Stakeholders slam cassava union boss, Oqua over ‘Ugep killer garri’ comments

Stakeholders and opinion leaders in Ugep town in central Cross River State have slammed the chairman of Cross River State Cassava Growers Association, Venerable Augustine Oqua over his warning against consumption of Ugep garri.

He had during an interview granted newsmen on Friday cautioned consumers to beware of Ugep garri because it contains cyanide and can kill.

Oqua had said that because the Ugep processors were too much in haste to fry and sell the garri, they did not allow the cyanide content to escape, saying they were risking lives of suspecting consumers.

Many natives of Ugep, described as the largest native town in West Africa, are involved in cassava processing, making the town to be widely known as centre of garri distribution and sale.

They have now seriously frowned at Oqua’s comment, describing it as ill-informed and outright lies as he had no facts to substantiate his allegation.

Others have said that because he has a small cassava farm and was about to go into garri processing, he was looking for ways to scare Nigerians and other consumers away from the popular Ugep garri.

First to react was former special assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on prosecution, Chief Okoi Obono-Obla, a chief in Ugep, who said the allegation was “a blackmail, too grave, and an attempt to de-market the Ugep heritage.

“This is plain blackmail! Why will an association that is supposedly catering for the interest of growers of cassava rush to the media to make this type of unverified and scientifically unproven assertion calculated to kill the Garri processing industry in Ugep?”

He said views and reactions of the Ugep people and the processors ought to have been sought and reflected in the report.

“Even God gave Adam a fair-hearing even though he was caught red-handed eating the fruit from the forbidden tree.

“The story is well calculated to de-market the garri industry, which reputedly produced one of the highest quality garri in the country,” he said.

An Mkpani community Prince, Oka Ibor, features editor of Cross River State owned Nigerian Chronicle newspaper, said in a statement:

“This is mischievous and a calculated attempt to disparage the hard earned reputation of the people of Ugep as one of the major producers of gari in the State.

“One may wish to ask how many Cross Riverians have reportedly fallen ill because they consumed Ugep gari all the years past?

“For the avoidance of doubt, it is only those who wish to produce fufu (akpu) that soak the cassava in water for days to enable it to ferment.

“Gari processing is, however, different as you will have to grind it and then press it for the water to properly drain before frying. It may also interest one to know that any pressed gari that is not properly dried is always very difficult to fry and the end product will not be appealing to any intending buyer.”

Ibor insisted that Ugep garri enjoys wider patronage despite attempts to de-market it.

He argued that the position of the story has been exposed as untrue, malicious and unfounded.

Another prominent son of Ugep, a broadcaster, Iwara U. Iwara also frowned at Oqua’s remark, saying “Oqua doesn’t have a grasp of the issue he is talking about.”

Hundreds of comments by Ugep youths that followed the story on social media berated and advised the cassava boss not to near Ugep town for his proposed sensitisation tour, else he would regret.

But an expert, Mike Kit Oka explained that “cassava has lower cyanide compared to that in other hydrocarbons.

“However, cyanide in cassava is eliminated after squeezing away the water and frying it into garri. In the same vein, cyanide is eliminated from cassava after boiling it for about 15 minutes and throwing away the cooking water. It is not fermentation that eliminates cyanide in cassava..”