By Funmi Komolafe & Olasunkanmi Akoni
Prices of food stuff have sky rocketed in major markets in Lagos following the withdrawal of service by trailer drivers from northern part of the country over allegations of extortion by officials of the Lagos State Transport Management Authority, LASTMA.
The drivers, according to sources, alleged that the LASTMA officials waylaid them at the entry point into Lagos and demanded as much as N20,000, an amount which they consider unbearable.
However, the state Commissioner for Transportation, Professor Bamidele Badejo, when contacted on phone debunked the claim ofÂ Â extortion by men of LASTMA, as the basis for their strike.
According to Badejo, the issue was that of the Federal Government and not the Lagos State Government or LASTMA, saying: â€œItâ€™s basically a national issue.â€
Lagos govt reacts
He said the threat to go on strike by the operators was said to have been based on the following facts: they (drivers) are experiencing losses in the course of their operations, insecurity, bad roads as well as high level of extortion by security agencies.
His words: â€œLet me first and foremost correct the wrong information that the strike was part of LASTMA extortion. I read in a national newspaper, last week that they are embarking on strike this week due to the above mentioned facts. So, how did LASTMA come in here?
â€œWe have no such report or complaints in our office that LASTMA has been extorting money from them in the past or recently. LASTMA is traffic management authority alone and not movement/transportation of goods. So no basis for them to extort lorry drivers who mostly operate when LASTMA are not on the road.
â€œLASTMA has no serious contact with lorry drivers because they mostly move or operate in the midnight and early hours of the day when LASTMA officials are not available except on special duties.â€
Badejo said point of destinations of the lorry drivers from the North are Oyingbo, Agege and Mile 12 markets, adding:Â â€œThese are areas that criss-cross highway. So in what way would LASTMA accost and disturb their flow of operation?â€
Describing the situation as unfortunate, Badejo accused the people making the allegation of being â€œmischievous.â€
On whether there had been earlier complaints to the ministry, Badejo, urged anyone with such document to come forward with it and promised that after investigation, the ministry would make the reports known to the public.
As a consequence of the strike,Â prices of food stuffÂ such as pepper and tomatoes have shot up by over 200 per cent.
Some traders at Mushin market said families would be begin to feel the effect of the strike by weekend when they would have run out of the present stock being sold in the market.
According to one of the traders, Hadijat, who buys in bulk from the Mile 12 market, a basket of tomatoes which was about N3,000 now costs N12,000.
The big red pepper popularly called Tatase has also shot up from about N4,000 to N16,000 per bag.
The Mile 12 market is the bulk market for the purchase of food items for Lagosians.
The market also enjoys daily patronage from other West African countries.
A spokeswoman for the traders who prefers to be anonymous called on Governor Babatunde Fashola to call the LASTMA officials to order.
One of the traders said the drivers told them that although official corruption among traffic officials was not new to them as they often extort money from them on their way to Lagos, â€œthat of LASTMA is too much.â€