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Why Customs’ rice gift stirs controversy

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“The imported rice was poisonous because before coming into the country, it must have spent a minimum of five years in the silos.

“A chemical must have been added to sustain its freshness and that chemical is harmful. Also, it has been re-bagged with a new date given as the production and expiry date, and that is what we consume here which causes diseases,” these were the views of the Comptroller-General of Customs, Hameed Ali, before the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Notwithstanding his position on imported rice, a superior order came from President Mohammadu Buhari on April 7th, to distribute the confiscated rice to Nigerians as relief items to cushion the effect of the lockdown on the people.

Ali immediately swung into action, amid worries by stakeholders that the seized rice might not be suitable for consumption, going by the poor handling of the seized items.

As weighty as the directive was, Ali immediately declared 46,000 metric tonnes (158 trailers) of rice to be shared to Nigerians through the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs.

Despite the state of some of the rice, Ali assured that “only edible items certified fit for human consumption by the National Agency for Food Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), will be released to the public.”

Unfortunately, the expected played out when the Oyo and Ondo State Governments rejected the 1,800 bags of rice, each, donated by the NSC, claiming they were bad and unfit for consumption.

The Executive Assistant to Governor Seyi Makinde on Agribusiness, Debo Akande, said: “We received these items from the Federal Government via the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development and we brought them to the warehouse. It was in the process of further inspection that we discovered that the rice had been infested with weevils.”

Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, also ordered the return of some bags of rice as they were found to have expired.

Secretary of the State Palliative Committee, Alex Kalejaiye, confirmed that some of the bags of rice had expired and were no longer fit for consumption.

According to him, the bad rice will be separated from the good ones, and the good ones will be taken to the laboratory to ascertain if they are fit for human consumption.

Meanwhile, Oyo/Osun Command of NCS said the rice given to Oyo State was duly certified by officials of the State Government before evacuation, and was surprised by the rejection three days after delivery. The Command called for probe into the matter.

The Command, in a statement signed by its Public Relations Officer, Abdullahi Abiola, said the Service as an agency of government saddled with the responsibility of protecting national economy and citizens’ wellbeing cannot be associated with such an act.

He said: “As instructed, on the 20th of April 2020, the Oyo/Osun Area Command received high ranking members of the Oyo State Government in the persons of the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Jacob Ojekunle; the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Agriculture, Mrs Saidat Bolatumi Oloko; Executive Adviser to the Governor on Agribusiness, Debo Akande; The representative of Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management and Social Development in Oyo, Mrs MO Lasisi, and other members. They visited the Command twice on the same day to inspect the bags of rice that were available for allocation.

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