In this report, ADEBAYO WAHEED takes a look at the controversy triggered by the palliatives sent by the federal government to South-west states.
No sooner than the coronavirus entered the shores of Nigeria that the federal and state governments began measures to contain its spread.
State governments commenced partial/full lockdown protocols just as they initiated palliatives measures much like the federal government.
Expectedly, the palliative measures are aimed at cushioning the economic effect of the lockdown on the downtrodden people. The states with the support of private sector designed palliative programmes.
However, an attempt by the federal government to provide palliatives measures for some states in the South-west has since become controversial, bothering on political inclinations.
The federal government through the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) donated three truck load of 1,800 bags of rice each to Oyo, Ondo, Ekiti, Osun, Lagos and Ogun states.
Controller of Customs for Oyo/Osun Area Command, Helen Ngozi, who made the symbolic presentation to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in Ibadan, said that Customs was donating three truckloads of rice each to Oyo, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti states as part of measures to cushion the hardship of Nigerians at this period.
Oyo State commissioner for Agriculture, Ojekunle Ojemuyiwa and executive adviser to Governor Seyi Makinde on Agribusiness, Dr. Debo Akande, who took delivery of the donation on behalf of the state government promised to ensure that the palliati government for this gesture.”
However, few days after the donation, controversy ensued as the Oyo State government and the Nigerian Custom Services (NIS), Oyo/Osun Area Command traded words over the 1,800 bags of rice given to the state by the federal government.
While the Oyo State government said it had concluded plans to return the 1800 bags of rice distributed to the state because almost all the rice had been infested with weevil and other materials, NCS faulted the claims, saying that they were tested by officials of the state government.
According to the state government, the 1,800 bags of rice distributed to the state as palliatives by the federal government have been infested and unfit for human consumption.
But the public relations officer of the Oyo/Osun Area Command of the Customs Services, Abdullahi-Lagos Abiola said the claime was annoying and appalling.
He said the executive adviser to the governor on Agribusiness, together with the special adviser to the governor on security, Fatai Owoseni earlier came to “our office to check the rice before it evacuated from our warehouse.”
“We were shocked to hear that the rice were not good for consumption, these rice are not expired rice, how can we now realize expired rice for the public? this is very annoying,” the public relations officer emphasised.
“Oyo/Osun command has two warehouse, so the government representatives were the ones that even choose the rice they wanted, Oyo State was the first to evacuate their rice before other states came to took their own,” he stated.
The Command noted that although it was possible that a little number of the bags of rice might have an issue, it does not mean that all the bags of rice were not good for consumption.
The customs image-maker, however said that efforts were ongoing to ease the tension of the people of the state, saying that the Customs would react accordingly.
This was disclosed shortly after the committee on distribution of relief materials and palliatives paid an inspection visit to the warehouse where the grains were kept.
But speaking on behalf of the state government, Akande insisted that after taking delivery of the donated rice, quality control inspection was repeatedly carried out after which it was discovered that the bags of rice were unhealthy for consumption, hence the rejection.
The state government maintained that the rice was infected with weevil.
The public relations officer of the Command, Abdullahi-Lagos Abiola, had in a statement said the NCS wondered how bags of rice that left its warehouse in good condition could turn out bad within three days, urging the Oyo State government to dig deep into the matter.
The agency also denied the picture of spoilt rice being circulated on social media, noting that the rice allocated to the the three states of Oyo, Osun and Ekiti were delivered in good condition as testified to by representatives of the beneficiary states after taking the delivery.
Reacting, the opposition All Pro gressive Congress (APC) berated Governor Makinde for rejecting the relief palliative from the federal government.
The opposition party said the rejection was borne out of the political colouration, adding that the governors action did not come to Oyo State APC as a surprise because the government of Oyo State under Engr Seyi Makinde was not the only state that was given “but we know the rejection has political colouration.”
The party challenged media to make an inquest from other states of Ekiti, Ondo and Osun and confirm this grave allegation from Oyo State government.
Expectedly, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in response, accused the APC of being blinded by its desperation, ‘pull him down at all cost syndrome.
It expressed shock at a statement credited to the Oyo State chapter of the APC in which the opposition accused the executive governor of Oyo State for expressing the desire to return rice donation from the federal government on health ground.
The ruling party accused the opposition of what it described as ‘taking too far the desperation to discredit governor Makinde’s giant strides’.
PDP asserted that if governor Makinde’s team led by the commissioner of Agriculture, Ojekunle and the executive adviser to the governor on Agriculture, Akande, who is an expert of repute in agribusiness, had not been proactive and effective in handling all received relief materials in the state, “the opposition would still be everywhere in its desperation to pull Makinde down at all cost regardless of the governor’s giant strides.”
While the chief press secretary to Governor Makinde, Taiwo Adisa, confirmed that “a letter has gone to Nigeria Customs that we are returning the rice,” reactions of other affected states to the claim of infected rice have been insightful.
Chief press secretary to the Ogun State Government, Kunle Somorin, said the state was not considering returning the bags. He also did not confirm if the product had been tested and found good for human consumption.
In Osun State, the government said it sent a sample of the rice for quality test and was waiting for the result. The governor, who spoke through his media aide, Ismail Omipidan, said a decision would be taken after the result had been received.
Commissioner for Information in Ekiti State, Muyiwa Olumilua, said the state had no plan to return the bags which according to him were already in the state’s food bank. He declined further comments on quality.
Lagos State commissioner for Information Gbenga Omotosho said: “Lagos State government has not said it was going to return the rice. The truth of the matter is that the rice in the majority of the bags could be eaten; the authorities certified it to be good.”
He added that: “Actually some are bad. But there is no plan by the Lagos State government to return the rice or throw it in the lagoon as some people are claiming. We are appreciative of what the federal government has done. We had been distributing rice procured by the state government even before the ones donated by the federal government came.
“You have to realise that even before the help from the federal government came, Lagos had spent a lot of money on palliatives, and we are not going to relent, bad rice or no bad rice.”
APC national vice chairman (South West) Bankole Oluwajana, who hails from Ondo, said: “The rice we received is good, and justice has been done to it without party sentiment.”
He cautioned against politicising efforts by government at containing the pandemic. He said if Governor Makinde was not playing politics, he would have complained that over 600 bags were bad and the customs would have replaced them.
APC South-West publicity secretary, Dapo Karounwi said: “Ekiti State did not receive any bad rice as palliative from the federal government. Where Oyo got it, I wouldn’t know. It would be recalled that this same Makinde endangered the life of his people when the pandemic initially started by inviting all PDP members to hold a rally in the state where he even said coronavirus was not in the party but rather in APC. A week later he (Makinde) tested positive for the virus. Who knows if he is playing another politics with the rice?” Karounwi nevertheless called for an investigation into the claim.
But the drama took a new twist as Ondo State government declared it was rejecting some “expired” bags of rice donated to the state by the federal government.
Secretary of the state palliative committee in the state, Alex Kalejaiye, said some of the bags contained expired rice which were not fit for human consumption.
“We discovered that some of the bags have expired and not good for consumption at all, so we are separating them from the ones that are still manageable for consumption. After this, we will still take the ones that appear good to the laboratory to test if they are fit for consumption,” Kalejaiye said.
He added that, “They brought many bags of rice, we just carried out random check on them to discover the ones that are not good. What we are trying to do is to separate those ones that appeared bad from those ones that appeared good then we will carry out laboratory test on them to ascertain whether they are safe for consumption before giving them out to our people.
“Some are expired, it is even written on the bags but some are not expired but it seemed they were not properly stored, and those ones are not properly stored would not be good to be given to our people without carrying out the laboratory test .
“But the extremely bad ones, we don’t even need to do test on them, we will return them. We will meet tomorrow to decide when to return them, you know we can’t do it without the consent of Mr Governor,” he added.
However, the federal government has denied distributing rice that is not fit for consumption to south-west states.
Sadiya Umar Farouk, minister of humanitarian affairs, disaster management and social development, while speaking during the presidential task force briefing on COVID-19 in Abuja on Monday, said, “This rice was handed over to us by the Nigerian Customs Service and was assessed by National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) who issued a clearance before the goods were released for onward distribution to the states.
“So, as far as we are concerned, this rice was certified and is fit for human consumption.“
However, Sadiya expressed disappointment with the way the issue was handled.
“We had an issue in Oyo, which was officially reported this morning, but two or three days back, we’ve seen news flying around that all the rice that we took to the south-western part of this country is bad. I want to say here very categorically that that is fake news. It’s not true,” she added.
“Even as of this afternoon, I spoke with the chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum and he assured me that when he received his, Ekiti’s and [that of] other states are in good condition.
“We all know that even in our houses if we keep foodstuff, especially grains of that nature in a damp place, it is bound to have some colouration or change in colour, but that does not mean that it is not fit for human consumption.”