***NASS wades in, NCS calls its bluff
By Ola Ajayi
WHEN men of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, raided the popular Bodija International Market some weeks ago at an ungodly hour, market men and women staged a protest that nearly recorded some casualties.
About 250 bags of foreign rice were confiscated when Customs officials broke into the warehouse.
Also, some traders claimed that about N250, 000, hidden in one of the bags, was taken away by the uninvited guests.
The Oyo/Osun Command through its Public Relations Officer, Mr. Kayode Wey said the raid was not carried out by officers of the command and this, somehow, quenched the simmering crisis that would have snowballed into an unmanageable proportion.
The traders thought the anti-smuggling agency had learned its lesson following a public outcry that trailed their actions.
But, about two weeks ago, the uncompromising NCS again carried out another raid at Oja Oba Market in a similar desperado manner.
Vanguard gathered that no fewer than eight trucks loaded with bags of rice were seized by the NCS men.
Vanguard also gathered that each time the Customs men raided markets; the prices of the already scarce commodities skyrocket, thereby, worsening the economy that has been struggling to survive.
Bodija traders revolt
Again, people and the traders revolted threatening Customs men that they would be treated as burglars any other time they repeat the raid.
One of the traders, Sola, who spoke withVanguard, described the action of NCS as complete insensitivity to the sufferings of the masses.
He said, in as much as he would not want to support smuggling of banned items, he wondered where the men turned their attention to when the smuggled items crossed the borders.
While calling on the Federal Government to call the NCS to order, he advised the government not to trigger another crisis in the South-West when it is still battling the recurring violence in the South-East and other parts of the country.
The cries of the masses and others reached the high heavens that it caught the attention of Senator Kola Balogun who took it up to the National Assembly.
Bodija warehouse still sealed by NCS—Babaloja
While speaking with Vanguard in a telephone interview, the Babaloja of Oyo State, Alhaji Sumaila Jimoh pleaded with the Customs personnel to release the bags of rice taken from Bodija Market adding that the raid had further deepened the sufferings of the masses and the traders who have been struggling to survive in this crawling economy.
Jimoh said: “The action of the Customs is wrong. We buy and sell. When they bring rice from the North to us in the market, we buy. Do they label any bag of rice as smuggled rice?
“When they raided the warehouse, there were bags of beans and other items inside the building. Are beans and other perishable items in the shop contraband? They have sealed the warehouse. After packing all the bags of rice, they locked up bags of beans, yams and others there. The beans must have been infested with weevils now. How do they explain that?
“I pray that NCS will not push people to the wall when they will fight back. You know how tense the situation is in the country. People are angry and they are charged. If you pursue a sheep to the wall, it may not have any other option than to turn to its pursuers.
“We buy our wares in Nigeria here. We don’t know Cotonou. Why should they be disturbing us where we transact our own legitimate business? Nobody travels across borders to buy rice. We buy what Northern traders bring to us in the market here.
“They may write China or any country on a bag of rice, that is not our concern. We are buyers and sellers. In times past, we used to buy from Lagos. Since they stopped importation, it has been difficult for us to get our wares to buy. If you pay to the local producers they are imposing on us, for two or three months, you will not get delivery of goods you paid for. As traders, what do they expect us to do after waiting endlessly for goods we paid for and are not forthcoming?”
When Senator Balogun, who represents Oyo South Senatorial District, presented the matter before the Senate, the Upper House directed the NCS to return the confiscated bags of rice within the next two weeks.
NCS calls the bluff of NASS
But, NCS, like a canine dog which no longer obeys the command of its owner, replied the legislative arm that it should not arrogate much power to itself, asking the Senate to face its constitutionally recognised legislative duties and not to dabble into a matter that is outside its jurisdiction.
To the NCS, the legislative arm was just trying to arrogate power meant for the judiciary to themselves.
The NCS spokespersons, Messrs Joseph Attah and Timi Bomodi, remained adamant insisting that the raid of the market at night was backed by Section 147 of the Customs and Excise Act.
Attah said: “Is it today that Customs have been raiding markets? Why is there so much noise about the Ibadan raid? When Customs raided markets in Mubi in Adamawa State and another notorious market in Kano, why wasn’t there any outrage?
“Section 147 of the CEMA law gives the Customs powers to do this. Again, comparing what happened in Ibadan to what happened in Katsina State is wrong. These are two different scenarios. What happened in Ibadan can only be compared to a raid that happened in Ilorin where a lady came forward to say her rice was locally made. After a careful examination and the discovery that the rice was not foreign, her bags were returned to her.”
The NCS’ Deputy National Public Relations Officer, Timi Bomodi also asked the senators to face their law-making business.
Bomadi said: “Section 147 of the CEMA act is clear on this issue. I think the senators are doing their jobs. The senators make laws but they should leave the interpretation of laws to the court. It is the job of the court to interpret laws.
“The senators cannot make laws and at the same time interpret laws. If they are doing that, then they are usurping the authority of another arm of government. We operate a democracy and there are three arms of government in it. The senators should not usurp the powers of another constituted authority.”
Balogun enlightens NCS
Reacting to the comments of the NCS, Senator Balogun said: “The statement credited to Customs was nonsensical, it doesn’t make sense. It also means that it must be coming from someone who is so uninformed about the powers of the legislature.
“Yes, we have the powers to make laws, we also have what we call oversight powers of the legislature and they are instruments for nation-building.
“The legislature is an institution which represents the collective interest of the citizenry, through the enactment of laws and the exercise of oversight functions on the activities of the Executive arm of government.
“The legislature in a democracy exists as an independent institution which deepens democracy and ultimately, strengthens the polity.
“This is where they are getting it wrong. It is wrong to say we are usurping the powers of the judiciary. No. That’s not what we are doing. We enact laws and we also can talk about the application of that law. In any case, where there are procedural errors on the part of those who are to execute the law, we must call them to order.
“It isn’t about interpreting the law. They also admit during our interactions with them, because we put it to them that even going by the so-called Customs Act that they are brandishing to oppress the people of this country, we asked them if they also realise that they weren’t supposed to go there in the absence of the shop owners?
“The excuse they gave is that they have to minimise the incidence of violence because when the owners are there, they would resist. Is that enough excuse for you to break the law?”
Is that an excuse for them to circumvent the Act that they are using to protect as an alibi to defend their nefarious activities?
Controversy over amount of money found in broken shops
After the raids of both markets, there have been heated arguments between the NCS men and the traders over the amount of money that NCS men took away. While the traders are claiming that a higher amount was taken away, NCS claimed it took only ¦ 522,350 which was seen in one bag.
Balogun, still condemning the act, said what the Customs men did was tantamount to robbery asking them who was their witness when they broke into the shops to know the amount of money taken.
The lawmaker said: “What they did was purely armed robbery. How can you go there and pick people’s money? Now they are saying they only found N6, 000 they took from the shops and the shop owners are saying something different. If you count any money while you were there, in whose presence did you take the money?”
NASS has options if NCS fails to comply
Advising NCS leadership to toe the path of honour by returning the confiscated items, he warned that the Senate had options if they failed to abide by the directive.
He said: “if you don’t comply with our order, of course, we have other options but I won’t tell you what the options are until the two weeks must have expired and then we go back to meet and then also report to the Senate. I think they had better not start a war they can neither win nor finish because it is going to be very unfortunate for them. The laws are made for people, not people made for the laws.”
“We have a problem of insecurity, arms and ammunitions are coming through the borders, and they aren’t policing these borders but running after rice sellers in market places”.
The battle line is drawn as the deadline given to the NCS expires next week. Nigerians are waiting for who will win when the dust settles on the matter. Is NCS more powerful than the representatives, to who millions of Nigeria gave their mandates?