The crisis over the 1,800 bags of rice being rejected by the Oyo State Government seems to be deepening as the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) refused to collect the rice on Wednesday.
The state government had shown the world last Friday that the rice was infested with weevil, making it unfit for human consumption. It announced its decision to return the rice which was part of Federal Government palliative to support efforts of the states in mitigating the negative effects of the COVID-19 lockdown on poor citizens.
The state government collected the rice on Tuesday from the Oyo/Osun State Command of the NCS which is located at about 1,000 meters from State Secretariat, Agodi, Ibadan.
But returning the rice yesterday, the NCS refused access to the three trucks conveying the product into its premises. Shocked by the development, the state government officials who led the trucks to NCS premises inquired the reason behind the action. They were told that the command was yet to receive directive from its headquarters to collect the rice.
The trucks were at the NCS gate for hours, thinking the security agency would change its mind but it stood its ground. The trucks left there for the state secretariat at about 6pm.
The NCS has explained in a statement on Saturday that officials of the Oyo State Government properly inspected the rice on Monday and certified that it was in good condition.
It also denied the picture and video of the contaminated rice been circulated on social media, noting that the rice allocated to the state was not only delivered in good condition to the three states of Oyo, Osun and Ekiti states, the representatives of the beneficiary states also attested to the good quality of the items before and after taking delivery.
The Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the command, Abiola Abdullahi-Lagos, in the statement wondered how bags of rice that exited the warehouse in good condition could turn out to be all bad within three days, urging the Oyo State government to dig deeper into the matter.
The statement read: “The attention of the Oyo/Osun Command of the Nigeria Customs Service has been drawn to some mischievous and deliberate falsehood being circulated in the media for reasons best known to their author(s) concerning the Federal Government’s palliative given to Oyo State among other states.
“As a responsible agency of Government whose functions include ensuring that nothing that could compromise the security, economy and general being of Nigerians are allowed into the Country, we cannot turn round and be associated with giving anything that will negatively affect our people. We therefore wish to state as follows:
“That in line with the Federal Government’s effort to cushion the hardship in the nation, the CGC had directed the distribution of relief items including bags of rice across the nation through the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management as palliative to the vulnerable in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic.
“As instructed, on the 20th of April 2020, the Oyo/Osun Area Command received high ranking members of the Oyo State Government in the persons of the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr Jacob Ojekunle; the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Agriculture, Mrs Saidat Bolatumi Oloko; Executive Adviser to the Governor on Agribusiness, Mr Debo Akande; The representative of Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management and Social Development in Oyo, Mrs MO Lasisi and other members.
“They visited the command twice on the same day to inspect the bags of rice that were available for allocation.
“The Customs Area Controller, Comptroller, HU Ngozi led them to the warehouses where they inspected the bags of rice, checked expiration dates and expressed satisfaction and readiness to evacuate their allocation.
“Before leaving the command on their second visit, they pleaded to be given those from a section of one of the warehouses they considered “fresher” and this was granted.
“Subsequently, on the 21st of April 2020, the Oyo State Government team came with their vehicles under the supervision of Mr Jacob Ojekunle, Mrs Saidat Oloko, Mrs MO Lasisi and other top officials, in the presence of the Customs Area Controller, other officers and members of the press to witness the loading and exiting of the 1800 bags of parboiled rice allocated to their State as palliative to the vulnerable.
“Incidentally, in the process of loading, few bags fell at different times and burst open in the presence of Mr Ojekunle and Mrs Lasisi and there was no time that any of the burst bags of rice had weevils in them.
“The warehouse had no signs of weevils, neither were there signs of weevils on the loaders or on the trucks under the scorching sun.
“The three states; Oyo, Osun and Ekiti States took delivery of the bags of rice allocated to them, returned their landing certificates to show delivery to its final destinations. They also showed appreciation to the CGC for his magnanimity.
“Contrary to allegations by Oyo State Government, Osun and Ekiti States have not complained about their allocations.
“The Command is therefore surprised, even embarrassed to hear three (3) days later, that the rice allocated to them were infested with weevils and unfit for human consumption.
“The command wishes to reiterate that weevils do not hide and in the process of loading the vehicles, traces of weevils would have been noticed on the floor, on the bags, on the loaders or on the trucks bearing in mind that the entire process was in the presence of the CAC, Oyo State Government’s high ranking team and men of the press with full video camera coverage.
“The Command is also aware that for whatever reason, some pictures of bad rice have been circulating the social media. We disassociate ourselves from such false images and we suspect foul play on the part of the handlers of these allocated 1,800 bags of rice. The State Government may wish to dig deeper.
“It is surprising how bags of rice that exited the Command HQ in good condition suddenly became so bad after 3 days as being circulated in the social media.”