By Innocent Orok
The traders at Etaha Itam market in ITU Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State are crying out to the Comptroller General of Customs, Col Hameed Ali (rtd) to investigate the raiding of their shops by suspected Customs Officers in the midnight last week Friday.
The traders alleged that the suspected Customs officers who came along with Military men broke into their shops in the night on Friday and carted away bags of rice, beans and cash worth over N160million.
The Executive Chairman of Itu Local Government Council; Hon. Barr. Etetim Onuk has condemned the midnight raid of shops at Etaha Itam Market by armed men suspected to be officials of the Nigerian Customs Service , noting that it was not only unusual to invade the market at night when traders had closed for business, but illegal to break into shops and make away with goods without a warrant.
Reacting to last week Friday’s raid and carting away of goods valued at over a hundred million Naira by Customs Officers reportedly assisted by men of the Nigerian Army, Barr. Onuk described the conduct as crude and unprofessional, stating that it is unlawful for anyone including the Nigeria Customs to have raided shops of individuals without prior notice or verifiable authorization from a court of competent jurisdiction.
The Itu Council boss who said it was pathetic to learn that the means of livelihood of many traders have been jeopardized, however sued for calm while the Local Government, in collaboration with the State Government work towards finding a lasting solution to the crisis. He pleaded with them not to take laws into their hands, despite the provoking method adopted by the officers.
Onuk said investigation is ongoing to unravel those behind the act and promised that the perpetrators will be brought to book and adequate compensation paid to traders who suffered losses. He called on the Comptroller General of the Customs, to investigate the action and bring the culprits to book, so as to serve as a deterrent to others in the future.
The Special Assistant to the Akwa Ibom State Governor on Trade and Market Matters; Akparawa Idorenyin Raphael also condemned the raid and warned that if the goods which include; rice, beans, groundnut oil and other edibles; as well as cash are not returned within Seven days, the traders will shut down Etaha Itam market in protest and take other necessary steps to get reprieve.
Meanwhile, the President, Igbo Foodstuff Dealers Progressive Association; Mr. John Onwe has stated that over 40 shops were broken into while goods and cash valued at over N160 million was taken away by the Custom officials. He questioned why Customs officials broke into shops in a market at night and carted away bags of rice, beans, cash and other commodities without their knowledge. He opined that if truly the bags of rice were contraband goods, they should have been impounded at the borders and not inside the market.
While commending Barr. Onuk for the prompt response and concern towards the plight of traders in Etaha Itam Market, Mr. Onwe advised government agencies and parastatals to always act with caution and within the ambit of the law. He lamented that the economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, hike in fuel price and electricity tariff is already crushing and appealed to the State and Local Government to help them get back their goods and means of livelihood.
Meanwhile, our source from Customs said the raid was carried out last week Friday by the Customs officers on Border Drill operations in the South South region.