BBC Africa: Nigeria ‘plastic’ rice scandal: What is going on?

Nigeria’s government has denied reports that “plastic rice” was being sold in the country, days after the customs service said 2.5 tonnes of the contraband had been confiscated.

Health Minister Isaac Adewole tweeted that tests by the food safety agency found “no evidence” of plastic material.

Lagos customs chief Haruna Mamudu said on Wednesday the fake rice was intended to be sold during the festive season.

Rice is Nigeria’s staple food.

Mr Mamudu has not commented on the health minister’s statement.

It is not clear where the 102 seized sacks of rice came from but rice made from plastic pellets was found in China last year.

Mr Adewole said the agency would “release detailed findings to public as soon as it concludes investigations”, urging Nigerians to remain calm.

The BBC’s Stephanie Hegarty in Lagos says the results are to be released next week.

Mr Mamudu had said the rice was very sticky after it was boiled and “only God knows what would have happened” if people ate it.

The BBC’s Martin Patience in Lagos, who felt the rice, said it looked real but had a faint chemical odour.

The Lagos customs chief had called on “economic saboteurs who see yuletide season as a peak period for their nefarious acts to desist from such illegal” business activity.

Is the rice still on sale in the markets?

We haven’t heard any reports that the rice is still on sale in markets. Customs officials were investigating but as of now have found nothing.

Nigeria’s custom officials say they seized a total of 102 sacks, each containing 25kg (55lb), branded “Best Tomato Rice”.

It is, however, unclear how many bags had been sold, if at all, and if there are other forms of contraband in the market.

Has anyone eaten it?

We haven’t heard of any members of the public eating it.

Customs officials cooked the rice and said that the texture was very gummy and it smelled odd, they refused to eat it.

When asked the same question on Twitter, Health Minister Isaac Adewole joked that no, he wouldn’t eat it without salt.

An unverified video of the rice being cooked has been shared on social media.

In it the cook says the rice catches fire and sticks on the pan.

How worried are Nigerians?

Very worried. There have been several media reports warning the public about fake foodstuffs especially from China and their potential dangers.

Speaking to the BBC’s World Have Your Say programme Ibrahim, from Kano State, said selling fake rice was wickedness of the highest order.

How could there be such a disagreement between the customs service and health ministry?

Customs officials did say that they were awaiting tests by Nafdac, the food standard agency, before they could confirm what the rice was made of.

They suggested they would accept the results of those tests.

However, a customs agent did tell the BBC that he doubted that Nafdac had tested the same sample that his colleagues had cooked.

He insisted that the texture of the rice was like nothing he had seen before.

It is possible that this is a different type of rice that they weren’t familiar with.

It is also possible that the Ministry of Health is making an effort to avoid public hysteria in the run-up to Christmas.

Whatever the results announced next week, the BBC’s Stephanie Hegharty says many people will question them.

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