Samuel Awoyinfa, Abeokuta
The Governor of Ogun State, Ibikunle Amosun, has promised to intervene on behalf of the Sango-Ota rice sellers, whose shops were broken on Wednesday by men of the Nigeria Customs Service, Federal Operation Unit, Ikeja, Lagos.
Amosun made the promise on Thursday when the rice sellers stormed his office at Oke Mosan, Abeokuta, around 8am and started another round of protest.
They displayed placards with different inscriptions, including, ‘Customs: bring back our rice,’ and ‘Our rights are being trampled upon by customs officers of FOU, Ikeja,’ among others.
They were led by some market leaders, among who were the Babaloja of Sango Marketers Association, Shakirudeen Olasege; Secretary, Sunday Ajayi; and the Coordinator of the rice sellers, Alhaja Wakilat Salako.
The governor, who held a closed-door meeting with six members of the executive of the Sango Marketers Association, said he had started the intervention process since Wednesday when the incident happened.
He appealed to the traders to remain calm and suspend all forms of protest, saying the government had contacted the Comptroller-General of the NCS, Col. Hameed Ali (retd.) over the matter.
The Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Bimbo Ashiru, who represented Amosun, emerged from the meeting at exactly 3.02pm and related the governor’s message to the traders who had laid siege to the entrance to his office.
He said, “I have heard about what happened at the Sango-Ota Market. The state government will intervene. In fact, we have started doing something about it.
“As part of our efforts, we have contacted the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service. As we speak now, the Secretary to the State Government (Taiwo Adeoluwa) is in Abuja over the matter.
“When the Adire sellers had this kind of problem, the state government intervened and the problem was resolved. In this matter too, we will intervene. But I want to appeal to you to remain calm and suspend all manner of protest.”
Before Ashiru addressed them, the traders had created a scene by blocking the road in front of the governor’s office, and preventing vehicular movement.
The rice sellers had also on Wednesday staged a protest in the Sango area, blocking the Temidire end of the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway, which paralysed business activities.
They had alleged that about 4,550 bags of rice and 478 jerrycans of vegetable oil were taken away by the customs operatives.
They had further alleged that over 60 shops were broken, adding that a total of N6m cash was stolen .
However, the NCS authorities had denied breaking the shops
The Public Relations Officer, FOU, Ikeja, Lagos, Jerome Attah, had stated that the operatives only took away 1,870 bags of rice.
He explained that the unit had been monitoring the activities of smugglers in the area before they struck. He said suspected smugglers had been using motorcycles to transport smuggled bags of rice, adding that customs men had traced them to the market.
He said, “We hired seven trucks to evacuate the smuggled bags of rice. Our men did not break into any shop.”
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