By Chukwuemeka Opara
The Ebonyi government on Thursday ordered the re-opening of the Abakaliki Rice Mill Limited two days after it was sealed following alleged poisonous bags of rice that were discovered in the mill.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Gov. David Umahi ordered the sealing of the mill on Tuesday, after the state ministry of environment received reports and subsequently discovered bags of rice allegedly labeled ‘not fit for human consumption’ inside the mill.
Dr Kenneth Ugbala, Leader of the inter-ministerial committee set up by the government to investigate the matter, told newsmen at a news conference in Abakaliki on Thursday that the mill will re-open immediately.
Ugbala, who is also Gov. David Umahi’s Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on Internal Security, said that the mill was reopened because it had been sanitised, the poisonous products confiscated and culpable shops sealed.
“The committee alongside experts and security agencies evacuated the adulterated products from the affected shops and generally sanitised the mill with security agencies making some arrests.
“The state governor reopened the mill to save innocent millers and buyers from untold economic losses and also due to the mill’s importance to the state’s economic survival.
“Ebonyi citizens and buyers from across the country are hereby assured that the suspected products have been identified and evacuated, so they could freely process and purchase rice from the mill,” he said.
The committee leader said that the shops where the poisonous products were confiscated would remain shut till all investigations are concluded.
“Citizens who purchased rice from the mill within the period under scrutiny should present such products to the concerned ministries of health, agriculture, environment among others, for thorough screening.
“The government expresses serious disappointment with the mill’s leadership and subsequently suspends it for failing to be an effective liaison between the mill and the government.
“The disappointment is more profound because some of the shops where the poisonous products were discovered allegedly belonged to some leaders of the mill.
“We will consult adequately to appoint a caretaker leadership for it,” he said.
He debunked the notion that the matter was aimed at witch-hunting the Mill’s Chairman, Mr Joseph Ununu for winning a mock-delegate election.
Ununu is contesting the Abakaliki state constituency seat at the state House of Assembly under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
“No member of the committee is from Ununu’s state constituency or even local government area as issues of delegates’ election are entirely the party’s affairs.
“We have also not received any formal notification that he is presently declared missing by his relatives as the entire mill’s leadership was suspended and not only one person,” Ugbala said.
Chief Donatus Njoku, the State Commissioner for Environment, disclosed that a total of 317 bags were confiscated from 10 shops at the mill during the committee’s screening exercise.
“Two shops identified to be using substandard weight measurements were also sealed alongside those where the poisonous products were found until all investigations are concluded.
Prof. Fidelis Okpata, Deputy Chief of Staff to the Governor, assured the public that any government official found culpable in the matter would be punished no matter how highly placed.
“This is a responsible government which will not mortgage the lives of its citizens for the unwholesome commercial dealings of few individuals or groups,” Okpata said.