Seven months after former President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated the 32-tonne per hour Lagos Rice Mill in Imota, which produces the Eko Rice brand, Lagosians have bemoaned the scarcity of the brand in the market as the mill might not have produced more than 50,000 50kg bags.
The scarcity has also led to a bag being sold at between N42,000 and N45,000 instead of the N32,000 announced by the state government.
Buhari had on January 23, 2023, commissioned the project which the state claimed was the largest mill in Africa and the third largest in the world.
Daily Trust on Sunday recalls that during the inauguration and at other fora, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu boasted that the mill would address rice importation as it had an annual paddy requirement of over 240,000 tonnes to produce 2.5 million 50kg bags of 50kg per annum.
At the commissioning of the mill, Sanwo-Olu told Buhari said, “When he (Buhari) started his government, he said Nigeria must grow what they eat and they should eat what they grow.
“We are happy that Lagos is the testament to that. With 2.8 million bags of 50kg rice per annum, Lagos is ready to support the rice and food revolution in Nigeria.
“The rice mill will create close to 250,000 direct and indirect jobs.”
Sanwo-Olu’s Commissioner for Agriculture, Ms Abisola Olusanya, also said the mill would produce rice for Lagos residents at an affordable price.
However, checks in major markets in the state showed that Eko Rice is not available. Markets visited include Daleko, Mushin, Ogba, Oyingbo and Agege. Checks at shopping malls and e-commerce websites also revealed non-availability of the brand.
Most residents said they had not seen the rice produced from the mill more than seven months after the multibillion naira project was commissioned.
A trader, Anayo, said, “Nobody in this market (Ogba) is selling Eko Rice. We only heard about it in the news. It has not been made available to us. If it is available, our dealer would have informed us.”
A public affairs analyst and resident of Lagos, Dada Olugbenga, said the inauguration of the mill was done to score political gain ahead of the 2023 elections.
Olugbenga said, “The Imota Rice Mill is a laudable project, but I think the state government is more concerned about publicity than feeding Lagosians. Lagosians were enjoying LAKE Rice while former Gov Ambode initiated the Imota Rice Mill, but Gov Sanwo-Olu stopped the deal with Kebbi for LAKE Rice, maybe because it was associated with Ambode. The Imota Mill is not yet ready to meet its target. Where will the state get over 200,000 tonnes of paddy for the mill? I think the deal with Kebbi for LAKE Rice should have continued while the state builds the capacity of the Imota Mill as earlier envisioned by Gov Ambode.”
Daily Trust on Sunday, however, gathered that 10kg bags of Eko Rice were distributed to some chieftains and members of the APC during the campaigns, and as palliatives.
The Chairman of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), South West Zone, Otunba Femi Oke, said while he couldn’t speak on the availability of Eko Rice in the market, he was aware that some of his members supplied paddy to the mill.
He said, “Our farmers have been supplying paddy to the mill, but I can’t speak for the state government. However, insecurity in states such as Kebbi and Nasarawa is affecting the cultivation of rice. Government must tackle this by supporting them with vigilantes and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) so that they can go back to the farms. Farmers also need machinery to work with, but finance is paramount.
“Also, the government should partner farmers to bring down the cost of transportation in order to bring down the cost of rice in the market. Every household in Nigeria consumes rice as of today.”
However, Sanwo-Olu’s spokesman, Gboyega Akoshile, said that according to a briefing from the state’s Ministry of Agriculture, the Imota Rice Mill had indeed engaged its primary objective of producing quality rice for Lagosians.
He said, “Over 50,000 50kg bags of rice have been produced and released into the market via several large and small-scale rice merchants, some of which are Jumlar Nig Ltd, Johnvents Ltd, AZ Small Creation Ltd, Bimshade Enterprises, Buttercup Essence Ltd and Cassys Signature.
“Experience so far with the volume produced and injected into the market has shown that Eko Rice is of premium quality; offering the most competitive price of all rice brands. Feedback from consumers across the state revealed that Eko Rice is farm-fresh, has excellent taste and is substantially better than all other brands in the market, including imported rice.” When contacted, only few of the accredited merchants had the product, while others promised to get back when they restocked.
“Eko Rice is available at N42,000. That is the government price. We have bought it from the government,” noted a staff of the Ikorodu-based Jumlar Nig Ltd who spoke with our correspondent on phone after she was told that the government announced N32,000 per bag.
Daily Trust on Sunday further reports that Lagos State with a population of over 20 million people has the highest per capita consumption of rice in Nigeria and one of the highest in Africa.