Following the alleged invasion of their stores by about 30 officials of the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, accompanied by soldiers, market women, who deal in parboiled rice at Mile 2 Oke/Under-bridge Market, in Amuwo-Odofin Local Government Area of Lagos State, staged a peaceful protest to the head office of Vanguard Media Limited, yesterday.
The women, who wept uncontrollably, complained that the armed Customs men and soldiers, who drove in two trucks, invaded their stores at about 1.00am yesterday, carting away about 1,200 bags of rice.
Speaking through Mrs Suwebatu Akorede, the women, who arrived the Vanguard’s office at about 1.00pm, lamented that the Customs men and soldiers broke into their stores without indicating what their offences were.
Akorede said, “The armed security operatives met our workers who slept in the market, when they drove in at about 1.00am. During their operation, they beat our workers up and even injuring two of them with gun butts. They drove away with two-trailer load of bags of parboiled rice, as well as cartons of juice drinks, that we had in our stores.”
When Sunday Vanguard visited the market around 3.00pm yesterday, the market women, numbering over 100 wore forlorn faces, even as others were seen discussing in hushed tones.
Semiu Akeem, one of the workers who alleged that he was beaten by the armed security operatives, said: “I was sleeping when the Customs officials and soldiers woke me at about 1.00am. After identifying myself as a worker in the market, one of the soldiers started ransacking my pockets. When I asked what the problem was, what I saw was that he used his gun’s butt to hit me on my knee. At that moment, the soldier took from me the N150, 000 that I had on me, as well as my two phones.”
Semiu added that “after the armed security operatives finished loading their two trucks with the bags of parboiled rice, they drove me and three of my co-workers to the Customs office at Ikeja.”
Also speaking, another trader, Mrs Chi Okeke said: “We pay Customs duty to bring in our rice through the Seme border. So, we are surprised that the same Customs officials who had collected duty from us will still come to invade our stores and carting away our products.”
Chairman of the market, Mr. Idowu Akanbi, said: “We have gone to Customs office at Ikeja to bail our workers that were arrested, and they asked us to come back on Monday, to secure their release, stating that it was already weekend.”
When contacted, the spokesperson, NCS, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, Uche Ejesieme said: “Sequel to an intelligence information, that large quantity of smuggled goods were kept in an open location at Mile 2, the headquarters monitoring team led by Assistant Comptroller Jatau Micah swooped on the location in an operation that lasted between 01.30am to 03.30am of Saturday.
“The team evacuated 580 bags of suspected smuggled 50kg parboiled rice and 151 pieces of used tyres. The seized items and the suspects have been brought down to our facility in Ikeja for further investigation. On the joint operation with the Army, it is in line the policy of inter agency synergy and there is nothing untoward about that.”