What would have turned into a deadly confrontation between operatives of the Nigeria Custom Service at Idi-Iroko border in Ogun State and men of the Nigeria Police Force was averted by shear providence.
The experience of a police officer, Inspector Frances Ononiwu, attached to the Border Patrol Unit of the force in the hands of Custom officers manning check points at Ilase axis of Idiroko Road, Ogun State, may have been the triggering force, after the Police officer was accosted at Ilase by Custom officers and it almost degenerated into a deadly war.
At the end of the confrontation, the Police officer was severely injured and he alleged that a large sum of money, both in local and foreign currencies were stolen from him by the Custom Officers.
Narrating the circumstances that led to the ugly incident, the Police Officer stated, “I was on my way to Atan area of Ogun state when I ran into a Custom checking point at Ilase axis of Idiroko Road. They signaled at me to stop and I did obediently. They checked my vehicle after which I was allowed to continue my journey.
“But after driving a few distance, I saw one of the Customs patrol vehicles driving dangerously towards me and when it double crossed me, I parked my vehicle into a nearby bush. As soon as I stopped, six men putting on Nigeria Customs uniform jumped out of the vehicle and pounced on me. The oldest man among them slapped me first, while others started hitting me with their riffle. And one of them hit his rifle on my head and it broke my skull.
…The victim, Inspt. Francse Ononiwu
“Later, one of them went into their vehicle and brought a rope which he used in tying my neck while the rest entered into my car and ransacked it. They took the 1.9m Cefars I kept inside my pigeon hole. The money belongs to my wife who deals on oil and gas at Owode. They also took N720,000; I kept under my car seat. That money was given to me by a woman called Adora to buy a car for her in Cotonou.
“But while these customs officers were beating me in this manner, I was shouting that I am a police officer attached to border patrol but they said I should keep my mouth shut, that I was a smuggler and I was trying to smuggle my car – a car which I bought from Seme last year and paid all customs duties as required into the country. When they were through, they towed my vehicle to their point and left me in a pool of my blood at the scene.
“After a while, they drove back to the scene and picked me. I don’t know how they came about it but one of them said that they should take me to the hospital but a policeman who was also serving at the border patrol came to the point and insisted that I should be taken to Idi-Iroko General Hospital where I was given some treatment before I was transferred to Badagary General Hospital. I was later referred to see a Neuro Surgeon over the injuries inflicted on my skull.
“The custom officials also impounded my car and parked it at their Sentry office for close to one month claiming that it was smuggled and no duty was paid. But I paid my customs duty in my name and I have all the receipt to show for it. It took the intervention of my Commander at the Border Patrol to get my car released.
“I have reported the case at the State Criminal Investigations Department, Eleweran, Abeokuta, Ogun State, and the police officers investigating the matter have sent several invitations to the custom to produce the officers involved in the matter to appear before them but the customs are yet to reply or show up. All I need from them is to refund all the money they took from me and provide money for me to travel abroad to see a Neuro Surgeon.”
However, in their reaction, a spokesman for the Ogun State Custom Command, Chike Nigege, described Inspector Ononiwu’s action as ‘disappointing and unprofessional’, stressing that he conducted himself in a manner that was unethical of a police officer.
According to him, “he was lucky he wasn’t shot by the Custom officers who chased him. I am sure they may have cautioned themselves, that was why he wasn’t shot. If you are familiar with Idi-Iroko road and the spate of smuggling activities that goes on there, you will understand what I mean. I have spoken with the officers involved and they have narrated the incident to me.
“I am aware you know these officers are not crazy for them to have seen a vehicle and without talking to the driver, pounced on him and start beating him. It will interest you to know that this police officer was driving a fairly new Camry car and I am sure that the registration wasn’t complete yet and he approached the custom checking point at Alase which happens to be a hot bed for smugglers.
“There are several routes smugglers take but Alase is the major point where all the smugglers take and the custom resolved to intensify its checks at that point. But when this car approached the point, the driver drove dangerously and he almost ran over an officer who was flagging him down on the road.
“The officers thought he was a smuggler and they went after him with their patrol vehicle. The road was very free and it was just the two of them on the road, this car refused to stop until the officers managed to double- cross and stopped him. There were three occupants in the car and they asked the driver to provide the vehicle particulars and he said he had none.
“They suspected he was either a police or a military officer and they asked him to identify himself. He told them bluntly that he had no identity card. Then one of the officers went to him and asked him to come out of his car since he has refused to provide his vehicle papers or show an identity card. All efforts to make him alight from the car failed until he succeeded in tearing the shirt of one of the officers when they wanted to force him out.
“It was during the process that the nuzzle of one of the guns an officer was carrying struck him on his head and he started bleeding. The instant he saw blood, he jumped up and said now he would teach the officers some lesson. He opened his pigeon hole and brought out vehicle papers and his identity card and handed them over to the officers and they towed the vehicle to their point.
“Then they drove back to pick him so that they can take him to the hospital. Though he followed them but when he got to the checking point, he called his colleagues on the phone and they came to the point. They refused he should be taken to Custom hospital for treatment and insisted that they would take him to their hospital. The officers took him back to his car where he checked and discovered every thing was intact, but at the evening of that day, he called a custom officer requesting they should open his car in the presence of two policemen he sent to retrieve his wallet and keys he left in the car.
“This man was conscious when his car was impounded for verification and he didn’t tell anyone that he had money in his car and even when he sent two police officers to retrieve his wallet and keys, he didn’t mention that there was money in it hence, he would have asked them to get it for him. The customs would not condone any act of indiscipline from anyone. It is disheartening that a police officer would conduct him self in such a shameful and unethical manner,”he stated.