Panic as 50 policemen invade Customs’ Lagos office


Tension heightened last week when about 50 armed policemen attempted to forcibly take over the office of the Nigeria Customs Service, Federal Operations Unit in Ikeja, Lagos, following a disagreement over the alleged removal of the number plates of some vehicles parked in the area by some policemen.
Some customs officers were said to have earlier challenged the policemen, who stormed the area to remove the number plates of some of the vehicles parked within the vicinity of the FOU premises.
Motorists along the Mobolaji Bank Anthony Way, traders and residents around the area had to scamper to safety to avoid being caught in a crossfire in the event of a shoot-out between the policemen and customs operatives.
While the police claimed they were enforcing a law enacted by the Lagos State government, which prohibits indiscriminate parking, the Customs said they had not violated any law because the vehicles were parked neatly and very close to the FOU office, where they served both the state and the Federal Governments.
Residents and traders in the area, who witnessed the faceoff, said that the invasion of the customs office by the police happened at exactly 11.30 am and lasted for about three and a half hours.
Eye witnesses said that an Assistant Comptroller of Customs, simply identified as Olomu and a former Acting Controller of the Unit, who tried to pacify the police after bringing officers and men of the NCS under control, were harassed and molested by the policemen. Four Customs officers, it was gathered, were also arrested by the police at the main gate, while the Customs, in retaliation, managed to arrest and detain an Assistant Superintendent of Police.
One of the residents, who identified himself simply as Okwudili, blamed the police for the “unnecessary show of power.”
He said, “What happened today has shown that there is no synergy between our law enforcement agencies. What stops the senior police officer, who led the team, from seeking audience with the controller of the command. Granted that they were sent by the Lagos State government, but that does not mean that they should molest ordinary citizens not to talk of a sister agency like the Customs.
“The police manhandled some of the Customs’ officers they arrested, while the Area Controller of Customs (CAC) tried to calm his officers down and restrained them. Would the police have invaded army barracks in the name of enforcing an order? You can imagine what would have happened if it were to be between the police and soldiers.”
A trader in the area, Solomon Adeyemi, also called on the government to promote cordial relationship among its security agencies.
“Why must the police invade Customs’ office? Are they not serving the same government? Is part of their salary not being paid by the revenue generated by the Customs? If smugglers had invaded Customs office, what would the police do? It is a shame that as the police invaded the area, some area boys, who were in their support, suddenly went wild and wanted to take advantage of the situation to raid our shops,” he said.
The Deputy National Public Relations Officer of Customs, Mr. Attah, who was at the scene of the incident, expressed sadness over the development.
“The police and Customs are agencies that have constituted authority. I am very sure that those that are misbehaving would be called to order. The senior officers are going to get on top of this and those that are found wanting would be dealt with.
“What I can say is that what is happening is unfortunate and is unprofessional, because one would have expected that when there are issues concerning a sister agency, the right thing to do is to call and report such issue to the head of that agency,” Attah said.
Although, the Customs spokesman could not confirm the number of officers arrested by the police, he did not deny it.