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Custom officers impounded rice belonging to orphans


The Australian High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Paul Lehmann (middle) with Rev. Fr. John Damian and others, during Lehmann’s visit to the orphanage of the Holy Spirit, Maryland Egoro Amede Ekpoma, Edo State.

I learnt that the prize of rice is cheaper in Lagos than here in Edo State. With our meagre fund, we ordered eighteen bags of rice from Lagos. Unfortunately, the Custom officers impounded the rice at Ore. The driver told the Custom officers that the rice belonged to orphans, but they turned deaf ear. I sent a good number of people to plead with the officers to release the rice for the orphans, but Mr. Okorie, the officer in charge bluntly refused to do so. I called him but he sounded so rude. Ten people, according to him, have called him on this so-called rice belonging to the orphans. He told me bluntly he wouldn’t release the rice because the order was from the Presidency. Unfortunately, I don’t have the President’s contact.

Indeed, I’m yet to see the rice to ascertain whether it is local or foreign. Let’s even assume it is foreign rice, with the ravages caused by flooding this year, does the ban on rice importation still make sense?

Recently, the Rice Farmers Association (RIFAN) appealed to government to come to their aid, following the destruction of thousands of hectares of rice farmlands by flood in several communities in Edo State. The National Vice President of the association, Mr. Dirisu Abdulsalam, lamented, “There are problems in rice production and the worst of it is that flood has washed away crops and even submerged some of our members and other villagers… The flooding will reduce rice production chain in the state, and more so, these farmers have lost millions of naira to the flood…”

What does this say about our so-called local rice production?
I do patronise locally made products. However, the ban on rice importation has caused untold hardship to majority of Nigerians. Rice that was sold at N9, 000 Naira prior to this present regime is now sold at N19, 000. This rice policy may be favouring few farmers in the North, but the fact remains that majority of Nigerians are dying of hunger.

During the World Food Day, the UN Secretary-General advocates “stronger political will and more financial support… until everyone has enough and quality food”. Pope Francis declared, “The struggle against hunger urgently demands generous financing, the abolition of trade barriers and, above all, greater resilience in the face of climate change, economic crises and warfare.”

As the United Nations is busy advocating hunger free society, Nigerian leaders are making life so difficult and unbearable for citizens by banning food importation. As the Holy Father rightly declared, we need to abolish every trade barrier that has to do with food. Food is a basic human need.

With the killings going on, the country has recorded the highest number of orphans. The UNICEF’s Deputy Representative in Nigeria, Pernille Ironside, declared that 10.5 million children are out of school. Most of them are orphans. Unfortunately, the government does not even have any programme for orphans. Does it mean these orphans are not citizens of this great nation?

Well, whatever the case, I’m using this medium to appeal to anyone who knows the Comptroller General of Custom Service or even the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to, as a matter of urgency, release the 18 bags of rice belonging to the Orphanage of the Holy Spirit. We are not receiving any subsidy from government to run an orphanage centre. So, I don’t see any reason why the Custom officials and government should starve the orphans, especially now that Christmas is around the corner…

In this article:
John Damian
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