The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has told the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges to focus on law-making and not usurp the powers of other arms of government by interpreting the laws of the land.
This is coming on the heels of a two-week ultimatum given to the NCS by the Senate committee to return bags of rice seized at the popular Oja Oba and Bodija markets in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, recently.
Reacting to a viral video which shows the committee lampooning Customs over raids on markets, the Customs NCS spokesmen, Joseph Attah, told Saturday Tribune that the Customs is backed by law to raid any place once there is enough intelligence that contrabands abound there.
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?
“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 totally 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 rice, her bags were returned to her.
“If the traders in Ibadan say theirs are not bags of foreign rice, let them come forward with proof. If their claims are genuine, their bags of rice will be returned to them.”
When told that the Senate committee raised allegations of Customs officers taking money away from the raided shops while carrying out the operation, the Customs spokesman explained that money was only found in one bag of rice.
“While giving account of the number of bags of rice seized from the Ibadan markets, a particular bag was found to contain N522,350. The money is there, intact and in safe custody. Whoever claims to be the owner should come and collect it with proof of ownership,” the Customs spokesman added.
Concerning claims by the Senate committee that such raids ought to be done in the presence of the shop owners, the Customs spokesman explained that for every raid, Customs ensures that anything that will lead to injuries or loss of lives are always avoided.
“Anytime intelligence report gives us evidence of contraband in an area, our men are always advised to deploy strategies that will minimise injuries or even loss of lives. If our men had gone there to cart away the bags of rice in the presence of the owners, would they have just stood by and watched? Definitely, there would be a clash that could claim lives. So, anytime we carry out raids, we make sure we adopt strategies that will reduce unnecessary loss of lives or injuries to anybody,” Attah added.
Also speaking on the video of the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges, NCS’s Deputy National Public Relations Officer, Timi Bomodi, asked the senators to focus on lawmaking and not start interpreting laws.
He 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 courts. It is the job of the courts 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.
“If there is any ambiguity in Section 147 of the CEMA Act, it is the law courts that can interpret that, not the Senate. Section 147 of the CEMA says ‘any place’. Is the market not a place?”
Patmos Media Line noted however that Attah did not attend to some issues raised by the Senators, whether the cited law permitted them to raid the shops without the presence of shop owners; whether the cited law permitted them to take money found in the shops or were the money contrabands too and thirdly whether they followed the order of their Controller General in an internal memo directing them not to operate outside 40 kilometres radius of the boarders.
It should be recalled that the Senate instruction to return the seized contrabands was as a result of the precedence of the Customs in Kano in which the organisation found them to have committed gross dereliction of duty, suspended the operating officers and returned the seized goods. Funny enough, Customs kept making reference to the fact that the organisation carried out similar operations in Kano and Katsina.