ‘’ On January 17 (yesterday), at about 05:30am, operatives of the FOU, acting on a tip-off, traced one LT bus loaded with unspecified bags of smuggled foreign parboiled rice from Sango area and eventually stopped it at Abule-Egba.
‘’Before he was finally halted at Abule-Egba, the driver started shouting and making inciting comments that attracted mob action against the officers with different dangerous weapons such as broken bottles, stones and cutlasses. Obviously, he had driven to where he could get his associates to help attack the Customs officers.
‘’Given support of the mob, he resisted lawful arrest and the other armed operatives fired shots in the air to disperse the raging mob but to no avail. As a responsible organisation, the officers retreated to avoid any casualty. We appreciate and thank God that no life was lost as at the time of the confrontation even though two of our officers sustained injuries.
‘’For the avoidance of doubt, the fact that a smuggler has evaded scrutiny either by following unapproved route or compromising any officer does not guarantee that the smuggled item will not be seized anywhere it is found by patrol officers whose duty is to ensure compliance.’’
The unorthodox methods of the anti-smuggling team of Lagos FOU have severally resorted to mayhem and pain to Nigerians who have always been on thwe receiving end of their operations.