Thursday, May 13, was meant to be a day of joy as Muslims across the world marked Eid-ul-Fitr celebrating the end of Ramadan, a holy month in Islam. It was, however, characterised by terror and tears in Iseyin — a community in Oyo state, which is 74 km away from the state capital, Ibadan. In this report, Legit.ng's Rahaman Abiola investigates the shooting involving men of the Nigeria Customs and smugglers leading to the death of six people.
It all began with frightening sounds of shooting as men of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and smugglers brutally engaged in a gun duel in an attempt to hijack vehicles loaded with bags of illegally smuggled rice and other contrabands.
By 6:30 pm, when the sun was on the verge of setting, six bodies of innocent residents of the community were found in the pool of their blood following the indiscriminate shooting from the officers of the Customs Service.
Eyewitnesses said the smugglers found their way out - unhurt - and the blood-letting officers also fled in their van.
This left the whole community in grief and pandemonium which later led irate youths to go on a rampage, burning down a residence and vehicles on sight suspected to belong to the Customs unit in Iseyin which is located at Barrack area along Ibadan expressway.
Prior to the May 13 tragic shooting, the Customs men had been involved in controversial invasions of the town which always resulted in death and injuries.
Surrounded by four hills, Iseyin is a town that sits between Ibadan and Oke-Ogun region. This means the town connects Ibadan, Oyo and Oke-Ogun which contains 10 local government areas including Saki (situated at the heart of the border), proudly dubbing itself as the food basket of Oyo state.
There are approximately 84.4 kilometres between Iseyin and Saki border. Why Nigeria Customs, a security arm of the country saddled with the of responsibility securing the borders, chose to run riot in Iseyin and its environs is the conundrum before everyone who witnessed Thursday's shooting.
A case of repeated assault
Legit.ng gathered that in 2013, the terrifying Customs vs smugglers scenario led to the death of one "Alhaji Were," a politician and businessman.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the same script played out at Koso area of Iseyin town when Customs invaded a warehouse reportedly containing bags of rice. Resistance from youths led to a face-off which resulted in a shooting.
In 2021 alone, these no-nonsense officers, according to Legit.ng discovery, also invaded a popular Serafu (a bastardised local form of "Seraphim") market along Ibadan highway at midnight and carted away "over one hundred bags of rice" in two controversial attempts.
The shooting was self-defence - Customs
In a statement released on Friday, May 14, through its public relation officer, DSC Theophilus P Duniya in response to the May 13 incident, the NSC attributed the shooting to some "daredevil smugglers" who "mobilized themselves with the help of some thugs" to smuggle "foreign parboiled rice at Iseyin."
Part of the statement read"
"The officers who were on routine patrol intercepted two Nissan Pathfinder SUV vehicles fully loaded with smuggled foreign parboiled rice at Iseyin. Sequel to the interception, the officers were attacked by a mob who were mobilized by the smugglers.
"The mob attacked the officers with dangerous weapons which led to the infliction of serious injuries on two officers. In an attempt to abduct one of the officers that was brutally attacked; who sustained deep cuts on his head and other parts of his body."
The agency similarly claimed its officers "acted in self-defence, shot at his suspected abductors leading to the death of three."
However, Customs' seemingly spurious defence was punctured as more facts emerged during a public hearing held at the palace of Aseyin of Iseyinland the next day of the unfortunate incident.
It was discovered that six people — not three as claimed by the Nigeria Customs died while many people sustained several injuries of different degrees.
"Enough is enough": Residents demand justice
At the public hearing graced by the traditional council of Iseyin led by the monarch, Oba Salaudeen Adekunle Ologunebi Ajinese 1, caretaker chairman, Mufutau Abilawon, Iseyin unit Divisional Police Officer (DPO), families of victims and hundred of Iseyin youths, those who spoke submitted that the shooting was deliberate as those killed were innocent people going their ways.
Speaking at the hearing also attended by Legit.ng, Chief Ismail Tikalosoro, the Ikolaba of Iseyinland, said the community is tired of the Nigeria Customs' atrocities.
He questioned why the officers would be shooting in the town in daylight and wondered what Customs was doing when the community is kilometres away from the border.
"We don't want Customs in Iseyin," he said as people hailed. "What they have done to us is enough. Enough of shedding the blood of innocent people.
He, however, called for calm before submitting that the town would get lawyers and file a petition against the Customs who he said the town has had enough of its malice.
Also speaking is the DPO of the Iseyin unit who also called for calm. He confirmed that six people went with the incident. According to him, one of the victims "died at Fadoks", a popular private hospital in the town, as a result of the "stray bullets."
He lamented that whenever there is a duel involving Customs and smugglers, the majority of the burden is always on the police, describing it as unfair.
Caretaker Chairman, Mufutau Abilawon promised that the development would be conveyed to Governor Seyi Makinde-led state government.
The hearing ended with Aseyin's directives to the family of the deceased to take the bodies of their dead ones. The monarch also warned the Customs to keep 40 kilometres away from his town.
"He was a gentleman, why was he killed?"
Speaking with Legit.ng, a relative of one of the victims, Timothy (Baba Joel), who identified himself as Odunayo Kamaru confirmed that his brother was hit by a stray bullet at the chest.
According to him, he saw the deceased two hours before the incident on his motorcycle. Kamoru said he was surprised when he received a call that "Timo has been killed by Customs."
"It is a surprise. My brother was a gentleman who always strived to make an end meets. If he was not doing menial "labourer" jobs, he would be on his farm. Sometime, he would do Okada when he was not financially good.
"He was also a theatre practitioner, a flair he develped from church drama. He has a wife and children. I don't understand why he was killed," desolate and grieving Kamoru said.
Legit.ng paid a visit to the Timo's family house and followed people to where he was given final rites according to his Christian faith.
"If he knew he would die he wouldn't have come from travelling"
Another victim of the shooting is Tobi who his friends described as a hardworking young man, a breadwinner killed in his prime.
A relative, who identified himself as Muhammad, said Tobi just travelled back to celebrate Eid in Iseyin only to meet an untimely death.
While lamenting, he said if Tobi had known the end was near, he would have stayed where he was.
Private properties burnt
Legit.ng discovered that while the protest was hot, apart from properties owned by Iseyin unit Customs, a number of private belongings were vandalised and burnt by angry youths.
Among them was a kiosk owned by MTN situated at the entrance of the palace. In fact, it was gathered that the youths wanted to raze down the palace before they were prevented by operatives of "Operation Burst", a special squad that later ensured sanity and order were restored after the tragic incident.
Stakeholders condemn killing
The shooting has been widely condemned by many people including Shina Abiola Peller, an honourable member representing Iseyin, Itesiwaju, Kajola and Iwajowa in the House of Representatives.
In a post on his verified Instagram page, the 45-year-old lawmaker and nightclub king maintained that the killing of "innocent civilians remains condemnable." He also sued for peace amid an investigation by the police.
"I condemn in totality the purported killings of civilians by men of the Nigeria Customs Service in Iseyin yesterday.
"According to the information made available to me, the victims, who were allegedly rice smugglers, were shot dead around Oja Oba area in Iseyin.
"Whether the victims were actually smugglers or not, shooting sporadically in a public area where many innocent civilians were gathered to observe Eid-al Fitri celebration remains condemnable and should be treated as such by all."
Another personality who condemned the incident is Akin Alabi, a lawmaker representing Egbeda/Ona-ara federal constituency at the "Green Chamber."
Alabi said Customs must pay for their atrocities.
"Customs guys are really reaching these days. The is condemnable and they must pay for it," the lawmaker said.
We'll get to the root of the matter - Police
When Legit.ng contacted the office of the Police Public Relation Officer (PPRO), Oyo state command, there was no immediate response but speaking at the public hearing on Friday at the Aseyin palace, the DPO of the Iseyin unit promised that investigation would be carried out on the matter.
He also promised that justice will be served, calling for calm in the wake of another bedlam ensuing months after the EndSARS protest which led to the destruction of the police station.
As it stands, Iseyin is putting behind the dark moment, with activities coming their normal way. However, the leaders and stakeholders in the town have vowed to pursue the case to a meaningful end and get rid of Customs from the community and its environs.