The association said the customs command in Kebbi is the only command across the country that seizes donkey meat.
Horse and Donkey Sellers Association of Nigeria has pleaded with the Federal Government to probe the recurring seizures of donkey meat by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) in Kebbi.
The Chairman of the Sokoto State Chapter of the association, Alhaji Abubakar Zoramawa, made the appeal on Sunday in Birnin Kebbi.
He was speaking in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) against the backdrop of the recurring seizures of truckloads of dried donkey meat by customs operatives on highways in Kebbi in recent times.
On May 19, customs operatives impounded a truckload of dried meat, valued at N200 million being conveyed to Ochanja Market at Onitsha in Anambra, the latest in a clampdown that had financially cripple thousands of people engaged in the business nationwide.
The seizures have, however, sparked an uproar by a cross-section of people engaged in the business, who are lamenting that the activities of the Kebbi State Command of the NCS was ruining the livelihoods of millions of Nigerians.
Zoramawa warned that it was untenable to continue to destroy the means of livelihoods of hardworking Nigerians contributing to the progress and development of Nigeria.
“When you destroy our legitimate means of livelihoods you are indirectly pushing people to resort to illegalities, including banditry and joining Boko Haram and other groups.
“Thousands of our people, especially youths are engaged in one way or the other in the value-chain of this business, so ruining our business is ruining thousands of homes.
“Persistent seizures of donkey meat is also a violation of the rights of the traders to engage in lawful business because no section of Nigerian laws says that people should not trade in donkey meat.’’ he stated.
According to Zoramawa, the Kebbi State Command of the NCS has become the prosecutor and judge in its penchant for destroying dried donkey meat cargo being conveyed to markets in parts of the country, especially Eastern Nigeria.
“The command should tell the public the aspect of the law that prohibits donkey business so that Nigerians will know better. Taking delight in destroying livelihoods should not be tolerated or allowed in our country.
“Remember, that those who consume donkey meat are Nigerians and those that deal in the business are Nigerians as well, and more so, the business is being carried out in Nigeria not across the border.
“The kind of pressure being absorbed by those in the business may force some of them to resort to joining bad groups. Government should discourage illegalities by the NCS in Kebbi.
“This is because if a person engages in a lawful business but some authorities prevent him or her, that person may possibly join a bad group.”
According to him, the customs command in Kebbi is the only command across the country that seizes donkey meat, asking whether the command has a different law from other customs commands in Nigeria.
Also, a transporter based in Kebbi, Alhaji Shehu Mai-Jakkai, described the recurring customs’ seizures of donkey meat as an attack on hapless Nigerian businessmen, working hard to earn their living.
Mai-Jakkai said that although he was not directly involved in donkey business but that he was providing transport for those in the business to convey their goods.
He recalled that one of his vehicles was recently impounded by customs officers in Kebbi for conveying dried donkey meat, adding that he had to go to Abuja, where he paid huge fine to reclaim his truck.
“You cannot deprive a person his right to eat what his religion and culture did not forbid.
“Remember, the people eating donkey meat are also Nigerians and they have the right to eat what they want, provided it is not against the laws of the nation.
“Donkey business has been in existence for more than half a century. What informed the current clampdown by the customs command in Kebbi State in particular?”
However, speaking on the recurring seizures of dried donkey meat, the Kebbi Area Comptroller of the NCS, Dr Ben Oramalugo, told NAN that the business was illegal “because the seized meat and skin were prepared and concealed for export’’.
He said that the NCS was empowered to detain or seize any item, citing what he described as Section 167 of CEMA C45 FLN 2004 which deals on: “if goods are smuggled into the country or imported without payment of duty.
“The smugglers were about to smuggle dried donkey meat through unapproved routes, if the exporters were doing the right thing, why didn’t they follow the approved route and observe ‘Customs Export Procedure’ since our borders are opened for export.”
On what happened to the meat after the seizures, the comptroller said the NCS was empowered to immediately auction any perishable or inflammable item.
“The law empowers us to destroy it in the presence of relevant sister agencies or to hand it over to relevant sister agencies for necessary action.
“In this case, it was arranged to be handed over to the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service because donkey meat is listed as Code 0204500000 under the list of HS Code, controlled by NAQS Code,” he said.
Asked why his command was not seizing cow meat since persistent killing of cows had similarly, been diminishing cow stock, Oramalugo said that there was no existing regulations against slaughtering of cows.
“Let me reiterate that although some people ask why the seizure of donkey meat when the National Assembly is already handling the matter on trading in donkeys, there is no implied law or express provision from the National Assembly that stops Nigeria Customs officers from carrying out their legitimate duties.’’
Records show that the NCS Command in Kebbi has destroyed truckloads of dried donkey meat, valued at more than N400 million since March last year.
Observers are wondering why the command is unrelenting in seizing and destroying the livelihoods of millions of Nigerian businessmen.