#ThrowbackThursday: The mysterious case of 'killer beans' in Nigeria in 1996

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In 1996 this pot of beans would have been deadly

In 1996, the mysterious killer beans hit the South-West of Nigeria.

The year was 1996, September 1996 to be precise.

19 years ago, what was known as 'killer beans' struck the South-Western part of Nigeria.

During this month, at least 16 people in the South-Western area of Nigeria died from eating beans. This occurrence led to what was known as 'killer beans'.

 

14 people in Lagos reportedly died after eating beans. An akara seller in Ogun state died after eating her own beans cakes when she tried to prove to her customers that they were not poisonous. 

Beans is very popular in the country. Nigerian food items such as 'akara' and 'moin-moin' are also gotten from beans. Nigerians didn't dare go anywhere cooked beans, akara or moi moi during this period.

 

It wasn't just a regional thing. The fear of killer beans went around the country and in millions of homes, beans was banned. Many people did not dare go near beans. Beans sellers in the country ran out of business in no time.

As expected there was no official statement from the Federal Ministry of Health. Daily newspaper The Guardian in an editorial said the silence from the ministry "deepened the puzzle and fright, magnifying the potency of the rumour mill."

 

And there were a lot of rumours. I heard two during this period. The first rumour was that a gang of armed robbers had gotten their hands on a big batch of contaminated beans and sold it to traders for cheap.

The second rumour was a conspiracy theory that a certain powerful region in the country wanted to do away with Yoruba people. The silence of the Ministry of Health did nothing to make the situation better.

Prof. A. Daramola, then a lecturer at the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training in Ibadan, Oyo state perhaps gave the most scientific reason behind the 'killer beans'. 

He said that it was most likely that the beans that killed the 16 Nigerians were highly treated with chemicals and not fit for consumption.

How did killer beans go away? The Military Administrator of Lagos state Col. Buba Marwa had it up to here with what was going on. One day he hit the streets and was televised eating akara he bought from the roadside.

 

The public confidence in Marwa by Lagosians at this time was sky high. His anti-armed robbery initiative 'Operation Sweep'  had endeared him to many of the city inhabitants. Marwa's good standing (and the fact he did not die after eating akara) encouraged people to start eating beans again.

With that one move, killer beans was gone with no one knowing the truth.



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