- Expired food items should not be presented as gifts or palliatives
One positive fallout of the coronavirus pandemic is that it has compelled well-to-do individuals, civil society groups, private sector corporate organizations and governments across the world to rediscover the virtue of offering succor to weak, vulnerable and disadvantaged persons in society, to enable them to cope with the severe socio-economic devastations caused by the disease. Nigeria is not left out of this resurgence of the compassionate spirit, as governments at all levels have joined hands with various non-governmental entities to provide an assortment of financial and material palliatives, including loans to small businesses, financial aid to the poorest segments of the population, medical equipment to health facilities as well as food items to substantial numbers of people, in response to the crisis.
The Federal Government has played a commendable role in this regard, in coming to the financial aid of states, most of which are fiscally overwhelmed by the crisis, as well as making massive supplies of food palliatives available to the citizenry through such agencies like the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Emergencies and Disaster Management, as well as the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS). However, this obviously well-intentioned initiative has at times been marred inexcusably by complaints from the recipients that some of the food items delivered to the states are spoilt and no longer fit for human consumption, leading to the rejection of the palliatives.
The latest example of this unfortunate type of situation is Benue State, which has rejected three trailer loads of rice donated to the state by the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, on the grounds that they constitute a health risk to would-be consumers. In April, the Oyo State government also had cause to reject 1,800 bags of rice donated to the state through the NCS because they were allegedly infested by weevils and other harmful materials.
It definitely cannot be that these potentially harmful food items were deliberately delivered to the states. Such an assumption would be most cynical and unfair. Indeed, in climes with more harmonious and efficient inter-governmental relations, such occurrences would be handled between the affected levels of government without needless fuss and negative publicity. Even then, it is inexcusable that those responsible for supplying the food items apparently did so without conducting a quality control assessment of the commodities. There is certainly the need for a thorough investigation into these incidents to determine and eliminate the causes, if true.
Nothing could be more unfortunate and ironic than for food items meant as palliatives to the poor during a ravaging pandemic to become a source of danger to the health of those supposed to benefit from them. One probable cause of this problem is that the NCS, for example, stores food items such as rice seized from smugglers for prolonged periods and in unsuitable conditions, leading to their deterioration and spoilage. There thus ought to be a stipulated time-frame during which the NCS and similar agencies must dispose of seized items, particularly perishable food items. It is inexcusable to allow food commodities to go to waste in a country where millions of the citizenry cannot afford to eat three meals daily.
The crisis of hunger engendered by this unforeseen health crisis once again reinforces the need for government at various levels to intensify current efforts to revive the country’s agricultural sector and achieve national food sufficiency. Given the vast arable land for diverse food products with which the country is blessed, there is no reason for the country’s current import dependency for many food items. No less important is the imperative of the massive construction of modern food storage facilities across the country, to reduce the level of wastage of perishable agricultural products due to lack of good storage facilities.