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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Nigeria Customs Service Management Probes Stampede at Rice Distribution Centre 

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The management of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, has raised a panel to examine circumstances surrounding the stampede and the casualties reported at its former zonal office in Yaba, Lagos.

The Comptroller General of Customs Bashir Adeniyi has directed the panel headed by a management member to identify the victims of the stampede and work out modalities for providing support and succour for their immediate families.

In the same vein, NCS has suspended the exercise to commiserate with the families of the deceased while officials have returned to the drawing board to fine-tune strategies for resume the exercise without hitch.

Furthermore, the National Public Relations Officer, Abdullahi Maiwada in a statement on Sunday in Abuja, said the NCS would thoroughly investigate the stampede and tidy up loose ends.

In his words, “This is a deliberate management decision to enable us to produce a more robust and comprehensive action that will not defeat the original intention of supporting Nigerians. We commiserate with the families that lost their loved ones as we appreciate the understanding and cooperation of all Nigerians.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the affected families during this challenging time, and we assure them of our unwavering support. We are working with families and care givers to establish contact and engage directly with the victims’ families. Following this incident, an internal investigation has commenced to understand the circumstances surrounding this unfortunate event,” he said.

It is pertinent to note that on February 23, the NCS had activated its Corporate Social Responsibility mechanism to support indigent Nigerians and minimise the hardships trailing the rising cost of food in the country. It opened its warehouse in Lagos to auction seized food items at affordable prices to ameliorate the suffering of vulnerable Nigerians. The exercise was meant to continue in other parts of the country before the unfortunate incident in Lagos.

Targeting the poor, a 25kg of rice was sold at N10,000 and to prevent fraud and resale, beneficiaries were required to provide their National Identity Numbers.

The initiative received wide applause because it sought to improve access to essential food items through the direct disposal of lawfully confiscated edible foods already fully certified fit for consumption by relevant regulatory agencies. The exercise in Lagos was a test run supervised by the CGS Adeniyi and was meant to benefit over 5,000 Nigerians before the rush and stampede.

Reports indicated that the distribution exercise commenced about 8am as beneficiaries lined up in an orderly manner. Logistic support was provided by security agencies, specifically the Nigerian Army, Nigerian Police, Directorate of State Services and Lagos State Traffic Management Authority.

Hundreds of less privileged Nigerians, especially those physically challenged, were treated with compassion as they got the 25kg bag of rice for free. Artisans, teachers, religious bodies, persons with disabilities, waste managers, sweepers from various areas in Lagos were the bulk of those who turned out on the first day.

Beneficiaries praised the NCS for the initiative, which brought succour to them as food prices spiraled through the roof with Nigeria’s runaway inflation.

A Licenced Customs agent in Apapa, Mr. James Asoluka, described the gesture by NCS as a well-thought-out plan by Customs management to support Nigerians and decongest its warehouse, regardless of the unfortunate fatalities and injuries that trailed the stampede.

The Chief Imam of Magodo Central Mosque, Imam Abdul-Semiu Kelani, thanked the government and prayed for the success of the current administration. He said that the exercise would go a long way in easing the poverty level among Nigerians.

A cleric, Emmanuel Omoroke of St. Luis Catholic Church, explained that the frightening level of hunger in the country needed an interventionist approach like what Customs has done with the auctioned rice.

Mr Taiwo Lawal, a physically challenged person, was tearful as he extolled the Federal Government for considering them in the distribution of the food items.

“This has never happened in the history of Nigeria where the majority of Nigerians will benefit from relief items genuinely without preference. If the government engages in more of this gesture, the price of goods will reduce for common people to afford,” Lawal said.

Another vulnerable Nigerian, Mrs. Amudalat Balogun, who lost her sight at birth, said she got the news from the radio and quickly borrowed N10,000 from her neighbour to enable her to benefit from the rice sale. Balogun said she bought the rice because of Ramadan fasting and, appreciated the initiator and prayed for the government. She also pleaded with the government to provide more of the subsidised food for ordinary Nigerians.

Mr Fatai Sulaimon, the Vice Chairman Airport Branch of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, said that the food items sold at a much cheaper rate would go a long way in reducing hunger in the country.

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