From Bassey Anthony, UYO
Traders at Itam market in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, have threatened to shut the market for alleged harassment by officials of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).
Market women and men alleged that Customs officials, in collaboration with operatives of Department of State Services (DSS) and soldiers, raided the market at the weekend and seized items worth N163 million.
Chairman of Itam Market Board of Trustees Godwin Ebong, who addressed reporters yesterday, said the officials invaded the market about 11pm.
He said: “About 11pm on Friday, one of the guards called me that robbers were in the market. He said they broke one of the gates with their guns. When the guards approached them, they said ‘we are not for you’.
“They said they were on national assignment and so packed goods into about 10 vehicles. We discovered the following morning that more than 40 shops were burgled while goods, including foreign rice, beans, groundnut oil, were taken away.
“We have written to the National Security Adviser (NSA) and given the government seven days to return our goods and money or we will shut the market and go on a peaceful protest.
“I am against sales of foreign rice, but the question is how does the rice get into Akwa Ibom? Were there no customs when it was brought into Akwa Ibom? We should also know that these traders are interested in profit and when people make demands for such goods, they go to any extent to get it for their customers.”
On why traders keep cash in the market, Ebong said: ‘Most of our traders do not have bank accounts because they collect goods on credit and pay later. So, it is difficult for them to carry cash about when they know they will settle their creditors the next day.”
But NCS said the operation was carried out by the Presidency under the Office of National Security Adviser.
Operations Comptroller Tunku Lokoja said any explanation on the operations would be given by their office in Calabar.
He said: “The operation was carried out at the instance of the National Security Adviser, and we are not under them. I am hearing of it from you. I don’t have any information on whatever they took from the market, you should contact our Calabar office…”
Special Assistant to Governor Udom Emmanuel on Market, Trade and Investment Idorenyin Raphael condemned the approach adopted by the security operatives.
The governor’s Special Adviser Capt Iniobong Ekong (rtd) said the team, identified as border control from Office of the National Security Adviser, confirmed it was responsible for the raid.
He condemned the timing and vandalisation.