Legal practitioners have described as illegal and unconstitutional, the raid of Bodija market, Ibadan by operatives of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) in the night, emphasising that it is a breach of fundamental human rights and an oppressive, provocative, unconscionable act of executive lawlessness.

This is just as the NCS insisted that it had the constitutional power to raid any spot for smuggled goods, adding that Nigerians often sympathise with smugglers who see what they do as business and not crime.

Speaking with Sunday Tribune, Not TheNigerialawyer a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Yomi Aliu, stated that it is an illegal act that should not be allowed to go without punishment, as it is simply a breach of rights and against the constitution of Nigeria, reiterating that “it was a serious breach of the fundamental human rights of the market women. The constitution is supreme to any other law the Customs may wish to rely on. It is trespass.

“Apart from being an act of brigandage, it is oppressive, provocative, unconscionable and executive lawlessness. 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,” Aliu stated.

Also speaking, another SAN, Emeka Ozoani, said the invasion of the market at night by Customs officials was nothing but an act of brigandage which has no evidential credibility in law, adding that the market women should sue Customs for trespass.

“The invasion of Bodija market in the middle of the night and subsequent forceful entry into people’s shops was unlawful and an act of brigandage. The alleged discoveries by Customs officers have no evidential credibility in law.

“The market women have the right to sue Customs within three months for trespass, stealing, destruction of their stalls, conversion and detinue of their wares, among other forms of illegality,” Ozoani said.

On his part, Mr Toyese Owoade from the Afe Babalola chambers, said the officers of the NCS were generally given the powers, authorities and privileges as given to the police, adding that this is contained in Section 8 of the Customs and Excise Management Act. CAP C45, Vol 4 LFN 2004. According to him, “by implication, they have the powers to arrest and seize any good reasonably suspected to have been unlawfully imported by any person. Such unlawful act may be due to the failure of such person to pay the necessary import duty/proper documentation or due to the outright prohibit of importation of the goods.

“However, the case of Bodija market may be slightly different, given the circumstances surrounding the event. 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 tell the shops the goods were actually taken from.

“With this grave error, the marketers concerned have a cause of action against the NCS. And more importantly, there is nothing to show that those alleged prohibited goods were all indeed prohibited. They have acted unprofessionally and have opened the agency up to false claims from the market men and women. The agency is liable because although the law permits them, they have carried out their duties improperly,” Owoade stated.

Monday Ubani, a lawyer of renown, advised the market women to seek redress in court. According to him, what the customs did is actionable saying that he is already han- dling such a case filed against them.

“I have a case in court against custom on this. They are stupid. The women should sue,” he said.

Reacting, the NCS has asserted that it is empowered not only to raid any premises reasonably suspected to have smuggled items, but also seize, remove and even arrest owners of such items for prosecution. The Customs Public Relations Officer (CPRO), Joseph Attah, stated this in an interview with Sunday Tribune in Abuja. Attah, a Deputy Comptroller of Customs, however, justified the raid, saying the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) empowers the operatives to raid the market and declared that the law did not give any time limit to carry out such operation. For those who may want to question whether Customs has the power to so do, I want to say ‘yes’.

“Section 147 of Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) gives us the power to go into any premises – it can be shops, it can be market, it can be houses, anywhere that we reasonably believe that smuggled items are being kept.

“We are empowered to use reasonable force to remove any impediment to be able to access such items which we are also empowered to seize, remove, detain and if we see the owner, arrest, with a view to prosecuting such.”

Speaking further, Attah said it was not a strange thing for those whose smuggled items were seized to come up with allegations, which he said were meant to discredit Customs’ successful operation. According to him, impugning any kind of allegation would not necessarily discredit the lawful operation carried out successfully by the Customs operatives.

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