Superstition is the common thread. And that’s a commodity that’s never in short supply around here, even in a time of recession.
When I first saw the headline on social media, it didn’t make sense. How could it? To suggest that Nigerians had become so rice-crazed that some folks were now importing plastic rice was beyond me. I thought it was just another social media fantasy. Nonsense.
For decades now, rice has become the most rebellious item on the family menu, upending traditional staple and firmly embedding itself in our culinary experience. But I never knew the day would come when our desperation for this grain will create a market for the plastic variety.
Yet, it was all there in the story; shared so extensively I was forced to call on my faith to believe it is what they said it is: plastic rice.
Journalists serving the news on Christmas Eve fell over themselves to report that the Nigeria Customs had impounded 2.5 tonnes or 102 bags of 25kg each of plastic rice imported by “unscrupulous” business people to ruin our celebrations.
A Customs spokesperson was actually on record but neither the name of the importer nor the source of the import was mentioned. And journalists, all too eager to spread the bizarre news, did not bother to ask.
Readers were expected to accept, by faith also, that some nameless saboteurs had once again colluded with China, the world’s capital of adulteration, to undermine our health and safety.
Before China, it was India. The week before the plastic rice scare, the press had reported that some unidentified persons had imported a 20-feet container of “ready to eat”egusi soup, jollof rice, ogbono and yam porridge from India. None of the reports indicated that the journalists actually saw the food packs or that the items had been referred to the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) for testing.
Since nothing good can come out of China or India and there are lots of business people who would do just anything for money, the news of food adulteration mixes very easily with our faith and superstition. We don’t have to think to believe that China is at it again.
Reports of the Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole, having responded that his ministry had conducted tests that showed no evidence of plastic materials in the so-called plastic rice, failed to stem the rumour. We were too far-gone in our superstition and love of spreading the bizarre to stop and think.
Perhaps part of the problem is that we don’t trust our institutions. Or we believe that regulators will join providers of goods and services to kill us if the price is right. But can we just stop for a moment and think about the sense or nonsense of this plastic rice hoax, which first surfaced last year in Indonesia and Malaysia?
How did rice and plastic mix?
Rice is the seed of a species of grass, while plastics include materials composed of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, chlorine and sulfur. Yes, synthetic plastic may imitate the qualities of natural materials, but that’s as far as it can go. It can’t pass for the original anymore than stone can turn to bread. You only need to pour a handful of rice grains and a handful of plastics into water to find out.
But that seems to be a hard thing to swallow. It’s not as cool as hitting the Share button and spreading superstition and ignorance to a list-serve of 1,000 netizens. Yet, if you think of the cost to China of dicing 2.5 tonnes of polymer into rice grains, then bagging and shipping them thousands of miles, when thousands of paddies all around China are producing relatively cheap rice, you would wonder why they would prefer to bag polymer.
But that is what we have chosen to believe – that polymer grows on trees and that egusi for all its tendency to decay, can be preserved for 40 days on the high sea from Banglore to Apapa Wharf all the way to Oyingbo market in Lagos, where it is supposed to topple the real stuff from the menu.
There’s nothing that superstition – or its cousin, foolishness – won’t do to us. And that’s true about foodstuff as it is about holding public officers and persons in positions of authority accountable.
I’ve been shocked how many people will not say a word about Pastor Enoch Adeboye’s endorsement of Governor Ayodele Fayose’s style, because they think that doing so will offend God.
Adeboye has earned public respect because he is often very careful what he says, where he goes and the company he keeps. When, however, he decides to visit the obnoxiously iconoclastic Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State, a fellow beside whom Donald Trump is a child’s play, then Adeboye should not expect the public to look the other way.
The visit was controversial enough; his comment there was shocking. To praise Fayose’s “courage” and “boldness” and commend him to other governors as a role model in the defence of his people’s rights is a grave injustice to the memory of those whose deaths have been linked to the governor.
I’m not interested in Fayose’s politics with Abuja or even the allegations of the blood money bazaar that allegedly funded the governor’s reelection. We’ll wait and see how that plays out in court.
I’m saying that I’ll be shocked if Adeboye does not know of police, SSS and court records linking Fayose with the deaths of Tunde Omojola, Ayo Adaramola and Kehinde Fasuba, whose families have yet to get the justice they deserve. Or were these citizens also murdered in defence of the rights of the Ekiti people?
If it’s what comes out of a man that corrupts him and not what he consumes, then evangelical misstep is just as deadly if not more so than plastic rice from China or egusi from India.
Sure, we need to pay attention to the quality of what we eat and drink. But we must also hold our leaders – clergy, laity and apostates – accountable for what they do or say.
Ishiekwene is the managing director/editor-in-chief of The Interview and a board member of the Paris-based Global Editors Network