For about a fortnight now, patrons of Lagos foodstuff markets have been going through harrowing experiences occasioned by the strike embarked upon by suppliers of foodstuff from the northern part of the country. Commodities, such as vegetables, yams, fruits and livestock products have become very scarce and the prices of the little that are available have shot through the roof, sometimes as much as 1,000%.
It turned out that dealers on these essential goods had withdrawn their services over what they described as multiple taxations, which left them near bankrupt. According to available information, governmental and non-governmental groups have taken over the routes through which the food sellers bring their wares into the Lagos metropolis extorting money from them.
These include the Police, Customs, agricultural produce inspectors, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), the Lagos State Transport Management Authority (LASTMA), the Federal Roads Safety Commission (FRSC), tax agents of state and local councils and, of course, touts and area boys.
The food dealers have now given a 30-day ultimatum for the Lagos State Government to wade into this matter or else they would effect a total withdrawal of their services.
The food sellers have applied their legitimate right to embark on a peaceful strike and their complaints are legitimate. Agents of these agencies conducting their corrupt activities in the open glare of the public is another sign that corruption is no longer seen for the evil and abomination that it is in our society. It has become part and parcel of our lives. Our so called efforts at fighting corruption seem to target only political office holders and public servants. Extortion along the highways by government agents does not seem to qualify as corruption any more.
Besides, these extortions amount to biting the finger that feeds one. Lagos, with its teeming population is a commercial metropolis, not an agrarian state. It depends fully on farmers who operate from outside the state to supply the foodstuff that feeds millions in the city. On the other hand, farmers outside the state depend on the virile Lagos market to sustain their trade. It is a wonderful symbiotic relationship that should be carefully regulated and guarded by the authorities to make life easy for all concerned.
We are hoping that the authorities will come up with a quick and lasting solution to avert a prolonged strike which might degenerate into other unforeseen consequences. We are hoping that the Lagos State Government will not strike the posture of the State Commissioner for Transportation, Professor Bamidele Badejo, who when the matter was brought up, chose to defend LASTMA in spite of the fact that some bad eggs in the Agency were allegedly involved in the extortion.
The new drive to ensure that citizens pay taxes for the upkeep of the state is welcome, but it must be administered properly. That is what good governance is all about.