By Sphen Ubanna
When Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General of Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, approved 1.1 million ‘’50’’ bags of rice, equivalent of about 158 trucks load, and other food items, valued at about N3,2 billion,at the instance of President Muhahammadu Buhari, to be distributed to the poor and vulnerable Nigerians people applauded him.
The Foreign par boiled rice and other food items were said to have been seized from cross –borders smugglers operating between Nigeria and Benin Republic, Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon but stored at Government Warehouses across the country. Some of the food items, particular rice, were said to have been in some of the Government warehouses for over a year under very poor condition.
Although, Ali, the Customs Comptroller General, at the instance of the Katsina state born Nigerian President had approved the distribution of some of the food items, particular, rice, between 2016 and 2018, to the Internally Displaced Peoples ,IDP, Camps, in north eastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe including the IDP Camp in Edo state and motherless babies homes across the country, he may not have taken particular note of the Complaints of the beneficiaries about some of the food items in order to make amends in the future.
The President may have exposed Ali and his Area Comptrollers with the outbreak of the Wuhan Town in Hebei Province of China emerged Coronavirus, popular, COVID 19, in the country last February. He has directed the Customs helmsman to donate the seized rice and other seized food items in government Warehouse across the country to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster management and Social Development, for distribution to the poor and vulnerable Nigerians to cushion the harsh effects of the deadly disease.
The Customs Comptroller General was said to have directed the Customs ‘’war council’’, who are the Area Comptrollers to furnish his office with records of the quantities of seized food items in the Government warehouses in their respective areas of operations.
Based on their compilation, Ali, found the service could contribute 1.1 million ‘’50’’ bags of rice , equivalent of 158 trucks load , which was valued at about N3.2 billion, to the ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development for distribution.
He was said to have quickly communicated the decision to Hajia Zainab Ahmed, minister of Finance and , Hajia Sadiya umar Farouk, who oversees the ministry of Humanitarian Affairs. They were said to be very appreciative of the Customs gesture
. Perhaps to ensure that there was o problem in the allocation of the food items to the states, Ali may have based the allocations to the states based on nearness to Government Warehouses. It was not surprising why Oyo/osun Controlled Ibadan Warehouse was designated to service Oyo and Osun states.
but barely n week after the states started rolling out their trucks to take delivery of their allocations from the various Customs warehouses across the country, particular, in the south west, there had been rumours making the rounds that that most of the ‘’50’’ bags of rice donated by the revenue generating agency had expired, thus turning it to killer rice.
The first to raise the alarm was Seyi Makinde, the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, governor of Oyo state, who was said to have described the rice delievered to the state as ‘’bad and unfit for Human Consumption’’. He had threatened to return the 1,800 bags delivered to the state at the instance of Hajia Umar-Farouk, back to the ministry but that was how far, he could go.
The Oyo/Osun Customs Command , would not take the allegation as Abdullahi Lagos, an Assistant Superintendent of Customs and the Command Spokesperson who may have spoken the mind of Uche Ngozi, the Area Comptroller had Challenged the Oyo state governor ’’to investigate how rice delivered to the state to ascertain how ‘’it became contaminated’’.
Political Observers had expected Kayode Fayemi, a former minister of Solid minerals and now the All Progressive Congress, APC , governor of Ekiti state, and Gboyega Oyetola, his counterpart in Osun state , whose states also got delivery of 1,800 bags of ‘’50’’ of rice each from the same source and other warehouses in the south west geo-political region to speak out but they were said to have kept their silence to avoid being seen as working against Buhari good intention which might earn them sanction from the party leadership.
The controversial killer rice allegedly delivered to the Oyo state from the Government Warehouse, Ibadan, Oyo state, operated by the Oyo/Osun Customs Command , appear to have put Ali, the Customs Comptroller General and Mojisola Adeyeye, a Professor and Director General, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration, NAFDAC, on a tight corner as there had been calls on the President to sack them for negligence of duty.
This may have forced Adeyeye, the NAFDAC, Director General to speak out, noting that the agency officials never verified the rice delivered to the Oyo state government as claimed by the Customs Authorities, who many believe had wanted to shift the blame to NAFDAC.
An aggrieved Adeyeye, had told those that cares to listen that while the agency officials were invited to verify the rice in Lagos Government Warehouses under the close watch of Usman Yahaya, acting Comptroller, Federal Operations Unit, FOU, FOU, Zone A, and that of idiroko Government Warehouse under the close watch of Comptroller Agbara but that could not be said of Oyo/Osun Command which never invited them to verify the rice delivered Oyo state.
The NAFDAC boss who could not hide her feelings disclosed that her Staff in the discharge of their duties as contained in the Act setting up the agency had to be on ground in the Government warehouses invited in the south west to give approval before any truck from any state in the region was allowed to load and leave with the its Consignment.
‘’NAFDAC, officials, were at Ikeja, Lagos state and Idiroko, Ogun state, to certify the rice there and it was found okay’, She had said’. Many believe that instead of the Customs Authorities coming out to claim right in an already bad case, Ali, the Customs helmsman , should move fast to replace Ngozi, the Oyo/Osun Comptroller , for bringing shame to the Service. Nigerians are watching to see what Ali will do in handling the Oyo/Osun Command issue. There are indications that he may heed to the advice of the cabal in the Customs headquarters to allow the Comptroller to remain .