The Federal Government recently donated palliatives to some states to cushion the effects of the lockdown occasioned by the coronavirus infection, in the form of bags of rice. Strangely, this has strained the relationship between the donor and the beneficiaries, ostensibly the Oyo State Government, which claimed that the bags of rice were unfit for human consumption. The allegation is grave, coming from no less a person than the state chief executive and, therefore, necessitates an independent inquiry to determine if public health had been put in harm’s way.

However, there appears to be a missed opportunity by the Federal Government to extricate itself of culpability, should it be truly innocent of the allegation. Why has the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) reportedly stopped the Oyo State Government from returning the 1, 800 bags of rice the state claimed were not fit for human consumption? Rather, a strong suspicion of foul play is being spun around the entire scenario, especially the suggestion that the bags of rice might have been contaminated after the state government had taken delivery of them. The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Sadiya Farouq, said NAFDAC certified the bags of rice rice fit for consumption while the NCS insisted that the bags of rice that exited its Command headquarters in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital were in good condition before delivery. Indeed, Public Relations Officer of Oyo/Osun Command of the NCS, Mr. Abdullahi Lagos, in a recent statement, held that the command was embarrassed to hear three days later, that the rice allocated to Oyo State had weevils and were unfit for human consumption. There were also attempts to give it a political coloration as Governor Seyi Makinde who blew the lid over the controversial donation, is of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

This position fits into the mould of ‘conspiracy theories’ as events appear to indicate that they are far from the truth. NAFDAC had disowned the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, over claims that the agency had certified the bags of rice fit for consumption. Also, unless the customs boss, Hameed Ali, is telling Nigerians that the bags of rice did not emanate from its custody, then he must have spoken from both sides of his mouth because on several occasions before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Ali had warned Nigerians against consuming imported rice, which he claimed were poisonous. Ali had stated that such rice had spent up to five years in silos after harvest before they were imported to Nigeria. He had said, inter alia that, “a chemical must have been added to sustain the freshness of the rice and that chemical is harmful. Also, it has been re-bagged with new dates given as the production and expiry dates and that is what we consume here which causes diseases.”

Recall that the customs boss had used this as a reference point in his staunch defence of the Federal Government’s decision to shut the nation’s borders. So, why is he releasing the same bags of rice to be consumed by Nigerians? In the circumstances earlier painted by Ali, it would have been difficult to swallow the controversial story of the equally controversial rice hook, line and sinker. Why was none of the beneficiary state governments invited by the NCS for a joint inspection of the bags of rice? Besides Oyo State, Ondo State controlled by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) reportedly carried out a quality control test to determine if any of the bags of rice could be retained. We fault the mode of warehousing seized rice and other perishable goods for too long. Seized rice should be immediately disposed of, but following due process. Since Ali’s electronic auctioning does not appear to be working, he should revert to the old manual auctioning.

Equally frightening are other suspected cases of distribution of unhealthy food items as palliatives to Nigerians. For instance, there was a report of some youths in the Agege area of Lagos State that rejected the bread donated by Hon. Mudashiru Obasa, Speaker of the State House of Assembly as COVID-19 palliative. Likewise, some persons in Osun State were said to have accused the state government of distributing poisonous rice as palliatives. The same story was told of Idowu Adekoya, a lady in Ogun State who publicly accused Governor Dapo Abiodun of distributing beans full of stones as palliatives, in a video that went viral on Twitter.

We ,therefore, recommend that donors and beneficiaries jointly inspect items before donation. Where unwholesome items are discovered, it is incumbent on the donor to take responsibility and tender apologies/remedies where necessary. The country, which is already reeling under the coronavirus scourge, cannot afford further risk to public health and well-being through palliatives that had not been certified fit for human consumption.

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