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Lagosians camp outside Customs' office on Monday waiting in vain for cheap rice

Hundreds of people queued for rice outside the NCS office on Monday, despite no communication to do so.

Lagosians wait under the sun waiting for rice from the Nigeria Customs Service

The agency had on Friday, February 23 invited members of the public to the same location for the disbursement of thousands of bags of rice as a measure against the high prices of food and food insecurity.

Many Lagosians initially flocked to the office to buy the bags of rice, seized from smugglers by the agency, at a discounted rate of ₦10,000. However, to deal with the unexpected high traffic of people who showed up, the NCS started handing out the bags of rice for free before the end of the day.

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Even though the agency didn't announce that the disbursement programme would continue on other days, hundreds of people still showed up at the office on Monday.

"I came from Iyana Ipaja and got here 7 am expecting to get rice like people got on Friday," Ayuba told Pulse Nigeria as he waited with others in front of the NCS office.

The expectant crowd stood in queues or sought shelter from the sun around the entrance of the office, despite no communication they would be able to get rice.

As it looked increasingly unlikely a distribution would happen, the crowd started thinning out over the course of the day, with only a few dozens left by 3 pm.

"It wasn't until past 2 pm they told us there was no more rice here. I heard there may be rice at the Ikeja office, but I'm not sure," a dejected Ayuba said after he decided to give up and return home empty-handed.

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Josephine, who arrived the office around 3 pm, said she heard about the rice giveaway on Saturday, February 24, and left her home in Ikorodu to get one bag on Monday, even if she had to pay the discounted fee. She lamented about the price of rice, with one 50kg bag selling as much as ₦80,000.

"Never in my wildest dream did I think rice would be this expensive. It's what we eat everyday, that's what our children take to school," she said.

The NCS has received some public flak for the poor coordination of last Friday's disbursement, with at least seven people reported to have died in stampedes. But this didn't stop the hundreds of people who showed up at the NCS office on Monday eager to profit from the government's goodwill.

Rice is one of the essential food items most affected by Nigeria's out-of-control inflationary crisis, with food inflation rising to 35.41% in January. The inflation also affects the prices of bread and cereals, potatoes, yam and other tubers, oil and fat, fish, meat, fruit, coffee, tea, and cocoa, according to the consumer price index (CPI) report of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

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By 4 pm on Monday, there were only a handful of hopeful people still waiting around for their own bags of rice, but Josephine had a final message.

"I just want to get information on when next they will give out rice, free or discounted. They still have those bags of rice. They should just help out," she said.

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