From Magnus Eze, Abuja
The Federal Government has foiled attempt by one of the leading rice producing nations to donate ship load of poisonous rice to the country for use at the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp in the northeast.
It also alerted the Nigeria Customs Service and other law enforcement agencies of plot by smugglers to flood Nigerian markets with over 1million tons of foreign rice, said to have been warehoused in neighbouring Republic of Benin, especially as the Christmas and New Year season approaches.
Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, who disclosed these at a stakeholders’ meeting on how to curtail smuggling of agricultural products into the country, in Abuja, yesterday, said government discovered that the rice was not fit for human consumption when it was subjected to quality control test in the laboratories.
The minister, however, did not name the donor country. But to forestall a reoccurrence in future, he said, government policy now, was that any country wishing to donate rice to the IDPs must use Nigerian rice.
“Locally made products in the market are fresh but the imported ones; we don’t know how long they had been in the silos. Recently, one country decided to donate a ship load of rice to Nigeria to use and support the IDPs in the northeast; when we subjected the rice to tests, we discovered that the rice was actually poisoned; which means that most of the rice that is imported into the country had been in the silos for 10 to 40 years.
“But what we have told them is that anybody who wants to support any of the IDPs or anybody in Nigeria should come and buy the locally made rice. The argument is that the rice made here is more expensive and we are saying, even if you can buy half bushel, come and buy. It’s better for us to eat a smaller quantity of nutritious rice than for us to eat poisonous ship load of rice.
“On poultry, we discovered that the poultry products brought into this country have formalin, which I earlier said is a chemical used for the preservation of human remains (dead bodies). I don’t know why somebody should have that in his food when you’re not dead.
It’s when you are dead that you should be embalmed with formalin but not when you are alive. But what I want us to know is that anybody who eats smuggled poultry product is actually embalming himself or herself,” the minister stated.
Lokpobiri disclosed that findings by the Ministry showed that Beninese do not eat parboiled foreign rice, but smugglers have continued to route the contraband through the Republic of Benin borders; to the detriment of Nigeria’s economy.
He said importation, and smuggling of foreign foods into the country has serious consequences on the health of Nigerians who consume the food, as well as adverse economic implications, because the morale of local food producers is dampened by the increasing smuggling activities.
On the actions the government intends to take in proffering solution to the development, he said “We don’t want to use force in addressing the issue, but engage all stakeholders by pointing out the dangers in smuggling and consuming foreign foods, frozen fish and other poultry products”.
Also speaking, the Secretary General of Nigeria Association of Agriculture Products Dealers (NAAPD), Kingsley Chikezie, said that members of his association were faced with the challenge of double taxation in purchasing and transporting farm products across the country.
He also accused government agents involved in the fight against smuggling of insincerity, saying they have continued to compromise at various entry points.
Chikezie also said that investigations by their association revealed that there are more than 300 porous entry points for smugglers at both Lagos and Oyo border towns, adding that most of the law enforcement agents are not found there.