The Nigeria Customs Service has launched a full- scale investigation into last Friday’s stampede at the old zonal headquarters, Yaba, Lagos, venue of its food disposal initiative, which led to loss of lives. The service had following the stampede and consequent loss of lives at the pilot exercise conducted on Friday, 23 February 2024, announced a temporary suspension of the initiative.

Meanwhile, the service has also hinted that it is making plans to directly reach out to families that lost their loved ones and those wounded during the unfortunate incident with a view to cushioning the effect of the loss.

Recall that the Service had following a directive by President Bola Tinubu, announced the commencement of its noble intervention aimed at alleviating the hardships faced by many Nigerians by enhancing their 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.

National Public Relations Officer of the Service, Chief Superintendent of Customs, Abdullahi Maiwada in a statement, noted that a full- scale investigation into the immediate and remote cause of the regrettable incident had become necessary for the service to make necessary adjustments to forestall a future occurrence when the initiative resumes.

“As a service deeply committed to the welfare and safety of Nigerians, we recognise the need for heightened sensitivity and preventive measures in all our operations. Considering the recent unfortunate event, we regrettably announce the suspension of this exercise until we establish what transpired on Friday, 23 February 2024.

“This will help us to properly articulate more robust and comprehensive action that will not defeat the noble intention. We appreciate the understanding and cooperation of all Nigerians as we work towards addressing the challenges facing our nation’s food security. Following this incident, an internal investigation was initiated to understand the circumstances surrounding this unfortunate event”, the Chief Image Maker said.

He further disclosed that the service is liaising with hospital authorities where victims were treated in order to establish contacts with the families of the deceased and those injured during the incident with a view to extending helping hands to them in their trying time.

He said: “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. We are working with Hospital Authorities to establish contact and engage directly with the victims’ families on their next steps.”

While giving a insight into what transpired on that fateful day, the PRO noted that the event started peacefully at about 8am and went on smoothly at about 5pm, when it was announced that the stock of items to be given out for the day had been exhausted, as over 5,000 people had already collected. This announcement triggered desperation on the part of those who were yet to collect the items, thus giving rise to rush and the ensuing stampede.

It was gathered that as part of measures to ensure that the items got to the desired recipients, preference was given to the aged, physically challenged, women and other vulnerable people.

The statement reads in part: “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.

“The disposal of the food items got off to a smooth start at about 0800hrs. 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 5,000 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.”