A tweet from an apparent member of the Moussalli family, Saada Elias Moussalli has caused outrage over the shutting and unprecedented quick reopening of Chocolate Royale and its sister restaurants in Lagos by the National Agency for Food Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC). Tweeting under the ashtag @saada_et, she wrote “You are all ignorant Nigeria is not made on news papers” and “So expired food for 20 years and nobody get sick so this is fantastic we all should go for expired food haha”
In May this year, a popular Lagos based confectionaries and multinationals food outlet, Chocolate Royale was NAFDAC. The company, owned by Lebanese billionaire Amin Moussalli, who also owns a chain of broadcast stations, was closed over what the Agency described as “unethical practices” and non-adherence to good manufacturing and hygiene practices.
All the outlets of the restaurant were sealed following a tip off and an intelligence report which indicted the company of illegal importation, storage and use of expired ingredients and food products in the production of its delicacies. Furthermore, the company also maintained and operated illegal cold rooms at the Managing Director’s residence where large quantities of spoilt food ingredients worth millions of naira were uncovered.
Most were expired, with the oldest having expired since 2004 and newest in 2013; some had maggots in them already and 90% of the items were not labelled in English and thus not registered by NAFDAC.
The contaminated foods were stored in cold rooms on top of sewage tanks and in front of toilets. The chefs admitted they knew the foods were expired but still went ahead to use them. It was also speculated that the Lebanese mogul receives these products which ordinarily would have cost money to dispose of mostly for free and also gets paid to evacuate them; he then ships them to Nigeria, his food toxin dumping ground and this has been going on for years!
Within a few weeks however, the outlets had all been reopened causing Nigerians to wonder why NAFDAC rushed to reopen them without issuing any public statement on the findings. On July 1, one Wale tweeted
“The DG of Nafdac is Dr. Paul Orhii. Please does any have his number or email address? We need to inundate Nafdac with email and calls. We deserve to know why this restaurant was reopened. If not we need to place a call to Akinwunmi Ambode. This is a clear case of insult upon injury. They poisoned us now they insult us boldly. No remorse, No shame.
NAFDAC’s Director of Special Duties, Mr Abubakar Jimoh confirmed to Economic Confidential, that indeed, the Moussallifamily were caught in the act of serving poison to Nigerians and that led to the shutdown of all their business outlets.
He however, said the company was given a VIP treatment because “The agency does not intend to drive them out of businesses. They contribute to the economy through employment of Nigerians and tax payments.” Accorrding to him, the aim of the Agency is not to “kill” a business which employs Nigerians and pays taxes. He said closure was a corrective measure taken in order to enable complete evacuation of the offensive items so they could be destroyed and also to ensure the company complied with its regulations in order to ensure good manufacturing practices especially its willingness to comply in the area of material procurement.
He went on to say though that investigations are still ongoing with the laboratory testing of the products found there, so as to be able to tender its case before the court of law and that while the business is back on the block, the Agency has put them under surveillance to ensure that its directives are adhered to. At the end of investigations, the company is either given an Administrative fine, based on if it is a first time offender and the gravity of the offense or arraigned before the court of law.
In an advertorial announcing its reopening in one of the dailies on the 14th of July, 2015, the company neither accepted nor denied the incidence (as expected) but assured its customers of its readiness to continue to serve them.
This issue is certainly one that should not be allowed to “die a natural death” as Nigerians are watching and waiting for a prosecution. The health implications of the use of those products to those who are frequent customers of the company can only be imagined.
The investigations should go beyond the shores of just what was discovered up to the entry of those products into the country! As speculated, it has been ongoing for years, how did they pass by the Nigeria Customs Service officers at the ports? Or were they smuggled into the country? The owner of the company Mr. Mousalli is still to be seen, when the time for prosecution comes, will the company or its owner be arraigned? In a situation where the owner is yet to be found? NAFDAC can take its sweet time in crossing the “Ts” and dotting its “Is” as long as decisive and conclusive action is taken on this case, but in the meantime, it is certain that Nigerians will throng the reopened restaurant like no man’s business.