Uche Usim, Abuja
A Customs officer, Rasheed Abdulsalam, attached to the Federal Operations Unit, Zone A, Lagos was, last Saturday, kidnapped after a fierce clash with notorious smugglers.
Some of his colleagues also sustained varying degrees of injuries in the bloody anti-smuggling operation that occurred at night around Gateway Hotel, Ota, Ogun State.
Confirming the incident, the Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Joseph Attah, said plans were afoot to rescue the abducted officer, even as he described Sango Ota axis of Ogun State as a den of smugglers.
Daily Sun learnt that the Customs operatives, upon receipt of intelligence report on smugglers movement, left their Federal Operations Unit headquarters at about 9:10pm on Saturday. They were accompanied by some soldiers in a bus and a Toyota Hilux van that was driven by the kidnapped officer, Abdulsalam.
But unknown to them, the smugglers had laid an ambush just after the popular ShopRite retail store, which is also very close to a filling station along the busy Lagos-Abeokuta expressway.
Considering the delicate nature of the environment, the anti-smuggling operatives, on running into the smugglers, could not shoot because a tanker was discharging petrol at that time and any incendiary material could throw the entire vicinity into a ball of fire.
“They also didn’t want any stray bullet to hit anyone. So, they exercised restraint.
“That location made it very difficult for our men to fire a single shot. The smugglers pelted their vehicles with petrol and just looking for how the area will be set ablaze and swell the number of casualties. But they didn’t succeed.
“Sensing danger, our men found a way to escape from the vicinity but not without picking one the buses used in smuggling”, Attah explained.
An eyewitness who craved anonymity said the Customs operatives all ran away towards the toll gate to make good their escape and in the process, sustained injuries as the smugglers remained on the offensive.
But Abdulsalam was not as lucky as the smugglers swooped on him while he tried to assist the second driver who drove the bus. He was eventually abducted and his colleagues only got to know when the dusts settled and he was nowhere to be found.
As at the time of filing this report, the Customs management is in the dark as no staff has communicated with Abdulsalam, neither have his abductors opened any communication channel whatsoever.
A family member said his colleagues have joined them (family) in the search for the kidnapped officer, even though no one has a clue on where he might be.
“His colleagues decided to embark on private search. The family also got involved by calling the Ogun State Police Commissioner who directed that efforts should be made to look for him. Family also called the Customs PRO who got in touch. It is really a worrisome situation. It has been 48 hours of hell for us. We don’t even know what to think”, a family source lamented.
The Customs Spokesman, Attah, called on the good people of Sango Ota to join the Service in its anti-smuggling efforts by disassociating from smugglers and providing useful information on their nefarious activities.
“That area is notorious for smuggling. They see it as a way of life and their birthright. But we know they have some good people there. These good people should speak out against smuggling. It is a condemnable business. It is economic sabotage. They should stop supporting criminals.
“We’ve lost our men in this vicinity. Some have been wounded. Now an officer has been kidnapped. He was doing his legitimate duties. He is a human being and has families and friends. They must be going through a harrowing experience right now. But we are not deterred. Nothing will be spared to find and rescue him. We will continue to battle smugglers. They’re economic saboteurs”, Attah stated.