Customs, NAFDAC launch search for plastic rice

· Nigerians should beware of toxic rice during X-mas —Customs ·Customers now test rice before buying —Sellers

THE Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) have launched a search for alleged fake/plastic rice from China which is said to have found its way into some African countries, including Nigeria.

The search is coming on the heels of the alarm raised by some stakeholders over the influx of unmonitored and unregulated rice into the country through its various borders.

In an interview with Saturday Tribune, NAFDAC’s Director of Special Duties, Mr Abubakar Jimoh, said: “Immediately we read in the papers that plastic/fake rice was being shipped to Nigeria through our borders, our Acting Director General, Mrs Yetunde Oni, gave a marching order to all our NAFDAC formations scattered across the country.”

According to him, “at NAFDAC, we have what is called the Post Marketing Surveillance Directorate which is in charge of going round local markets to confirm the standards of foods that are being sold there. So, even if this rice beats Customs checkpoints at the border posts and gets into the markets, our men can still go there and seize them for destruction. This directorate goes about sniffing for substandard food and drug items in our markets. The Acting DG has given our officers a marching order and they are currently combing markets all over the country for this plastic/fake rice.”

The Nigeria Customs Service has also intensified seizure of toxic rice illegally imported into the country.

The fears of consumers about the toxic/plastic rice particularly stemmed from the fact that Yuletide, known for the heavy consumption of rice in many homes, is here.

Nigeria shares major borders with Benin Republic at Seme Border (Lagos State), Idiroko (Ogun State), Saki (Oyo State) and Chikanda (Kwara State), and it is on record that all sorts of rice have passed through these routes into many Nigerian markets unnoticed.

Although the existence of unhealthy and toxic rice in many Nigerian markets has been confirmed by NCS and NAFDAC, the agencies said they had not found a grain of plastic rice in any local market.


Toxic rice

Many of the bags of rice brought into West Africa’s Francophone countries are mostly destined for Nigerian markets. The storage and handling procedure these bags of rice pass through before getting to Nigeria is the reason why the Customs service declared them unfit for consumption.

According to findings, smugglers of this commodity, in their bid to evade eagled-eyed security operatives, store them in poor facilities, sometimes exposing them to rain, weevil and other toxic hazards. In some instances, grains of rice are also poured into various crevices of vehicles just to beat security and Customs checkpoints. Many of these bags of rice end up in local markets in Nigeria.

The spokesman of the NCS, Wale Adeniyi, told Saturday Tribune that: “We have warehouse in Idiroko. We have warehouse in Abeokuta and we have warehouses also in Lagos. You need to visit these warehouses to be able to ascertain the amount of bags of rice that have been seized by the Customs.

“As long as they (smugglers) keep bringing in this rice through illegal routes, we will keep seizing them because these bags of rice are not fit for consumption. Although there is no doubt about the fact that some of them will escape Customs seizure but that will not stop us from seizing the ones we lay our hands on.

“If you visit those warehouses I mentioned to you and see the quantum of rice that has been seized, then you will know what I am saying.

“NAFDAC has already told us that Nigerians need to be wary when they see rice coming in through the border. NAFDAC raised this alarm in a joint press briefing with the Customs for so many reasons which include the way and manner this rice was brought in; the way it was packaged; how many days it waited under the sun; how many days it stayed in the bush; the storage conditions; NAFDAC alerted us at the Customs headquarters.

“But there is no way Customs can seize everything because some will escape seizure. It is, however, left for Nigerians to determine whether it is their health that is more important or some other gains.


Plastic rice

Since the uproar over the influx of plastic rice greeted the Nigerian media landscape, the two government agencies saddled with the responsibility of monitoring and regulating what comes into the country as food – Customs and NAFDAC – are yet to stumble on any grain of plastic rice.

In a chat with Saturday Tribune, Mr Jimoh, who is also in charge of media at NAFDAC, stated that even though the agency was yet to stumble on any grain of the so called plastic rice, the lookout for the harmful commodity was still on.

“We are yet to stumble on any plastic rice but that does not mean we are not going to continue sniffing for this commodity. Our men are in many large markets scattered across the country to ensure that if the rice exist, we nip it in the bud before it gets into the homes of unsuspecting consumers,” he said.


Agitated consumers

However, despite the fact that the government agencies are yet to impound the now dreaded plastic rice, Nigerians are becoming more wary as Yuletide draws near. Speaking to Saturday Tribune at the Iyana-Iba market in Ojo, Lagos, a market woman explained that many people now demand testing of rice before paying for the commodity.

“Now, before anybody buys rice in the market, they ask you if they can have little of the commodity of the bag they intend to buy in some water. They want to see if some of the rice will stay afloat. It is because of the alarm over plastic rice.

“They (buyers) tell us that if it is plastic rice, it will float in water while original rice will get submerged in water. That is what we rice sellers face in the markets now. If you don’t agree to test your rice before selling, the buyer will simply walk away to another seller that is ready to test rice before selling,” the market woman, who identified herself simply as Iya London, stated.