As the Oyo State consignment of rice from the Federal Government as part of palliatives to cushion the effect of COVID-19 lockdown remains enmeshed in controversy, the Director-General of the Nigeria Agency for Food, Drugs and Administration Control, NAFDAC, Professor Mojisola Adeyeye has said the agency was not in a position to explain what went wrong with the rice. Oyo and Ondo State governments had rejected a huge number of the 1,800 bags sent to each state on the complaint that they were not fit for human consumption.
Speaking Tuesday night when she appeared as guest on Channels Television programme, Politics Today, Adeyeye said while NAFDAC got invitation from the Customs Service to sample rice from Idi-Iroko, from Ogun State and Ikeja, it was never by the Oyo State command of Customs. According to her, on getting invitation of the Customs Command in Ikeja, to inspect the rice in these three places, “our lab personnel started working on it. It took about three days to get the three samples tested. And after three days, they found out that the rice samples were fit to eat – that is the one from Idi-Iroko, from Ogun State and from Ikeja”. Adeyeye said NAFDAC not only test rice, it also tested oil. “We tested the oils, and the oils were also found to be satisfactory”.
The NAFDAC boss, however, stated categorically that “The one from Oyo, we were not invited; NAFDAC was not invited to take any samples from Oyo so I cannot say much about the rice consignment from Oyo”. Evidently, Oyo and Ondo States got their consignments from the same source hence the same complaint. Oyo State government had raised the alarm that the rice was poisonous four days after it received the consignment, At a press conference, Debo Akande, executive adviser to the governor, Seyi Makinde on agribusiness, said“We are returning all the 1,800 bags of rice. We initially assumed that it was just some part of it that was infested but some commissioners from five or six ministries came with me to inspect and we realised that it is not just some but quite a lot of them were infested. We do quality control of all that we receive; it is just that that was received from the federal government that we found infested.”
Ondo State government, also raising similar concern, said some of the bags contained expired rice which was not fit for human consumption. Alex Kalejaiye, secretary of the state palliative committee said “We discovered that some of the bags have expired and not good for consumption at all, so we are separating them from the ones that are still manageable for consumption. After this, we will still take the ones that appear good to the laboratory to test if they are fit for consumption”.
However, the Oyo/Osun Area Command of the Customs Service described the claim by Oyo State government as “annoying and appalling”. Speaking with journalists in Ibadan, the Public Relations Officer, Abdullahi Musa, argued that although it was possible that a little number of the bags of rice might have an issue, it did not mean that all the bags of rice were not good for consumption. “The Executive Assistant to Governor Seyi Makinde on Agribusiness, Dr. Debo Akande, together with the Special Adviser to the governor on security, Fatai Owoseni had earlier come to our office to check the rice before it was evacuated from our warehouse. We were shocked to hear that the rice was not good for consumption. The rice is not expired rice; how can we now release expired rice for the public? This is very annoying”. The chief press secretary to the governor, Taiwo Adisa, however, denied the claim that Owoseni was part of the rice inspection team.
Comptroller-General, Nigeria Customs Service, Hameed Ali, retired army colonel, may have sown the seed of the raging controversy when May 16 last year he, appealed to Nigerians to stop eating foreign rice because it was poisonous Speaking at a press conference in Abuja organised by the Ministry of Finance, Ali said the Federal Government had not issued license for importation of rice and that any rice seen on the streets that was not produced in Nigeria was smuggled. He said that imported rice was poisonous because before coming into the country, it must have spent a minimum of five years in the silos.
According to the Customs boss, “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 dates, and that is what we consume here which causes diseases. So, I appeal to Nigerians to please patronise our own rice; it is available, more nutritious. And if you do that, you will assist Customs by making sure these people are put out of business”.
Asked if it was not the same rice declared as poisonous that was being distributed, Adeyeye insisted that she would not be able to tell, saying that “Customs will be in the best position to answer whether it is local rice or foreign rice”. She, however, faulted the storage of some of the bags of rice in Custom’s warehouse. Adeyeye noted that “The ones from Ikeja, the director of lab in Oshodi actually went to do the sampling himself and some of the rice bags were right on the floor; there is no pallet on which the rice were stacked. And some were also close to the wall and my director categorically told them that they should not take bags of rice that are close to the floor or close to the wall. But our own sample, we sampled from the middle; from the left side of the stack, and from the right side of the stack just to be sure that we take representative samples”. Reiterating that the samples taken were found satisfactory after testing, she emphasized that “There were no weevils there; no appearance of contamination”.
Adeyeye said “Usually, what our lab people test for – they test for moisture, pesticide residue, they test for coliform; they test for the ash content. They also test for heavy metals such as lead. All those tests were found to be satisfactory. We don’t know what happened after leaving Ikeja to wherever they took the rice to. But from our scientific perspective, the samples that we took were fund satisfactory”.