About two or so years ago, two eminent Nigerians expressed serious concerns over the delay in passing the Bill for an Act for the establishment of Nigerian Food Hygiene Inspection Council (NFHIC) now before the National Assembly.
The Provost of the Nigeria Civil Defence Academy (NCDA), Sauka, Abuja, Prof. Ilyas Sarkin Duns, and the Director-General of Food Hygiene Initiative of Nigeria (FHIN), Dr. John N. Karimu, in their separate remarks at the passing-out parade of the 3rd Batch of FHIN officers at the Academy, appealed to members of the 8th National Assembly to speed up the hearing and passage of the Bill to reduce to the barest minimum the mortality rate in the country.
Prof. Duns told the gathering that the FHIN officers “are trained in order to make sure that whatever we consume is good for our health and this is why the National Assembly should give consent to the Bill.”
He stressed the need to have a well-organised setup that would ensure that the food we consume were properly processed and are fit for consumption, noting that all of us “are here today because we are in good health”.
Dr. Karimu, on his part, told the gathering that the FHIN was founded in 2014 as a Non-Governmental Organisation with the sole purpose of fighting all manner of food and waterborne diseases. He further disclosed that the agency had so far trained 5,500 officers, including over 1,500 certified for the job at the event.
According to the FHIN boss, the initiative had to a certain extent helped to curb the incidents of food poisoning and unhygienic issues as they affect food handlers and vendors in the country.
Dr. Karimu also revealed that the NGO intended to widen its scope of operation by collaborating with the Federal Ministry of Education and the schools in view of the federal government’s School Feeding Programme being introduced across the country.
The importance of food hygiene which is critical to human existence and healthy living cannot be over-emphasised. Nigerians, particularly the commoners, are daily exposed to the danger of consuming unhygienic food prepared and served in unclean environments. Roadside eateries are all over the place where the patrons eat with one hand and use the other for fly control. Plantains, yams, beans cake and fish are roasted or fried and are also exposed to dust and germs by the roadside. This practice accounts for such deadly diseases like typhoid and hepatitis.
Most local food joints are known to maximise profits by using rotten soup ingredients like tomatoes and pepper popularly known in local parlance as “baje”. Substandard oils are also used in their preparation. Sick animals are hurriedly slaughtered and served as well as dead ones to unsuspecting patrons not minding the health implications because they invariably come cheap.
In some cases, the meals are poorly cooked in a bid to conserve energy like firewood, charcoal or gas. Plates and spoons are also washed perfunctorily and rinsed in recycled water. And where a patron cannot afford sachet water which is a common feature in most eateries, they make do with water supplied by vendors which invariably is the source of waterborne diseases.
Then, there are those who hawk all kinds of food and fruits around without securing them from harmful agents like flies. Many patrons of these eateries and similar spots have been exposed to all manner of health hazards, food poisoning being the commonest among them. Others have developed complications with fatal or irreversible consequences.
With this frightening scenario, we call on the current National Assembly to dust up the bill and act fast on it in order to legalise the operation of hygiene officers as prevention against the dangerous practices and habits associated with the handling of food. Nigerians need to be saved from the danger which the harmful practices by food handlers constitute. The operation of hygiene officers will go a long way in putting the handlers on their toes.
Nigerians need to be enlightened about the danger of carelessness while patronising these food vendors and providers. In addition to regulating their activities through legislation, it will be necessary to make a provision in the Bill for compensation to be paid to anyone who suffers health complications arising from meals served.
The Council should work in tandem with the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to ensure safe meals for the citizenry. Food should be eaten to nourish human bodies; it should not be a licence to send consumers to their early graves.