Benjamin Nworie in Abakaliki
Following the closure of the Abakaliki Rice mill over the discovery of adulterated and poisonous rice in the mill last Tuesday, the Ebonyi State Government Thursday directed the re-opening of the mill after its preliminary investigations revealed that about 10 shops were involved in the sale of the poisonous rice in the mill.
The mill was closed down by the state government after it discovered that some millers were selling adulterated rice not fit for human consumption.
In a joint press briefing in Abakaliki, the Senior Special Adviser to Governor David Umahi on Internal Security, Kenneth Ugbala, said 10 shops where the adulterated rice was discovered would remain sealed, pending the conclusion of investigations by security agencies.
He said the committee set up by the state government to investigate the matter had swung into action by visiting the market last Tuesday and yesterday where it seized the suspected adulterated and poisonous rice.
Ugbala, who is the Chairman of the Committee, further said the market has been rid of all the suspected adulterated rice and assured the state that Abakaliki rice is still very safe and fit for consumption.
He said the reopening of the market is to ensure that the traders and customers both from within and outside the state did not suffer untold hardship. In his remarks, the Commissioner for Environment, Donatus Njoku, said the committee seized over 378 bags of the poisonous rice, which was imported into the state from other parts of the country.
The commissioner explained that a staff of the ministry went to the market on Sunday to purchase rice, had noticed that one of the millers was mixing the rice with bags written not for human consumption and re-bagging them.
Njoku said the staff reported to him on Monday and he made preliminary investigations before reporting the matter to the State Executive Council (SEC), which ordered for the closure of the market and also set up the committee to investigate the matter.
Meanwhile, the state government has announced the suspension of the leadership of the Abakaliki Rice Millers Association headed by Joseph Ununu, stating that an interim leadership will be set up to manage the association’s affairs till further notice.
The suspension of the embattled rice millers’ chairman was said to be unconnected with his aspiration to contest for the Abakaliki South constituency in 2019. Ununnu was said to have refused entreaties from some major stakeholders in the state to step down for the incumbent, Luke Nkwegu.
However, THISDAY gathered that Ununu was arrested and whisked away from the state by men of the Nigeria Police.
Though Ugbala noted that the state government was not aware of any arrest, he however debunked the insinuation that the travail of the embattled chairman was politically motivated, stressing that the state government is only interested in saving the lives of Ebonyi people and Nigerians who eat the rice daily.
Meanwhile, the spokesman of the Ebonyi State Police command, Loveth Odah, disclosed that one of the bags of rice has been sent to NAFDAC for experts analysis to confirm if it’s poisonous or not.
The police spokesman said the Commissioner of Police, Titus Lamorde has directed the matter to be transferred to the Criminal Investigation Department for adequate investigation.