By Godwin Oritse
AFTER a careful appraisal of what can be regarded as a show of shame, total disregard to human health and embarrassment to the nation, a group under the aegis of the League of Maritime Editors and Publishers, LOMEP, has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately dismiss the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, Col. Hammed Ali (retd) for donating 920,000 bags of contaminated rice for sharing to some states in the South West as part of the palliatives over the ravaging coronavirus pandemic.
The League listed other Customs officers that should be dismissed as the controllers of Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Lagos, Ogun commands who distributed the grains to the different states. It said their offence was betrayal of trust, negligence and attempted murder by giving out contaminated and expired rice that are dangerous for human consumption as palliatives to the people.
A statement signed by the League’s President, Mr. Kingsley Anaroke and Secretary General, Mr. Francis Ugwoke, said that Ali and his Customs controllers treated with total disregard the health implications to the people of the states even when they were fully aware that the food items were poisonous.
The league recalled that Ali had himself described the grains as poisonous and had warned Nigerians from consuming them on several occasions, stressing that some of the grains came to the country years back and were seized by the Customs who later described them as contaminated.
It recalled a statement credited to the Customs boss when he addressed newsmen, and was advising Nigerians against eating foreign smuggled rice which includes seized rice on the argument that they were poisonous having spent a minimum of five years in the silos before arriving the country.
The statement said that Ali had actually told newsmen, “A chemical must have been added to sustain its freshness and that chemical is harmful. Also, it has been re-bagged with a new date given as the production and expiry date and that is what we consume here which causes diseases”.
The league also recalled that the Customs under Ali’s leadership had equally donated the same poisonous rice to the Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, in the North but these were withdrawn later, adding that this was unbecoming of a highly placed public officer who claims to be in the forefront of the war against corruption.
Noting that Customs claimed that the grains were tested before they were given out, the League described this as simply a volte face, and a fallacy, stressing that evidence of such test from the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, should be produced.
Part of the statement reads: “We demand the sack of Customs’ CG and the Controllers of the Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Lagos and Ogun Commands for betrayal of trust, negligence and attempted murder for willy nilly giving out contaminated and expired rice that are dangerous for human consumption as palliatives to the people. Never mind that the five All Progressives Congress, APC, party states of Lagos, Osun, Ekiti, Ondo and Ogun, have given conflicting reports on the rice, the truth of the matter is that they don’t want to speak up because of political reasons and patronage.
“If the CG has said severally that foreign rice is not fit for human consumption, why must it then be distributed as palliatives? Is Customs not aware how long the rice must have stayed in their warehouses and what due diligence did it carry out on the rice before releasing them to the states? Were they inspected and tested by NAFDAC?
“When did this foreign rice become okay for human consumption? Why can’t Ali’s Customs give Nigerians Nigerian rice instead of foreign rice which he knows are poisonous? Can’t the Customs afford this?
“Nigerians should ask the CG where he got his information first on the poisonous rice. Was it after it was distributed to IDPs which probably led to the stoppage? If so, why sending them to the West as COVID 19 palliatives, a move which could be seen as ethnic sabotage? There are other pockets of unhealthy practices by Customs officers manning checkpoints where they use their own money to purchase cheap expired rice across the borders which they present to their superiors at their commands as seizures in order to retain their ‘lucrative’ positions,” the league stated.
It also disclosed that it had information that there was another alleged plot to donate 10 bad containers of tomato paste in Onne Customs as palliatives to the Federal Government, adding that the National Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, already has a report on this. The lleague called for a halt on further distribution of any palliatives from Customs without certification by the relevant authorities.
It particularly commended the Oyo State government for speaking out on the state of the grains and not dancing to political tunes by giving what was not good for human consumption to the people of the state.
The body of editors and publishers said it was considering legal action if Ali wa not shown the way out for such atrocities against the people of South West.
Beyond being sacked, the group equally demanded that the Customs service must tender an unreserved apology to Nigerians for their ‘show of shame’ and for toying with the lives of Nigerians.
The body of pioneers of maritime journalism in the country also frowned at the new Customs habit of littering various customs commands with seized cars and other items rotting away instead of auctioning for increased revenue profile of the service.