By Henry Umoru
ABUJA- THE Federal Government of Nigeria yesterday attributed the ending high cost of food items across the country to extortion of money from from truck drivers convey who farm produce to various urban centres by men of the Nigeria Police Force, their counterparts in the Army and Nigeria Customs Service attached to various of road blocks in the country.
The government also blamed the situation on state and local government officials block roads with sticks collecting money from drivers which at the end of the day, tell on the food stuff where the farmer and sellers would not have any option than to increase the cost of these food items which come from the villages to thee city centres.
The government also cited high cost of diesel which now sells for N300 per litre as another factor responsible for the skyrocketing prices of food items in the country because trucks conveying farm produce are powered by diesel.
Speaking yesterday in Abuja when he appeared before the Senate and House of Representatives Joint Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development for 2017 budget defence, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh who noted that one of the factors responsible for high cost of food prices in the country “Is the daily unbearable extortions men of the Nigeria Police, their counterpart in the Army and Customs Service visit on truck drivers conveying farm produce from the hinterland to urban centres under the guise of carrying out security checks”.
“These truck drivers based on raw lamentations made to the Ministry in recent time, alleged that at every check points, they are always forced to part with reasonable amount of money by any group of the security agencies, which they said, made farmers to have no option than to factor cost of the extortion into prices of the food items.”
Meanwhile, farmers across the country have kicked against move by the federal government to effect reduction in the prices of food items.
Speaking further, Ogbeh who explained that based on the complaints by the truck drivers, his ministry wrote the Inspector-General of Police , Ibrahim Idris and heads of the other security agencies to dissuade their operatives from the act, but daily reports available to the ministry still show that such motorists are still being extorted.
According to him, the there is high cost of food items because of the treaty on free movement of goods and services put in place by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) among member states which gives room for movement of not less than 300,000 trucks of grains outside Nigeria on daily basis which the ministry cannot check.
Ogbeh who promised that the federal government would soon see to the reduction in prices of the food items going by the committee that was set up to that effect, stressed that farmers were already kicking against the move, adding that farmers are angry with him over the move because they see the situation on ground as very favourable economically to them.
The Minister said: “ The situation on ground as far as high prices of food items are concerned is one of a dilemma to me because while the city dwellers are unhappy with us, farmers are very happy and seriously kicking against any move to tamper with their happiness by cutting down the high price of farm produce for now.”
According to him, one of such protesting farmers tackled him recently in Katsina not to tamper with the present price of food items by claiming that he made N4million from the sales of Sorghum which had catapulted him from the realm of poverty to that of affluence and another farmer in Anambra state also claimed to have made N1million profit from sales of rice as a result of the current market price.
Ogbeh who told the Joint Committee that he inherited a debt profile of N67 billion, said that the total budget for the Ministry this year stands at N76,167,857 billion and out of this,N6.7 billion is for personnel, representing 8.9 percent, N202 million is God overhead representing 0.27 percent and N69 billion is for capital representing 90 percent, even as he described the 2017 budget as really miserable against the backdrop that the Ministry has a lot of things to contend with, adding that capital is a major issue.
The Minister who pleaded with the National Assembly to look at the budget of the core Universities of Agriculture in the country, said that plans were on to bring back these universities and research Institutes on board to enable the carry out their mandates effectively, adding that the implementation of the budget would be driven by the need for food security in the country.