Traders at Itam market in Uyo metropolis have expressed displeasure over an alleged vandalization of their stalls and the carting away of their goods and cash valued about N163m by the officials of Nigerian customs last weekend.
They also threatened to close down the market and embark on a protest if the issue is not investigated and their goods returned.
The Chairman Board of Trustee (BOT) of Itam Market and Special Assistant to the Chairman of Itu Local Government Area, Mr. Godwin Ebong, told journalists on Wednesday that custom officials accompanied by soldiers and DSS operatives invaded the market last Friday at about 11pm when the traders have left, ransacked all shops carried all bags of contraband rice, beans, some articles as well as cash.
He narrated, “It was on Friday night about 11 pm, one of the night guards called my line that some armed robbers were in the market. They said “robbers” broke one of the gates with their guns. When the night guards approached them, they pointed torch light on them and said “we are not for you” and invaded the market.
“They said they were on national assignment and we understood they packed goods into more than 10 vehicles. We discovered the following morning that more than 40 shops were broken into while goods including foreign rice, beans, groundnut oil, cash and other articles were taken away.
“We have, therefore, written to the National Security Adviser, NSA, and given the Federal Government a seven-day ultimatum to return the goods and money else we will shut down the market and go on a peaceful protest to security agencies and the government house of Akwa Ibom.
“Although I am against traders selling foreign rice but the question we have been asking is how does the foreign rice get into Akwa Ibom, where there no customs when these bags of rice were 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 customers.”
On why traders keep cash in the market, Ebong explained that, “most of our traders do not have bank account because they collect goods on credit and pay back the following morning. So, it is difficult for them to be carrying cash about when they know they will settle their creditors the next day.”
But Nigeria Custom officials in Uyo have said that the operations at the market were carried out by the presidency under the office of National Security Adviser at Aso Rock in Abuja.
The Operations Comptroller of Customs in Uyo, Tunku Lokoja, said any explanation on the operations would be done by their office in Calabar.
“That operation was carried out at the instance of National Security Adviser and we are not under them and I just heard it the way I’m hearing from you. So, whatever they took from the operations, you have to contact Calabar, I don’t have any information on that.
“The team was operations involving Nigeria Customs, Army, Immigration, DSS and the police. I don’t know whatever they took from there. As I said you have to contact Calabar for information on it.”
Reacting to the raid, the Special Assistant to Governor Udom Emmanuel on Matket, Trade and Investment, Mr. Idorenyin Raphael, condemned the approach adopted by the security operatives, which he said created a questionable impression of the exercise.
Raphael who decried the unwarranted destruction of market stalls and gates also queried the extension of the raid to provision stores, vandalization of beans, groundnut oil and cash, while owners of such shops were in their homes sleeping.
“They came in around 11.30pm and left at 4.30am, they carted away cash, rice, beans, provisions, groundnut oil. Everything amounted to N163m. They left with 10 truckload of food items,” he said
The Special Adviser to Governor Udom Emmanuel, Capt Iniobong Ekong (Rtd) when contacted, said the team, identified as border control from office of the National Security Adviser to the President, has confirmed to have been responsible for the raid. He, however, condemned the timing and vandalization.