Food safety has come under scrutiny in Nigeria after an alleged poisoning killed 10 people and hospitalised 400 in Kano state.

Residents of Kano state, northwest Nigeria, woke up to the news of a strange illness on March 16, that has left since gone on to leave 10 dead, 400 people hospitalised and at least 50 people suffering kidney-related infections, according to latest reports.

Most of the victims, thought to have been poisoned after consuming a flavoured powdered drink, were from six villages in the Rogo local government area of the state. The victims were reportedly rushed to the area’s primary health centre after passing excessive blood urine and vomiting.

The situation got worse as local healers and medicine stores were overwhelmed in some of the rural communities, including Unguwan Rijiyan Dadi, Gwanwan Gabas, Gwangwan Yamma, Unguwar Tsarmai, Gangare and Unguwar Kofar Fada.

But the country’s food regulatory body, the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), has insisted there is no cause for concern, saying many of the products had been mopped up from the various local markets in the affected areas.

Professor Mojisola Adeyeye, Director General of NAFDAC, also disclosed that the alleged merchants of the dangerous drinks had been apprehended. Adeyeye assured that the agency would stop at nothing to ensuring that only safe food and other regulated products were available in the market for consumption and use.

She said that the preliminary result of the agency’s investigation had been submitted to Kano’s state governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, during her two-day visit to Kano to assess the incident.

She added that the alleged ‘merchants of the deadly chemicals and additives had been apprehended while further investigation continued’.

Despite such assurances, there are fears that the problem of food poisoning might affect food security, not only in Kano State but also across the federation, if adequate care was not taken to nip this problem in the bud.

Proponents of this school of thought have argued that, given the fragile nature of Nigeria’s food supply chain, such incidents might hamper food safety and security in the country if not promptly addressed.

The Commissioner for Health, Dr Aminu Tsanyawa, gave an update on the emergency situation at the end of April, revealing that the death count had risen from three to 10.

She also disclosed that an additional 50 people that consumed the flavoured drink were undergoing kidney-related checks at various hospitals. At the time of press, the total number of people thought to have been hospitalised by the drinks stood at 400.

But food experts insist that the poisoning in Kano was an isolated case that affected only a few local government areas and not even the entire state.

Speaking anonymously, a top official at one of the multi-national food companies located in Lagos said that the issue of food safety or security does not arise in this instance since it happened in a few towns in Kano.

‘The issue of recent food poisoning in Kano is just an isolated case and cannot be generalised to affect food safety and security,’ said the source. ‘Such fears should have been genuine if it extended to other cities or states in the country.

‘But a more germane issue is for NAFDAC to speed up the process of inspecting food premises for licenses and permits, which are currently fraught with delays caused by corruption on the part of some officials, who demand kickbacks before the necessary documents are processed, especially for small- and medium-scale enterprises.’

Some experts have also fingered the high inflation rate in the country, which has placed popular food and drink brands beyond the reach of average citizens, as a causative factor.

They argue that since many cannot afford the popular brands, they tend to resort to the cheaper brands, which have a higher propensity to be associated with poisoning.