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Nigeria investigates reports of deaths at stampede during sale of confiscated rice

February 27, 2024
Bags of confiscated rice for sale are seen in Lagos, Nigeria, in this photo shared by Nigeria Customs services on February 23, 2024. From Nigeria Customs services
Bags of confiscated rice for sale are seen in Lagos, Nigeria, in this photo shared by Nigeria Customs services on February 23, 2024.

The Customs Service initiated the sale of confiscated rice, leading to chaotic scenes and reports of deaths as thousands clamoured for discounted 25-kilogram rice bags priced at 10,000 naira ($6.80).

Customs Service spokesperson Abdullahi Maiwada acknowledged the chaotic situation, citing impatience and a failure to follow laid-down procedures as contributing factors. While he neither confirmed nor denied deaths, he assured that an investigation is underway.

Eyewitnesses reported people being trampled to death, highlighting the severity of the situation. Anti-government protests erupted last week as Nigeria grapples with one of its worst cost-of-living crises, marked by nearly 30% inflation – the highest in 30 years – and a significant depreciation of the local currency.

The sale aimed to address the pressing issue of food insecurity, with rice prices surging to over N70,000 ($47.60) per 50kg bag from a previous range of 45,000 to 50,000 naira. The Customs Service has been confiscating contraband rice from smugglers following the Nigerian government's restrictions on foreign rice imports.

While the initiative was welcomed, analysts questioned its viability in addressing Nigeria's food insecurity crisis. Political analyst Sam Amadi highlighted the lack of a defined policy framework, criteria, and intelligible plans for the distribution of seized rice.

President , facing criticism for the spike in prices, expressed dedication to evolving home-grown solutions to the nation's challenges. The Lagos government announced plans to address the food crisis, including the opening of special markets and the construction of food hubs to provide affordable food items.

As investigations into the chaotic rice sale continue, Nigeria grapples with the urgent need to address the economic challenges, with over 80 million Nigerians living on less than $2 a day, making it the world's second-largest poor population after , according to the .

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