Agro-business experts have expressed worries over the seizure of 102 bags of plastic rice by officials of the Nigerian Customs on Monday.
In separate interviews with PREMIUM TIMES, the experts enjoined the government to ensure that security is beefed up in the nation’s borders and perpetrators of the criminal acts are prosecuted.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that officers of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Federal Operations Unit, Ikeja, on Tuesday seized 102 bags of plastic rice branded “Beat Tomato Rice’’ with no date of manufacture.
A Customs Area Comptroller, Mohammed Haruna, said the commodity was stored for distribution as Yuletide gifts for the public.
Mr. Haruna said officers of the unit seized the plastic rice along Ikeja area on Monday, adding that a suspect was arrested in connection with the seizure.
“Before now, I thought it was a rumour that the plastic rice is all over the country but with this seizure, I have been totally convinced that such rice exists.
“We have done the preliminary analysis on the plastic rice. After boiling, it was sticky and only God knows what would have happened if people consumed it,” the customs boss said.
Reacting to the incident in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday, Adewale Ilesanmi, an agri-business consultant, expressed surprise at how such goods got shipped across the borders of the country.
“My immediate impression on this is to say that this is wicked, inhuman, and totally unacceptable. The perpetrators of this crime should be prosecuted.
“It is the height of bad business practice and must send a strong worded message to the state of China and if possible, stop all importation from the people’s Republic of China,” he said.
While explaining the genesis of the ‘plastic rice’, Mr. Ilesanmi disclosed that players in the industry have long suspected that the fake rice is in the Nigerian market.
“We have for sometimes been following this dangerous trends in business and have always expected the Nigerian government to engage the Chinese government on it. We all know that in shortest possible time, it will be here and here we are today,” he said.
While explaining the health implication of consuming the plastic rice, the agro-business consultant said it is poisonous and can result in cancer or death.
“Plastic rice, simply put, is artificial, synthetic or fake rice-like granules which are made from sheet of plastics. They are toxic and inorganic materials and have grave health implications.
“Its implications are mostly health related complications including cancer or death depending on the volume consumed by the individual. They are poisonous and synthetic materials which do not have any metabolic relationship with the metabolic system of humans.”
For Adeniyi Phillips, a farmer and agro-preneur, the interception of the rice confirms the long held suspicion among farmers that the fake rice is being imported into the Nigerian market.
“I find it very disturbing that such rice as “plastic rice” truly exist in Nigeria. I have seen videos corroborating this fact in the past but I never believed those videos. The seizure of 102 bags of the plastic rice by the Nigerian Customs Service is a confirmation that is truly sad.
“I feel sad that some Nigerians in the name of doing business could go that far, to bring in contrabands that could adversely affect the lives of Nigerians, especially in this yuletide season when the demand for rice increases.”
Commenting on how the plastic rice is produced, Mr. Phillips who is also the convener of the Nigerian Youths in Agriculture Forum (NYAF), said that the rice can only be ‘cloned’ as it cannot be
planted or grown on any soil.
“From experience, plastic rice cannot be planted or grown on any soil. Rice formation (planting) goes through different stages. From planting of paddy, to the milking stage and then it becomes solid. I doubt if the plastic rice goes through these stages. It will be hard to believe the fake rice was
planted. Perhaps, it was ‘cloned’,” he said.
The agricultural consultant said that Nigerians should exercise caution on the issue. He also enjoined other agencies of government and the media to monitor the result of the test by NAFDAC.
“According to the NCS, they did some preliminary test on the confiscated rice and they found out that it is sticky and harmful to the consumers. They have also proposed to hand over the “plastic rice” to NAFDAC for further investigations. That tells a lot.”
Mr. Phillips however lamented the porous state of the Nigerian borders, stressing that the importation of the fake rice into Nigeria is due to the corrupt practices of some officers of the Nigerian Customs Service.
“Unfortunately, for the 102 seized, there are tens of thousands of such rice already in circulation. I ply Sango-Idiroko road regularly and I know the several tonnes of rice coming into Nigeria on a daily basis.
“It is unfortunate that our land borders are porous, so much that this fake rice get into Nigeria unhindered. This nefarious act continues to endure, because the NCS and other regulatory agencies along the border continue to aid these importers after getting some kickbacks.”
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Customs Service has assured Nigerians that the circulation point of the plastic rice has been blocked, debunking suspicions that the fake rice might have saturated the market.
While showing appreciation to well-meaning Nigerians who provided the service with prompt information that led to the discovery of the bags of plastic rice, Mr. Haruna advised the media to educate the public on the existence of plastic rice, adding that it was no longer a rumour.
He said investigation was still ongoing and the unit would hand over the plastic rice to the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) for proper investigation.