The House of Representatives has accused the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) of negligence in the alleged killing of five persons by officers of the service in Iseyin, Oyo State on May 13, 2021.
The House made the accusation Tuesday during the commencement of an investigative hearing on the killings by its Committee on Customs and Excise, chaired by Hon. Leke Abejide.
Customs personnel had allegedly killed the five persons after shooting sporadically in an attempt to accost some suspected rice smugglers.
Speaking at the hearing, the families led by Alhaji Tijani Rasaki said the victims were not smugglers but indigenes of Iseyin who were going about their lawful duties.
Rasaki explained that Iseyin is located about 200 kilometres from the nearest border, and the Customs officers involved crossed about 50 towns before getting to Iseyin where the unfortunate incident occurred.
While demanding compensation for the victims’ families, he said this was not the first time such incident had happened in the community and that the people were fed up with the excesses from the Customs personnel.
However, in his presentation, a legal representative of Customs, Umar Lawal, alleged that on the said day, a mob from the area attacked the officers who were on patrol and intercepted and seized bags of foreign rice conveyed in two pathfinder SUVs.
According to him, the suspected smugglers escaped and incited a mob against the officers to dispossess them of the seizure.
He said the mob blocked the officers, who fired shots into the air to disperse them before taking the seized items to their base in Iseyin.
He further said the mob regrouped in larger numbers and attacked their base with cutlasses, sticks, stones and sundry weapons and two customs officers were seriously injured.
He stressed that with the situation getting out of hand, the NCS leader called for the intervention of the Nigerian Army, who came in to restore sanity in the area.
Lawal, who said the Customs personnel were empowered by law to kill if attacked with weapons, denied that the officers killed anyone that day.
Reacting, members of the committee frowned on Customs denial of the killings, saying that the agency was negligent and made the Iseyin people bear the brunt of their actions.
The lawmakers accused the agency of twisting words, noting that they had sent emissaries to beg the families of the deceased.
A member of the committee, Hon. Shaaba Ibrahim, pointed out that the agency admitted that they fired into the air to disperse the people, saying that the testimony did not add up.
He wondered if it could have been the Army that was responsible for the killing as the Customs had denied responsibility.
Another member, Hon. Jerry Alagbaoso, while noting that the Customs officials at the hearing were from the headquarters in Abuja, insisted that Customs officers from the area where the incident occurred should be summoned.
He called for the adjournment of the hearing to enable officers directly involved with the incident to appear before them.