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Hunger looms!

…as Hausa traders stop food supplies to other parts of the country

By Ebun Babalola & Olasunkanmi Akoni
A call from the Deputy Editor, Saturday Vanguard, Chioma Gabriel, changed my entire Thursday routine. Ordinarily, as a journalist, I would resume duty as early as possible especially  as Thursdays are hectic production days.

The call was neither for me to  call some personalities who are in politics nor was it the usual assignments. It was a different ball game.

I was asked to report at the popular Mile12 market and the reason given for this assignment was that,Hausa traders had embarked on strike.One question that came to my mind was why on earth would tomatoes sellers go on strike?

On getting to Mile 12, it dawned  on me  that a bowl of tomatoes that usually sold for N100 now sells for a thousand naira (N1000).

Based on the information gathered, the Hausa who are  major wholesalers in the trade have indeed embarked on strike since March 8, because of the persistence problem encountered while transporting their goods from the farms to the city. The goods include tomatoes, meat, yam, pepper, chilly pepper, spices amongst others.

At exactly, 10.30 a.m. Thursday, the ever busy Mile 12 market was scanty.  I walked up to a meat seller and  asked where I can get tomatoes . His answer was scary. He said, “Madam, if you want to buy tomatoes, you have to go to the North”.

“Why? “ the writer asked.

Traders at the Mile 12 Market, Lagos.

“I wouldn’t know. They said, the Hausa  are on strike, they said the money  they are collecting from them is too much. They said that  LASTMA is disturbing them. They said  the police is collecting too  much money than expected and to worsen the situation, the touts are not helping matters.”

“ Who are the they?” the writer asked.

“ Madam, please, leave me alone, I don’t know what you want from me”, he answered.

In another encounter with a woman who was selling pumpkin leaves, (Ugu), she said, “the Hausa have been lamenting over this issue for the past  two months  before they finally embarked on this strike. Look at that man sitting over there, he used to sell tomatoes but now, he is selling onions  because he couldn’t get tomatoes to buy”.

Mallam Musa Abubakar told Saturday Vanguard that “the strike started Monday, March 8 but he doesn’t know when it would end.”

According to him, “the Hausa  have been suffering in the hands of the so-called government agencies. They are protesting  multiple taxation paid as revenue which is becoming unbearable thereby frustrating the efforts of the Hausa traders. And apart from government, the LASTMA, policemen, touts also collect theirs. The total amount collected at the end of the day is always between 50,000 and 100,000 per trailer.”

As at the time of this investigation, market women and men who spoke with Saturday Vanguard lamented that the strike is now affecting their businesses. The reason  they gave is that since the Hausa  have gone on strike, prices of other food items have gone higher than expected.

Further investigation revealed that a plate of tomatoes in Mile 12 that used to be sold for N100 is now N1000 while the ones sold for N50 before is now N300. A bowl of rotten tomatoes which used to be sold for N100 is now N500. Buyers now crave for what is available.Even the ever rejected rotten tomatoes suddenly became appealing to the buyers. They were ready to buy whatever seemed like  tomatoes in the market.

The strike which has entered its sixth day is now becoming unbearable for market women and men, not only in Mile 12 but other markets in different parts of the country especially Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Kwara and other parts of the country.

At present, traders from the Northern parts of Nigeria have boycotted various markets especially Lagos as there have been no supply of cows, tomatoes, pepper, yam, chilly pepper and other food items from the North to Lagos markets, thus leading to the scarcity of  these commodities.

Speaking with Saturday Vanguard, the chairman, Mile 12 Market Men and Women Traders Association, Alhaji Haruna Mohammed said the nationwide strike became inevitable based on the  multiple taxes they pay on the trucks bringing food items from the North to Southern states and Lagos.

He explained: “Each state these trucks pass through from the North down to Lagos  collects taxes. A trailer loaded with foodstuffs ends up paying up to N100,000 on  taxes  before getting to Lagos. The worst is the Ogun State government. After paying at their border towns , we get to Lagos to pay another round of taxes.”

Mohammed said the nationwide strike started on Monday and wouldn’t know when it would end.

According to him, “the strike might last for two weeks depending on the outcome of the meeting in Abuja. If the warning strike fails to yield results, another three weeks warning strike would follow immediately. ” He said the taxes became more burdensome during the tenure of Chief Adeseye Ogunlewe who was the former Minister of Works.

Speaking with market women at Mile 12, they said, “we are tired of the strike that has been biting hard since Monday. The situation has left us idle because the few goods available have become very expensive. A basket of tomato now sells for as  much as N25,000.  I think  both the federal and state governments should look into the problem and proffer lasting solution to the crisis”.

Saturday Vanguard also noticed that the trailers  which used to be parked near the Mile 12 market in Ketu that serves as the entry point for trucks bringing in cows and goods from the North to Lagos are not there. The beef sellers are  idle like the truck drivers and others at the trailer park.

At the abattoir in Cele and Agege areas of Lagos, no cows were slaughtered because of the nationwide strike by Cow Dealers Association who also complained of multiple taxes on their journey from the North .

In Oshodi and Isolo areas however, some butchers made do with few goats available which they slaughtered outside the abattoirs.  Consequently, the  beef scarcity had led to an increase in the prices of iced fish, turkey, chicken and goat meat  which prices have  increased because of the rush .

Unfortunately, many households in Nigeria are contending  with rising cost of living. A bowl of tomatoes that used to be N100 now  costs  N1000  while a basket of tomatoes which used to be N2,500 is now N33,000 . The prices of  yam, meat, pepper amongst others have also increased.

The chairman of  cattle dealers operating under the  aegis of Amalgamated Cattle Dealers of Nigeria and Cattle Dealers Association of Nigeria and Fruits and Vegetable Merchants Association, Mallam Yussuf Danjuma said they have  resolved to go on the strike from Monday to express their grievances.

According to him, the protest was based on the extortion, multiple taxation and other injustices he alleged were being meted out to them in the southern part of the country. “The strike  is expected to affect the supply of cattle, tomatoes, beans, rice, vegetables, onions,  chickens, maize, carrots, goats, yam and other food items, supplied to the South from Northern Nigeria.”

He also said it was worrisome that their members were forced to pay huge amounts of money to bring their goods into Lagos and were still subjected to pay various levies before such products were offloaded for sale in the city.

His words: “Whenever we are transporting cattle and other foodstuffs to the South, some states are there blocking us and collecting money from us. If you buy something in Maiduguri and you are bringing it to the South, nobody disturbs you in Yobe, Bauchi, Plateau and Nassarawa. But as soon as you come to Makurdi, you start facing extortion and it extends to Enugu, Anambra, Imo, Abia, Ebonyi, Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Akwa-Ibom and Cross River.

“We have been paying it. We have decided not to be paying any longer. That is why we are complaining to the Federal Government to stop them. If the Federal Government didn’t  intervene, we will stop the supply of all types of food items from the North to every part of Nigeria. We are going to stop until the officers concerned intervene. We are not going to be paying double taxation on federal highways”.

He however called on government to proffer lasting solution to the on-going strike saying  that access to food should be a fundamental human right and that the drama of hunger could only be eliminated by removing the structural causes and by investing in agricultural development in poor countries.

However, it is sad that the nation is experiencing this ardent hunger after 180 nations met at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for the World Food Summit (WFS) in 1996 to discuss ways to end hunger. Nations pledged to eradicate hunger and made commitment to reduce by half, the number of undernourished people in the world by 2015. This was seen as a first step towards the goal of food for all.

But this target has not been met. This explains why many analysts view the agenda of the impending summit as an impossible mission. In October 2000, a report by FAO said that unless extra efforts are made to accelerate progress, it will not be achieved before 2030. The world body estimated that the number of hungry people could increase by a further 100 million in 2009 and pass the one billion mark.

At a time when the global economic crisis dominates the news, the world needs to be reminded that not everyone works in offices and factories. The crisis is stalking the small-scale farms and rural areas of the world, where 70 per cent of the world’s hungry live and work. This was contained in a report published prior to the World Food Day last month, by two United Nations agencies- the Food and Agricultural Organization and the World Food Programme which stated that a combination of the food crisis and the global economic downturn has pushed more than 1 billion people into hunger in 2009.

According to the report titled, “FAO’s Annual Hunger Report and The state of Food insecurity,” the combination of food and economic crises had pushed the number of hungry people worldwide to historic levels with 1.02 billion people worldwide undernourished.”

With the increase of 105 million hungry people this year, there are now 1.02 billion malnourished people in the world, three quarters of them live in rural areas, meaning that almost one sixth of all humanity is suffering from hunger.

This is more than ever before. Despite the fact that the world produces 125 per cent of the required food for all, 15 per cent of people are hungry; and most of them are women and children. Global agriculture production today fails to feed the world’s poorest people since they lack access to income and resources such as fertile land, water, seeds and knowledge for a farming system adapted to local conditions and the demands of markets. The green revolution accomplished a lot but failed to combat hunger.

It focused only on technology and relied on huge quantities of climate damaging inputs such as agro-chemicals.  The November summit  however, focused on putting into place a more coherent and effective system of food security, including rules and mechanisms to ensure adequate incomes for farmers, mobilizing investments into agricultural infrastructure and access to inputs, and a mechanism for early reaction to food crises.  Yet, the problem of food scarcity is still a thing of concern for the country especiall
y those who are termed the poorest in the country.

LASTMA not involved in lorry/truck drivers strike  —Badejo

The Lagos State Commissioner for Transportation, Professor Bamidele Badejo, has  debunked  reports by the truck and lorry operators that extortion by men of the Lagos State Transport Authority (LASTMA) is the basis for their strike.

According to Badejo, the issue is that of the Federal Government and not the Lagos State Government or LASTMA.

“Its basically a national issue.”

He stated that the threat to go on strike by the operators is   based on the fact that  the  drivers  are experiencing losses in the course of their operations due to insecurity, bad roads as well as high level extortion by security agencies who often accost them on the roads  across the federation.

“Let 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?

“We have no such report or complaint in our office that LASTMA has been extorting money from them in the past or recently. LASTMA is for  traffic management authority alone and not for movement/transportation of goods. So,  there is  no basis for them to extort money from lorry drivers who mostly operate  when men of LASTMA are not on the road.

“LASTMA has no serious contact with lorry drivers because they mostly move or operate  in the midnight and early hours of the day when LASTMA men are not available except on special duties”

Badejo noted that the point of destinations of the lorry drivers from the North are: Oyingbo, Agege and Mile 12 markets and these are areas that crisscross highways. So, in what way would LASTMA accost and disturb their flow of operation?”

While describing the situation as unfortunate, Badejo, accused the people making the allegation of being “mischievous”.

Asked  whether there have  been earlier complaints made to the ministry, Badejo, urged anyone with such a document to come forward with it, promising  that after investigation, the ministry will make the reports known to the public.

Also corroborating the statement by the commissioner, the Public Relations Officer of the ministry, Mr Sina Thorpe absolved LASTMA of any involvement saying it is a  federal matter.

He added that at a recent meeting with the operators to find out the truth about the allegation, it was found out that the reason for embarking on the strike was as a result of unofficial levies on their members. So, people should stop accusing LASTMA wrongly.


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.