Commuters and passersby were caught in a pandemonium that broke out on Wednesday at the Abule Egba area of Lagos State when operatives of the Nigerian Customs Service opened fire on suspected smugglers’ vehicles.
The shootings claimed the life of one Toyeeb Olayiwola and allegedly left three others injured.
The officials attached to the Federal Operations Unit, Ikeja, were said to have chased some vehicles conveying suspected smuggled rice from the Sango-Ota area of Ogun State.
On getting to the Abule Egba under bridge area around 6am, they reportedly opened fire on one of the vehicles.
PUNCH Metro gathered that a bullet hit the head of Olayiwola, who was lying on some bags of rice in the bus. He died on the spot.
Not done, the officials were said to have moved into a commercial tricycle park in the area and continued firing at the occupants of the other vehicles, who had disembarked to protest the killing.
The suspected smugglers reportedly hurled stones at the officials, while the shootings intensified.
The chaos was said to have caused confusion as commuters and passersby scampered to safety.
A tricycle rider, who gave his name only as Samuel, said the officials, numbering about six, later fled the scene in their operational van.
He said, “The incident happened around 6am. I learnt the Customs men were chasing the vehicles from the Sango area. On getting to Abule Egba under bridge, they started shooting. The man that died was lying on some bags of rice.
“It was a time people were going to work. People were running helter-skelter amid gunshots. Apart from the man that was killed, about three persons were hit by stray bullets. The injured were taken away on motorcycles. During the shootings, the streetlights went off, which heightened the confusion. After the Customs men left, the protesters created bonfires on the road, which caused traffic.”
Our correspondent learnt that operatives of the Oke-Odo Police Division, who mobilised to the scene, called for reinforcements from the Rapid Response Squad and the Lagos State Task Force on Environmental and Special Offences (Enforcement) Unit, to restore normalcy.
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The RRS Commander, ACP Olatunji Disu, who represented the state Commissioner of Police, Edgal Imohimi, said the corpse and the vehicle were moved from the scene after the protesters were dispersed.
One of our correspondents, who was at the scene around 8am, saw an Armoured Personnel Carrier, mounted by the roadside.
Splinters of shattered glasses also littered the road.
A witness said many motorists abandoned their cars and fled to safety due to the continuous gunshots.
“I saw some children crying in a car. The driver, who was taking them to school, had fled due to the continuous shootings. One of the motor boys who accompanied the bags of rice was also injured and rushed to the hospital,” he added.
A commuter, Dele Adejare, said the shootings defied civility, adding that the Customs officials should be disciplined.
He said, “I don’t see reasons why Customs operatives would chase those people to the town. Were Customs officials not at the border the smugglers passed through? Why didn’t they stop them there? It is very wrong for them to shoot where there are passersby and commuters.”
The Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer, SP Chike Oti, confirmed the killing, adding that the corpse had been deposited in a mortuary.
He said, “Around 5.30am, Customs officials were pursuing an alleged smugglers’ vehicle. They allegedly opened fire on the vehicle and one of the occupants died from gunshot wounds. The incident led to a protest, but the situation was brought under control by the police.”
However, the NCS Public Relations Officer at FOU, Jerry Attah, denied the killing.
Attah, in a statement, said officials had traced one LT bus loaded with unspecified bags of smuggled foreign parboiled rice from the Sango area and eventually stopped it at Abule Egba.
He said the bus driver made comments that made a mob to attack the officials with broken bottles, stones and cutlasses.
“Given the support of the mob, he resisted lawful arrest and the other armed operatives fired shots into the air to disperse the raging mob to no avail. As a responsible organisation, the officers retreated to avoid any casualty. We appreciate and thank God that no life was lost as of the time of the confrontation, even though two of our officers sustained injuries.
“The fact that a smuggler has evaded scrutiny either by following an unapproved route or compromising any officer, does not guarantee that the smuggled item will not be seized anywhere it is found by patrol officers whose duty is to ensure compliance,” the statement added.