*Say they were not authorised to accept it
*Oyo govt insist life of citizens too precious to be toyed with
By Myke Uzendu
High stake and dangerous intrigue have played out between officials of the Oyo State Government and operatives of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Oyo/Osun Area Command, Ibadan, as the NCS rejected the 1,800 bags of rice donated to the state by the federal government.
The Oyo State government officials, led by the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Jacob Ojemuyiwa, were denied entry at the main gate of the NCS zonal headquarters in Ibadan when they returned the contaminated rice which had already been eaten up by weevil and other insects.
Recall that Dr Debo Akande, a Special Adviser to Governor Seyi Makinde on Agribusiness, had last week Friday alleged that the rice was not good for human consumption.
The delegation was told by the state government to return the rice collected from NCS as its share of federal government palliative released from imported rice hitherto seized by the customs.
While addressing journalists on the matter, the commissioner said: “The state had written a letter to the Nigeria Customs Service indicating that the bags of the weevil-infested rice would be returned.”
The commissioner also stated that the team would report back to the State Executive Council for necessary subsequent steps, stressing that nobody should politicise the issue as being done.
Another member of the delegation who spoke on the sidelines because he was not the official spokesman wondered why the Minister of Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar-Farouq, would want to politicise matter that has to do with the life and well-being of Nigerian citizens, stressing that “there is time to play politics and this period of covid-19 is certainly no such time”.
An official of NCS, who spoke under condition of anonymity, said the delegation was turned back because the command had not received any directive to receive the rejected bags of rice.
Recall that we had done story where we reported that Sadiya Umar-Farouq and the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) had insisted that the rice sent to Oyo State was certified fit for consumption by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
The NCS in particular has stated that the batch released to the state was inspected by top officials of the state’s Ministry of Agriculture.
But the Oyo state government had rejected the rice, saying they were contaminated with weevil and other insects and therefore unfit for Human consumption.
Whereas other governors in the South-West zone accepted and distributed their allocation, some persons had accused the Oyo state government of politicising the issues because it is a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led state, an allegation that was vehemently denied with pictorial and other evidence.
Due to the controversy, NAFDAC’s Director-General, Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, had on Tuesday disclosed that her agency did not know the status of the 1,800 bags of rice handed over to Oyo State.
NAFDAC made the clarification after Umar-Farouq had announced on Monday that NAFDAC certified all the rice distributed.
Adeyeye had explained that NAFDAC was not invited to take samples and conduct consumption fitness test on Oyo rice consignment, a statement that stood at variance with the claims of the federal government.
Reacting to NAFDAC DG’s statement on Wednesday at the Presidential Task Force briefing on covid-19 , Umar-Farouq declared that she stood by her earlier statement.
The minister said NAFDAC and the Nigeria Customs Service should sort out the communication gap, stressing it was none of her business and that she would not budge.
Umar-Farouq said, “On the statement of NAFDAC, we still stand by what we said because this was what was conveyed to us by Customs.
“And a certificate was issued stating that the rice given to us was good for human consumption before we flagged off the distribution in Lagos State.
“We can give you that certificate, maybe by tomorrow or later today. So, the NCS and NAFDAC, I am sure will sort out this communication gap and report back to this platform.”
She however did not contradict the pictorial evidence of contaminated rice or whether she had been deceived to believe the rice was good whereas practical evidence probed otherwise.
When contacted to clear the air on Wednesday, the Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Customs Service, Oyo/Osun Area Command, Abdullahi Musa, introduced another angle to the controversy, although absolving NAFDAC.
According to him, senior officials in the Oyo State Ministry of Agriculture inspected the bags of rice and pronounced them good for consumption before they were taken out of the premises of the command.
He claimed that the Oyo State delegation was led by the Commissioner for Agriculture who was accompanied by the Permanent Secretary in the state’s Ministry of Agriculture, as well as the Special Adviser to the Governor on Agribusiness.
Asked whether it was true that Customs did not invite NAFDAC officials to inspect the rice given to the state, Musa said: “As I stated, if you have seen a high personnel of that type of office from the Ministry of Agriculture led by the commissioner with his team to come and certify, are we saying the officer is not up to task?”
He said there was nothing to suggest that the bags of rice had weevils during the time of inspection and eventual evacuation.
He added that Oyo State was the first to come for the rice and request by its officials to pick from a portion of the store was granted by Customs.
Musa added: “They came with their team to check for themselves to be very sure if the rice was actually good or not.
“As a matter of fact, they were even the ones that came first and they even requested to be allowed to choose the particular segment where their rice should be taken from and we granted the request”.