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Lessons from food sellers’ strike

IT had seemed like a crisis situation. Indeed, for many families, it was. When recently foodstuff sellers from the northern part of the country decided to withdraw their services as a result of oppressive taxation and extortion they suffered, especially in South Western parts of Nigeria , the markets ran dry of such commodities as meat, vegetables, fruits and other agricultural consumables that people, especially Lagos dwellers, had come to take for granted.

All manner of purported governmental and non-governmental agents invaded the federal highways to waylay the food suppliers who brought down foodstuff in trucks and trailers from northern Nigeria to sell in the highly urbanised Western parts, especially Lagos . When the extortion became unbearable, the warning strike took place. As they say, out of every crisis, there are new opportunities for adjustment for all concerned in societies that believe in learning from their experiences.

As a temporary way of avoiding the horrendous experience both suppliers and consumers went through, it is important that the governments of the various states involved in the supply and demand chains should sit down and devise means of administering taxation without breaking the backs of the struggling suppliers while at the same time ensuring the continued flow of goods and services down south and healthy profit up north.

A society that has developed this kind of healthy symbiotic relationship has acquired another reason to promote mutual respect and peaceful co-existence among its peoples. Nobody is thus in a position to blackmail the other or call anyone a parasite.

However, the warning strike exposes the danger of dependency. South (especially South West) depends largely on the North for almost every item of food on the table, while the North also almost exclusively depends on the vast markets of the South (especially Lagos) for their continued operation as profit-making agriculturists. This relationship has existed for centuries. In the days when the railway system was still functional, there was no opportunity for the kind of extortion and victimisation being now complained of, as people transported their goods directly to their target markets.

But with the railway infrastructure all broken down and no water transport to alleviate the plight of road users, all manners of people with bad intentions ambush goods-bearing trucks on the roads.

Though the age-old north-south trade system has its many positive sides, it has become archaic. We have now experienced the danger of over dependency. Therefore, it is important for the principle of self-reliance to be brought into play. There are few crops that grow well in the north that can do even better in the southern part. Agriculture should be taken more seriously in all parts of the country. Every part of Nigeria should be able to provide the food needs of people in its immediate vicinity. The archaic method of transporting peppers and tomatoes from the north to Lagos leads to avoidable wastages. Time has come for us to develop small-scale agro-allied industries around large farming areas to enable farmers get more out of their labour and increase employment.

Even the crude transportation of cows and goats in trucks to the south need not continue if ranching is encouraged with small-scale allied industries set up to service them. Nigeria can in this way become self-sufficient, and any movement of agricultural products from north to south in the near future will be mainly for the purpose of export.

Nigerians, even those living in urban areas, should realise that gardening and animal farming are among the most healthy and edifying pastimes anyone could engage in. It used to be a commonplace activity before the war and oil boom years. We should go back to it.


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