Controversy now trails a road crash last Thursday, that claimed the lives of three women described as petty traders, after a commuter vehicle in which they were travelling somersaulted, as it was being pursued by operatives of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) on Lagos-Benin Expressway.
But management of the Federal Operations Units (FOU), Customs Zone A, Lagos, whose officers have oversight function along the busy road has denied responsibility for the accident, saying the passenger vehicle popularly known as hummer bus skidded off while evading arrest on suspicion of conveying smuggled goods.
According to eyewitnesses account, the driver of the bus allegedly refused to stop when flagged down at the Customs checkpoint, which resulted in the tragic chase.
It was gathered that the commuter bus with registration number EDO AKA 35 LG, with the inscription, Ovia North LG, carrying second- hand clothes also known as Okirika, somersaulted during the hot chase by the Customs operatives who allegedly hit it from the rear with their own pick-up van in a bid to forcefully halt it. Sources said apart from the three young women aged between 25 and 30, who died on the spot, the commuter bus driver lost a leg in the accident while several other passengers sustained severe injuries.
Spokesperson of the Customs Unit, Uche Ejesieme, denied that the pursuing operatives hit the bus, insisting that the vehicle skidded off the road and somersaulted while speeding to avoid arrest.
According to him, the team led by Customs Assistant Controller, Yahyah Biri-Usman, suspected the vehicle to be carrying bales of smuggled second-hand clothing and promptly flagged the driver to stop for checking but rather than oblige, he zoomed off, thereby prompting the pursuit.
“The driver disregarded all calls to him to stop, even with the aid of a public address system mounted on the patrol vehicle. While trying to maneuver his way, the driver crossed over to the other lane of the express and was driving dangerously in one-way against the traffic, and in the process, his vehicle skidded off and somersaulted leading to the unfortunate loss of lives at the spot.
“However, nine bales of second hand clothing were recovered from the ill-fated bus while the dead persons were evacuated with the assistance of the police who also joined us in conveying those injured to a nearby hospital.”
The Customs image maker who declined further comments, said the issue was undergoing police investigations but, however, maintained that his men did not ram their patrol vehicle into the commuter bus as alleged.
“We condole with the families of those that lost their lives in the unfortunate incident, as we value human lives and could not have done anything to jeopardise the life of a single person, no matter what is at stake.
“As a disciplined organisation, the NCS strongly believes that nothing whatsoever is worth the life of a single human being, hence we have always exercised caution in returning fire-for-fire even when we are confronted by smugglers with fire arms,” he said.