Customs officer ordered uniformed thugs to brutalise me- Bar owner

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The show of force against civilians by uniformed men has been a fairly common occurrence in Nigeria for many years.

Many would say such incidents are not as common as before, but for 40-year-old Iloka Cyprian, a bar and restaurant operator in FESTAC area of Lagos, his ordeal in the hands of a Nigeria Customs Service officer attached to the FESTAC office, Joel Yahaya, will remain fresh on his mind for a long time.

On the evening of Sunday, June 23, 2013, Cyprian said he was battered by a team of six young customs officers on the orders of Yahaya at his God’s Time Rest Bar.

“I thought I was going to die,” he told our correspondent.

Cyprian’s narration showed him as a victim of a ‘transferred aggression.’

He told our correspondent, “That evening, it was about 9 pm when Yahaya came to my bar. He had been there to drink before, so I knew him. He ordered a bottle of Harp, which he settled down to drink afterwards.

“As he drank, he was complaining to me that he had a quarrel with one Ezenwa, a resident of this area. He said he was going to deal with the man. I told him to take the matter easy. I had no idea he actually took the issue seriously.

“Even some men drinking in my bar that evening also appealed to him to calm down. He shouted at them not to interfere. He was furious.

“Yahaya said nobody should beg him. He kept saying he would deal with the man. He suddenly picked up his telephone and made a call to his office in our presence. He instructed the person he spoke to on the telephone to bring a team to where he was on 202 Road.

“At that point, it became clear that he was actually serious about the issue when he angrily stood up and walked away. When he was out of earshot, I simply said, ‘What this man wants to do is not right. This is illegal.’ I said that because I did not understand why he would call for a team of Customs men to assault someone he had a quarrel with just because he is a uniformed man.”

At this point, as Cyprian spoke, he shook his head. He said he wished he never said such a thing. He was apparently oblivious of the fact that one of Yahaya’s friends, who was there, had heard him and later told the Custom’s officer what he had said.

What happened some moments after was unexpected for Cyprian.

The battered man said, “We were still sitting in front of my bar that evening when Yahaya came back with a six-man team of customs men in a Hilux van. He said I had insulted him and ordered the men to take me.

“I was shocked. All I did was to plead with him but I never thought I had got him angry by saying what he wanted to do was illegal.

“The young men who followed him grabbed me. As a couple of them dragged me on the ground, some hit me with their belts. I was kicked and slapped many times than, I could remember.

“Nobody could come to my rescue as they beat me because as soon as they jumped down from the van, all my neighbours ran away in fear. Even the boy who helps me to serve at the bar had run away. As I was being beaten, I was thinking of death.”

When he got an opportunity, he bolted.

“I used a little opportunity I got to escape from the men. I ran into my shop through the back door. I quickly locked the back door. But the men pursued me and pounded on the metal door. They said they would break down the door if I did not open it. I was panting behind the door as my head and nose bled,” he said.

When our correspondent visited Cyprian’s bar, the metal door on which he said the Customs men were pounding had bent inward. There were marks of dried blood on the floor behind the door where Cyprian said he hid after his escape.

“I have not opened this shop since the incident,” he said, as he showed our correspondent his dried blood on the ground.

“When the men left and I opened the door, neighbours and residents quickly rushed me to the Isolo General Hospital, where my head was stitched up in different places,” he added.

Half of Cyprian’s head was heavily bandaged when he spoke with Saturday PUNCH.

He said until he regains his strength and the stitches on his head removed, he would not be able to open his bar.

Our correspondent learnt that Cyprian’s case was reported at the FESTAC Police Division, but he made no report to Customs authorities.

Divisional Police Officer at FESTAC, Mr. Ibrahim Baba, said Cyprian’s case was indeed reported to him.

He said he had arrested Yahaya.

On the fear that the Customs officer might be released without justice taking its course, Baba said, “I don’t know why this issue is becoming a topic of discussion. The Customs man is still in my custody. I arrested him and have detained him for even more than 24 hours.

“I have nothing to fear since I am doing my job. I have ordered a search for the men who allegedly took part in the beating. We will do our job.”

Our correspondent contacted the spokesperson for the Nigeria Customs Service, Mr. Wale Adeniyi, who told our correspondent that he was not aware of the case.

He said, “Since the case was reported to the police and not to Customs authorities, we will allow the police to do their job.

“But you have to know that the NCS does not condone officers taking laws into their own hands and certainly does not condone our men beating up members of the public for any reason.”

It could however not be determined what rank Yahaya holds in the NSC and it was difficult for our correspondent to get him to speak on the incident since the DPO said the suspect was still being kept in his custody.

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