The popular Abakaliki Rice Mill Industry Limited has been sealed by the Ebonyi State Government following alleged discovery of some quantity of adulterated, poisonous rice being sold to unsuspecting customers.
Executing the sealing order on the premises on Tuesday, the Senior Special Assistant to Governor David Umahi on Internal Security, Dr. Kenneth Ugbala, explained that the action was part of Executive Council’s decision to safeguard the lives of the citizens.
The Governor’s security aide, who was accompanied by the Commissioners for Health, Environment, top Government officials and Security agents to the Rice Mill, further confirmed that those arrested with some bags of the said rice have been handed over to the Police while further investigation would continue to unravel the source and the syndicates behind the unwholesome product
Ugbala said: “The primary responsibility of Government in any part of the world is to protect the lives and property of individuals.
“So the Ebonyi State Government under the directive of Exco today directed that the Rice Mill industry should be sealed off temporarily to enable the concerned ministries, agencies and departments to go into the market with security agencies and carry out full investigation on the matter
“That is why we are here, a team comprising myself, the Commissioners for health, Environment and other top officials of Government.
“And we are directing that all members of the market, all buyers and sellers here should keep off.
“The security Agencies have been directed to take over the market and by tomorrow, the Environment, Health, Agriculture Ministry, other concerned agencies and experts will move into the Mill, first to carry out test on the rice and know what it represents.
“But we cannot fold hands as Government to overlook anything that can affect the lives of our people.
“It is not our wish that our people should stay at home without engaging in their business activities but this is really a call for necessity.”
Speaking to journalists, the State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Daniel Umezurike, confirmed that the inscription “not for human consumption” was boldly written on the bags containing the rice, while a cursory look at the content revealed that the rice was of very insipid quality, probably meant for animal feeds.
Umezurike described the act of maximizing profits by some businessmen at the detriment of the majority of the people as inordinate desperation and wickedness.
He however assured members of the public that his Ministry would promptly investigate the matter with regards to the source of the unwholesome rice, its distribution and outlets with the view of stemming its spread and returning the Rice Mill back to business in less than a week.
He added that the actual components in the rice would be revealed through tests to be conducted by his Ministry and would be communicated to the public.
He however assured that there was no cause for alarm as the product was discovered early enough.
Meanwhile, the Commissioner for the Environment, Chief Donatus Njoku, disclosed that the unwholesome rice was discovered following a tip-off from a consumer who went to the Mill to purchase some rice, which prompted his Ministry to swing into action and first recovered about 40 bags of the said rice.
Njoku regretted that when his Ministry went initially to confiscate the bags of rice, they were attacked by thugs of the rice merchants who damaged the Ministry’s vehicle, bent on inflicting injuries on the staff of the Ministry.
He explained further: “What made the exercise to reach to this magnitude was that when we came, they attacked us and even used thugs to release some people we arrested and so we had to make some reports, which made the State Executive Council to direct that we come back to seal the market to make sure that we get rid of all such rice here to save the lives of our people.”
Investigation by our reporter revealed that the poisonous rice was suspected to have been brought from Kano State.