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Customs Suspend Sale of Seized Rice Over Death of Seven in Lagos Stampede

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The Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), has temporarily suspended the sale of seized rice nationwide.

This followed the death of seven persons, including a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Comfort Adebanjo, during a stampede, when the personnel of the service were selling the 25KG bag of the commodity at the Old Zonal Headquarters of the NCS in the Yaba, Lagos State last Friday.

The NCS had on February 20, announced that it would dispose of seized food items to cushion the hardship and cost of living in the country.

However, the Spokesperson of the NCS, Abdullahi Maiwada, announcing the suspension on Monday, said it is to enable the service to establish what led to the unfortunate incident.

He said it would also enable it to “properly articulate more robust and comprehensive action that will not defeat the noble intention.”

The service, he disclosed, is working with hospital authorities to establish contact and engage directly with the victims’ families on their next steps, adding that an internal investigation was initiated to understand the circumstances surrounding this unfortunate event.

He added that the NCS appreciates the understanding and cooperation of all Nigerians as it works towards addressing the challenges facing the nation’s food security.

Maiwada said, “It will be recalled that the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), on the directive of Mr. President, announced the commencement of a noble intervention aimed at alleviating the hardships faced by Nigerians and improving access to essential food items through direct disposal of seized edible goods condemned in competent courts of law and certified fit for consumption by relevant government agencies.

“Consequently, a pilot exercise was conducted on Friday, 23 February 2024, at NCS Old Zonal Headquarters, Yaba, Lagos state.

“The exercise was conducted following meticulous planning to address all potential risks that may emerge during the exercise. As part of our process and control measures, we had Nigeria Police and military personnel to ensure crowd control.

“We also fully equipped a medical team on ground in anticipation of potential risks during an exercise of that magnitude. Their presence was part of our proactive approach to ensuring the safety and well-being of all participants”, he added.

According to the Chief Superintendent of Customs, the disposal of the food items got off to a smooth start at about 0800hrs, adding they ‘We enjoyed the cooperation of the large crowd that obliged us, giving preferences to the elderly, people living with disabilities, pregnant women, and other vulnerable Nigerians who showed up for the exercise.

“This was the case up until about 1700hrs, as attested to by the over 5000 beneficiaries and members of the press.

“However, unforeseen challenges arose when we ran out of stock and announced the continuation of the exercise the following day, leading to a regrettable outcome. The crowd became desperate and charged through our barricades in search of rice bags inside emptied containers.

“In the stampede that ensued, some fatalities and injuries were regrettably recorded.

The Nigeria Customs Service extends its heartfelt condolences to the families of those who lost their lives during the unfortunate incident. Our thoughts and prayers are with the affected families during this challenging time, and we assure them of our unwavering support.”

As a service deeply committed to the welfare and safety of Nigerians, we recognize the need for heightened sensitivity and preventive measures in all our operations”, he stated.

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