We thrive on illogicalities. We neutralise curses with invectives. Suffering a headache? Take some gin. Chew some raw coconut to cure your cough. Add some tobacco snuff to the bargain. Damn the flu with a dip in a freezing pool. Tell the asthmatic we’ve found a permanent cure: inhalation of fine powdery tatashe and Cameroon pepper.
As a society, it seems we subscribe to the bush doctor’s prescriptions which negate logic, stultify reason and alienate the people. We chose the period of a worldwide pandemic to compel people to register for a National ID number. While the rest of the world was maintaining social distancing to keep the rampaging virus at bay, we were forcing people to mill around in their thousands, packed like sardines in small spaces. Nowhere else in the world could that have happened.
But trust the Nigerian God who is always swatting flies from the rear quarters of the tail-less cow, the common people survived the ordeal as if their helplessness was an antidote to Covid.
It is difficult to understand the strange ways of government officials. Many a time, the impression is given that the sole purpose of government is to block the people’s path to fulfilment and happiness. There is no sector where this negative use of government power is more noticeable than in the lower rungs of the social ladder where market men and women are at the receiving end.
Only the other day, customs officers raided Oja’ba and Orita Merin markets in Ibadan metropolis, carting away over 2,000 bags of 50 kg rice in eight trucks. The raid was carried out in the dead of the night when the owners of the goods had gone home.
The Customs officials stormed the market in a gangster fashion, firing shots into the air. According to Alhaji Jamiu, one of the traders, “They broke into our shops, took away rice, vegetable oil, garri and yam flour. After breaking our padlocks, they put new ones and sealed the shop with a message that we should not tamper with it.”
Another affected trader, Alhaja Kafayat Haruna, narrated her ordeal: “They took away 164 bags of 50 kg rice from my shop; they took away 200 bags from my neighbour’s shop. But what still baffles me is the fact that they also took away bags of garri and yam flour. Are these also imported?”
While it is true that there is a ban on imported rice, Nigerians have been asking how such consignment could enter the country if not through the complicity of customs officials. So, it is a case of double jeopardy. Traders bribe customs officials to bring in their goods and then have to contend with another gang of enforcers after the goods have reached the market.
And why would customs seize bags of garri, elubo and beans? Have the triune staples of eba, amala and beans been banned by the federal government of Nigeria? And why would they also cart away cash left in the shops. One trader said he lost N3.7 million cash in the raid.
It is the same thing that happens to importers of used vehicles. After ‘settling’ customs officials at the border or along the many illegal routes, the car dealers are often subjected to random raids by the customs under the pretext of checking whether the correct duties were paid. In saner climes, the ports are where all checks are done. Unstructured random checks leave too much room for corruption.
Alhaji Abdulrasheed Jamiu, introduced an ethnic dimension: “What baffles me is that this kind of operation the Customs Service is carrying out in the southwestern part of the country is not applicable in the North.”
I am not one to ventilate micro-nationalism, so, let’s leave that allegation aside and examine the issue further.
Lawyers think the Customs officials went beyond their brief. A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Yomi Aliu, said it was an illegal act that should not be allowed to go unpunished. “Apart from being an act of brigandage, it is oppressive, provocative, unconscionable and executive lawlessness”, he declared.
“The women should sue the life out of Customs to put an end to this. What they took bribe to allow into Nigeria, they are now using night cover to do in private shops. Shooting their preys from behind. Did they have any search warrant? And if they had, could same be executed behind the owners of the shops? This is a gross act of impunity”, argued Aliu.
Another lawyer, Toyese Owoade said, “Although the raid on shops is not ultra vires of their powers under the law, the brazen manner in which it was, however, done is questionable. The raid on people’s shops in a market should have been done in a more professional manner, particularly when there was nothing to indicate the shops the goods were actually taken from… The agency is liable because, although the law permits them, they have carried out their duties improperly”.
The traders wonder how a government that is faced with a youth unemployment rate of 33% will pursue a policy that is bound to pauperise more people in an era of security challenges all over the country. The Babaloja of Oyo State, Alhaji Sumaila Jimoh, noted that the raid had further deepened the sufferings of the masses and the traders who have been struggling to survive in this these hard times.
He explained: “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? 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 turn on you.
“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.
When the matter came up at a senate hearing, the upper legislative chamber ordered the customs to return the seized goods to the traders.
Indeed, a former Assistant Comptroller General of Customs now a legislator, Senator Francis Fadahunsi criticised the raids, describing them as misuse of power. He said the Customs should follow the law which stipulates that such operations should only be carried out within 40 kilometres of the border.
He wondered why the Customs were carrying out such raids at a time when so many Nigerians are suffering because of insecurity, poverty, hunger, unemployment compounded by the fact that loans attract exorbitant interest rates. He noted that if the customs officers had done their jobs and manned the borders properly, the alleged contraband would not have found its way into markets.
The Customs have since launched a pushback through its spokesmen. The Deputy Public Relations Officer, Timi Bomodi, has counselled the senate to focus on its primary duty of lawmaking and not usurp the powers of other arms of government by interpreting the laws of the land, while his boss, Joseph Attah said: “Is it today that Customs has 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?
It is clear that the falcon can no longer hear the falconer. Somebody should tell these market raiders that the fact that they have been getting away with blue murder in the past does not legitimise their recent display of gangsterism.
Don’t tell me that In Nigeria we cure asthma by inhaling Cameroon pepper!
- Wole Olaoye is a public relations practitioner and a public affairs commentator and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org