Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki
The Rice Millers Association (RMA), Abakaliki, and a group of middlemen called Blanders in the Ebonyi State are at each other’s throat over allegation of selling rice to customers with compromised measurement tin known as bushel.
Although Daily Sun gathered that the two groups have been engaged in a running battle, the friction came to a head on August 7, leaving the whole scene chaotic. About three persons were injured and some quantities of milled rice scattered on the ground when they clashed. Some customers who came for various businesses scampered to safety when the fight broke out.
Rice millers had accused this group of rice marketers of using incomplete bushel to sell rice after buying from them (the millers) with the standard bushel; an allegation refuted by the Blanders. On their part, the Blanders accused the rice millers of using compromised bushel to sell the product to customers. They further accused the millers of unnecessary jealousy and wickedness.
A member of the RMA, Mr Friday Opoke, alleged that the Blanders were engaged in fraudulent business dealings and that they were determined to stop them: “What they do is that they buy rice from us and keep. We sell with bushels of complete size.
“Later on, they resell to other customers with their own bushel which is incomplete in size in order to make gains. So, the mill owners said that they don’t want such people to keep operating in the mill.
“The millers decided that they won’t be selling rice to them again. So, what they did was that, when they come to you and you decline to sell to them, they would break your bag and scatter your rice on the ground, violently.
“The people are calling on the government to come and address this issue before it gets out of hand. The current chairman, Ogodo, does not support that evil and he has been crying to the government to come and help us.”
A former executive member of the RMA who spoke on the condition of anonymity claimed the alleged activities of the Blanders have adversely affected their businesses: “Our bushel is 100 cups (cigarette cups). Now, these people use bushels that measure 70 or 60 something cups and the one that they say is complete is 80 cups.
“Now, when people come from Abuja, Port Harcourt, Lagos and other parts of the country and buy from them. When they go back, they see a different thing from what they bought. It won’t be complete.
“Not only that. They buy rice of different price ranges and mix them together. When you see this rice, you will feel that it is the best but when you measure it, the bushel will not be complete and the rice will not be what you bought. When you go back, you will be frustrated.
“Two persons are now in prison because of this. They were contracted to supply rice and they patronised these blander people. When they went back to deliver the rice, it was not what they agreed.
“In fact, there were some quantities of rice that were brought back last January and February because of these people. We don’t want these people again because they have succeeded in scaring away all our customers.”
But the Blanders have refuted the allegations describing them as false and baseless. One of them, Mrs Cynthia Obasi, alleged that they were being witch hunted for no justifiable reason: “What I am saying is that the bushel we use to sell is given to us by the chairman. There was an order that nobody should bring bushel from the outside; that it is only the one made available by the chairman that we are all going to use. We agreed and complied.
“Later, he said that he would introduce the use of scale and we agreed. We told him that we would use any one he wants us to make use of. He later changed his mind and said that he won’t bring bushel again; that he wants us to leave the mill.
“So, when we came today, the millers refused to sell rice to us. We begged them and narrated to them what we are passing through and how hunger is dealing with us and our families but they refused. There are some of us whose children are in the hospital.
“Some of us don’t have helpers. I in particular don’t have anyone helping me. I cried and begged them to sell rice to me but they refused. We didn’t vandalise anybody’s bags of rice.”
Another member of the Blanders, Ms Nwali Nwakaego, disclosed that they had taken the matter to the state House of Assembly and begged the millers to forgive and have mercy on them if they had offended them in any way but all pleas fell on deaf ears:
“We have stayed idle for one month without buying and selling. That is why we decided to embark on riot. We vowed that since they said that we would not eat, they themselves would not eat.
“What we did was that after they measured rice for other customers, we will empty it from the bag. We did so. It is not true that we used bushel that is not complete in size. Our bushels are complete.
“When the House members came this morning, they spoke to the two sides and appealed to us to make peace so that everybody will carry on with their businesses. Thereafter, they left but said that they would return. Hunger is dealing with us at home.”
When contacted, chairman of RMA, Mr Samuel Ogodo, neither picked nor returned several calls and messages to his mobile phone. However, some of the mill owners said that he is working hard to sanitise the rice mill.