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October 14, 2013

Chief Ben Obinali is the commissioner of Commerce and Industry, Imo State.
Today, the hardworking Commissioner is basking in the Euphoria of self actualization and success borne out of a combination of two factors – hard work, and honesty.

However just one year ago, though like all conscientious public servants Obinali waited patiently for justice to be done, the man was in the eye of a storm that could have turned out as devastating as the latest hurricane Gustav which swept New Orleans or worse still as destructive as the unforgettable Tsunami that buried parts of Asia and some parts of the world below the sea beds.

But for God, as he says and his clear conscience this young commissioner of Commerce and Industry would have become history even before his Political career took off. The whole problem started with a few hundred bags of expired rice. If the killing of only one person, Prince Ferdinand of Austria, could trigger events that led to a world war, its not difficult to comprehend how a few bags of expired rice may have led to the expiration of an enviable record built by Ben obinali over the years both in business and politics. Today however, the tide has turned and Obinali is singing praise songs to his God and his Governor, Ikedi Ohakim who both believed in his honesty all through the saga.

A report by the Joint Committee on Commerce and Industry and Health that was set up by the State House of Assembly to investigate the scandal has finally vindicated Obinali one year after the story broke out.

On 24th September 2007, the Acting Chairman of the Imo State Consumers Protection Council,CPC, Levi Ekwugha reported to the Imo State Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Chief Ben Obinali that an Indian Company, “Milan” Limited had bags of expired rice in its warehouse. The commissioner thereafter went on inspection of the warehouse and according to his report. Discovered about 3,000 bags of rice of which 600 bags were due to expire in October 2007. He also discovered that there were other consignments with expiry date tampered with and 150 bags were already caking.
In his report the commissioner states that he ordered the Acting Chairman of the CPC to take samples of the Rice for lab analysis at the Federal University of Technology Owerri. In the meantime, he ordered the warehouse sealed.

The test results showed that the rice was actually not fit for human consumption and Chief Obinali therefore ordered the destruction of the 600 bags of rice placing a fine of N3m on Milan Limited.

Not long after this, the Director General of the CPC, Mrs Ify Umuenyi, flew into Imo State from Abuja. Mrs Umuenyi who is said to be a sister to the then very politically powerful Uba brothers of Anambra State, opened the warehouse. In the test of wills that folled,Umuenyi claimed that a lot of irregularities took place during the sealing of the warehouse. she claimed that Obinali collected a bribe of 3 Million naira and that rice which technical experts had recommended should be taken to the feed mills were actually fit for human consumption, amidst other allegations; however, the most biting and most provoking accusation was the alleged demand of Three Million naira by the commissioner.
At this point, the Imo State House of Assembly set up a Commerce and Industry and Health committee to investigate the matter which at that point had become a hydra headed scandal.

The committee headed by Chief Samuel Anyanwu and Dr. Obioma Ekennia, after investigation into the rice issue came out with some of these recommendations;
1. Milan (Nig.) Limited should be made to pay a compensation to the State Government to the sum of N50 million or build a well equipped health centre or be taken to court for selling expired rice to the public.
2. The Hon. Commissioner for Commerce and Industry be commended for being steadfast and upright in all his dealings in the matter and should be given Public acknowledgement by the State Government and the Imo State House of Assembly as a real example of the New face of Imo State.
3. Hon. Chief Ben Obinali is authorized by the committee to take any legal redress in the court of law if these public apologies are not tendered within 30 days of the release of this report
4. The Federal Government is advised to overhaul the CPC as there is serious crises of confidence within the Parastatal and the public. The Milan issue made it obvious that CPC is not interested in the well being of the consumers. A more focused leadership as it is in NAFDAC should be encouraged nationwide.


We thank God it is all over now. The report of the Panel is out and it was confirmed that there were actually expired bags of rice, as confirmed by Milan Nig. Limited, and by the DG of the CPC. The panel confirmed that there was nothing like bribery, what was confirmed was that the N3million was for logistics. The funny aspect of it was that even the money the Milan people brought was disbursed by them to the different people handling the logistics for the destruction of the rice. As God would have it, I wasn’t around when the money was brought so they wrote a letter confirming that they had given the money to the people concerned. You see, how merciful God is, if I had been around they would not have written that letter and when the problem came, I would not have had evidence to defend myself. It was the logistics money that they themselves disbursed. This was mainly for publicity, to show that the rice was actually destroyed and for conveying the rice to the dumpsite.

Honestly, I didn’t see it as anything. His Excellency the Governor, Chief Ikedi Ohakim has a lot of confidence in me. When I closed up the warehouse, I informed him, I was communicating with him, there was nothing hidden and so when they started those stories he knew that they were just trying to be funny. The whole thing was clear.

All through that period, I was doing my job. Infact, it helped me to work harder. It’s all part of the new face of Imo State. In Imo State, it is not business as usual, it is business unusual. We want to effect change.

Change is a difficult thing you must be ready for scandals. I prayed to God. This thing wouldn’t have been an issue but for the poor handling of the people concerned. Mrs. Umuenyi came into my state, I invited her to see me so I could brief her, she refused. All these documents I gave to the panel, I would have presented to her. It was a straight forward thing. I thank God that the Federal Government has reacted positively by placing an import waiver on rice. We on our side have buckled up our efforts to get partners for mechanized Rice production in Imo State; that again is just part of the things we are planning.
The rice issue lasted one year but the truth will remain forever. This must stand as a big lesson for everyone.

My advice for all public servants is that whatever you do, do it right.
I was trained by Chief Dapo Sarunmi and I know that he wanted everything in writing. Not long after I started my career with him as a young computer science graduate, I was going to the USA to buy computers and Japan to buy copiers with as much as 50,000 dollars to 400,000 dollars. I remember one of such business trips where I had an excess of 1,800dollars.I dint know he had called the company to confirm that they gave me some money, but I did my report and reflected the 1,800 dollars.
The man was shocked and he gave me the money and then I was on a salary of N300 (Three Hundred Naira). That was the first major money I made. I used it to complete my father’s house and set up a bus a business for my mother.
The lesson here is that in everything, public servants must minute everything to their bosses.
I wrote memos to my boss telling him the exact thing that I wanted to do, that there were expired rice, and that we wanted destroy them and show to the public that you do not bring expired goods to Imo State. You do not expect me to write to my Governor to say please give me approval to use such and such amount of money to destroy six hundred bags of rice, I need the money to pay the press and so on. If I did that I should be thrown out of office. What I did was say, the company that brought in the expired rice must pay for it’s destruction to serve as a deterrent to others.

See how young Nigerians are dying from Kidney, Liver problems and other such diseases; Government must protect the health of its people.

Now that the president has granted the waiver on import duty on rice, we took advantage and applied the Governor to bring in rice to be sold at a discounted rate to the people of Imo State, and by the end of the October, we shall be selling about 250,000 bags of rice at a discounted rate to the people of Imo State.

I have been vindicated by God, what more do I want. As for the Director General of the CPC, Mrs. Ify Umuenyi, she is a widow; God is the husband of all widows so I have left her to God. Let her husband judge her.
First published in THE SUN NEWSPAPERS, MAY 2010.

From → General

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