Customs’ #COVID-19 Rice: A Kiss Of Death?

 

The Coronavirus pandemic currently ravaging the world has thrown up the good, the bad and the ugly sides of the respiratory disease.

The ugly side of the pandemic is the harvest of deaths it has so far recorded among its victims while its bad side is the pains and sufferings it has unleashed on the world.

It has brought about lockdown, movement restriction and hunger which are the fall out of the economic lockdown.

However, ironically, the pandemic has its own good side.

It has brought out the goodwill, good nature and emotional feelings of government, corporate bodies and individuals who have given out different types of palliatives to mitigate the excruciating pains and discomfort the pandemic has wrought.

In Nigeria, we are not short of such palliatives.

They have come in different shapes, sizes, quality and quantity.

Even though the deployment or distribution of such palliatives is a subject of controversy, one thing is undisputable: it has brought to the fore the milk of kindness flowing in the veins of Nigerians.

One of such palliatives is the large quantities of bags of rice surrendered by the Nigeria Customs Service at the behest of the Federal government.

In addition to its questionable cash transfer scheme, the Federal government has tapped Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), the Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service, to release sizable quantity of seized rice he kept in the Customs’ warehouses across the country.

This is to feed the hungry and vulnerable Nigerians who have been quarantined in their homes as a result of the pandemic.

The deployment of the Customs palliative has since been trailed with controversy.

The beneficiary states in the South-West and South-South have alleged that the rice is not good for human consumption.

Four states were said to have rejected the offer.

In fact, Oyo State Government attempted to return its own share of 1800 bags but the attempt was foiled by the state command of the customs.

While the Customs was living in denial, the benefitting states were insisting that the rice was poisonous.

Despite the public concerns this matter has generated, the Customs top hierarchy has kept mum on the raging controversy.

Apart from the feeble defence put up by the Oyo/Osun command which was later punctured by the superior argument of #NAFDAC, the Ali-led administration has kept sealed lips.

We would have dismissed the claims of the beneficiary state governments which have come out to say that the Customs rice given to them was unfit for human consumption.

We would have easily dismissed such claims as politically motivated given the fact that the states of Oyo, Rivers and Akwa Ibom, whose governors came out to condemn the gesture in public, are from the opposition party of People Democratic Party (PDP).

But some preceding and succeeding events have lent credence to their claims.

Firstly, prior to this time, about a year ago, CGC Ali had told Nigerians in a viral video that the seized smuggled rice was poisonous because of the chemical used to preserve them.

Also, the poor storage method of the customs made the claims of the CGC stronger.

Due to the collapse in the auctioning method of the Customs, all the seized goods, including rice, were indiscriminately dumped at the Government warehouses across the country.

Both the perishable and non- perishable goods have become a huge heap of scrap goods long abandoned at these warehouses with poor storage facilities.

Even most of the vehicles seized have “decomposed” where they were dumped due to the refusal of Ali to auction them as was the usual practice in customs.

So, when Government asked the Customs to release some of these bags of rice as palliatives, most discerning industry stakeholders expressed reservations based on their knowledge of the state of some of these items.

However, when the Customs authority promised to invite the National Agency for Foods, Drugs and Administration Control (NAFDAC) to ensure quality control of these items before they were released; the agitating minds of the stakeholders were put at rest.

We were therefore shocked, just like any other sincere stakeholders who are not given to sycophancy when the beneficiaries of this gesture said the items were not consumable.

Hasn’t NAFDAC carried out its quality control exercise?

Or are these governors playing political game by their claims?

But when Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, the Director-General of #NAFDAC came on a national television to say that the agency never tested the rice that was taken to Oyo, Osun and Ondo and that they took only few samples from the middle rows of rice stored in FOU Ikeja and Idi-Iroko Warehouses, our heart sank.

We are further depressed that the Customs authority has not said anything to repudiate the claims of #NAFDAC DG.

We are perturbed by the deafening silence of the customs authority on this embarrassing episode.

Was it not the same customs which promised to invite #NAFDAC to check the quality of the rice before they are distributed?

Why was the agency not invited or allowed to certify all the items before they were released?

Was there a conspiracy or sabotage?

The Customs authority needs to open up to put paid to the conflicting claims, speculations and conspiracy theories that are being bandied about.

Was the release of the poisonous rice a deliberate act of commission or inadvertent act of omission?

Was the inability of #NAFDAC to carry out the necessary quality control exercise a self-induced or human error?

The Customs authority has the duty to clarify all these grey areas.

Its silence, in as much as it is provocative, cannot wish away this damning episode.

In a saner society, heads would have rolled for this act of negligence which could have easily led to avoidable casualties.

Nigerians demand an explanation from the customs authority and thorough investigation from Government to determine the level of culpability of all those concerned who have brought this level of embarrassment to the country.

The continued silence of the Customs will only reinforce the general belief that those bags of rice are Greek gift which fell short of the required standard for human consumption.

Unfortunately, the customs’ uncanny silence is not golden but a tacit admission of guilt as they say, silence means consent.

Just as many Nigerians who are livid with rage over this sordid development, we may be constrained to believe the claims of those Governors who regarded the Customs rice as a kiss of death if the top hierarchy of the service continues to maintain this undignified silence.

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[…] of such palliatives is the large quantities of bags of rice surrendered by the Nigeria Customs Service at the behest of the Federal […]