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Customs Halts Food Distribution Amid Stampede



Customs Halts Food Distribution Amid Stampede

The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has halted its food disposal program after a stampede on February 23 resulted in seven fatalities.

The unfortunate incident was during the distribution of 25Kg bags of rice at its Zonal Headquarters, Yaba, Lagos State.

The service announced the suspension in a statement by its National Public Relations Officer, Mr Abdullahi Maiwada, on Monday.

Maiwada said that the suspension was part of the service’s resolve to ensure the safety of Nigerians and to enable it properly articulate its next line of action, in order not to defeat the vision of the initiative.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) recalls that the NCS had announced on Feb. 20 that it would facilitate the direct disposal of food items forfeited to the Federal Government.

The initiative was in response to the current challenges of food security in Nigeria and the increasingly high costs of essential food items.

It also targeted an improvement in the lives of indigents

The distribution of 25kg of rice, thus, commenced on Feb. 23 at the discounted price of N10,000 in Lagos.

The service said that the exercise would be managed to ensure that the benefits reach the most needy.

According to the service spokesperson, the bags of rice were out of stock during the pilot distribution, which led to heightened desperation among the crowd.

“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.

“Considering the recent unfortunate event, we regrettably announce the suspension of this exercise until we establish what transpired on Friday, 23 February 2024,” he said.

He said that an internal investigation had been initiated to understand the circumstances surrounding the unfortunate event.

The service commiserated with the families of the deceased and assured them of its unwavering support.

“NCS is working with hospital authorities to establish contact and engage directly with the victims’ families regarding their next steps,” he said.

In a similar development, the Spokesperson, in an interview with NAN, said that the process of selling the rice was in line with its regulations.

He said that the money collected from the sales was going directly into the federation account.

This was in reaction to critics who had argued that the bag of rice sold at N10,000 was supposed to be given free to the vulnerable in the society.

He said that the items had monetary value and were sold at that amount to generate revenue for the government.
“Even though the amount of revenue collected through this scheme is inconsequential compared to what we collect as revenue, we need to recoup the value of duty that would have been collected on those items if they were imported into Nigeria,” he said.

According to him, the price of the rice was discounted to enable indigents afford it.

“But it was later given out for free because of the mammoth crowd at the distribution centre,” he said