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Official extortion sustains rising cost of food in Nigeria

By Tonnie Iredia

The previous week, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) set up a task force on food security to check the rising cost of food in Nigeria with a one week mandate to report back to council. The Task Force was made up of Ministers in charge of Agriculture & Rural Development; Finance; Industry, Trade & Development; Transportation; Water Resources; and Labour & Employment.

After appraising the situation in a number of our markets, if not all, the ministers observed that there was food everywhere and as such reported that the rising cost of food in Nigeria could not be due to shortage. In other words, recession notwithstanding, food supply exceeds demand in Nigeria and as such food ought to be so cheap that even a pauper in the country should not be hungry.

But apart from our ministers and of course our legislators, almost everyone in Nigeria today is dying of hunger because contrary to what should happen to price in an excess supply situation, the cost of food is in the sky.

As for what is responsible for the development, the task force opined that the “hike in cost is not due to shortage but high cost of transportation” and increases in the price of diesel as food items are generally moved across Nigeria with heavy trucks. If the truth must be told there is nothing new about the findings of the task force.

We see food items here and there in many parts of the country and we hear our people cry daily over the rising cost of food but contrary to the ‘neither here nor there’ report, we know that government agencies are responsible for the dilemma. Luckily, Audu Ogbeh, the man at the centre of the task force and the Minister of Agriculture & Rural Development has eventually hit the nail on its head.

At the 2017 budget defence of his ministry, Ogbeh told members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture point blank that the extortionist practices of the uniformed operatives especially at the numerous check points and ports was responsible for the acute hunger in the land.

According to the minister, reports by food truck drivers to his ministry are replete with lamentations on how at every check point, 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.

Ogbeh added that although he had written formally to the Inspector General of Police, Comptroller General of Customs and other heads of security agencies against the unhealthy situation, the fraudulent practices remained unabated. Again, the minister said nothing new because any road user sees the extortion happening all over the nation.

Governor El Rufai was therefore simply his usual proactive self 4 days ago when he opted to bar operatives of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) from inspecting any vehicles in Kaduna Metropolis and other urban centres of the state. The decision according to Samuel Aruwan Special Assistant to Governor El Rufai was taken after a meeting of the state security council which reviewed several complaints of extortion against the road marshals.

The same FRSC is now implementing a new law requiring commercial motorists to install in their individual vehicles a device that would enable the commission to identify with ease, drivers who are reckless on the highway.

That appears well intentioned, but are we, as a nation not scandalized that our road safety agency does not possess its own device for doing its job? Indeed, why are FRSC officials always checking vehicle particulars when for days they cannot remove a broken down vehicle that is capable of causing accidents on the highway? What in earnest is the difference between the FRSC and the Vehicle Inspection Office (VIO)? Are public complaints against the latter different from the complaints of extortion by truck drivers? Do we need a task force to find answers to these questions?

Well, except the government enjoys circumlocution, there is no need to continue to set up task forces that only reveal already known results. It is a notorious fact for instance that election personnel are materially induced to help politicians rig elections. For several years when the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was in government, election observers cried in vain that money was openly changing hands at election venues.

No one should be surprised therefore that a task force set up by the Inspector General of Police to investigate the last parliamentary election in PDP controlled Rivers State recovered huge sums from indicted election officials. Unfortunately, such revelations raise more questions than answers.

Is anyone suggesting that the commercialization of election is restricted to Rivers State? If not, while commending the police for the huge sums recovered, when is the IGP sending his task force to a state controlled by the All Progressive Congress (APC)? In addition it seems curious that all those from whom monies were recovered were electoral officials.

Does that suggest that those who bribed the officials gave nothing to the police? Indeed, how are we sure that the police will not require another task force to confirm that monies allegedly recovered from electoral officials in the Rivers operation were all fully declared?

No one doubts the existence of greedy people who seize every opportunity to extort money from those who require their services. While condemning the tendency for people to so take advantage of others, the point must also be made that take–home pay in Nigeria is generally abysmal amidst increasing prices of goods and services.

Governor Okowa of Delta State made a good point last Thursday when he described as unacceptable that most Nigerians today buy kerosene above the official price, adding that in spite of the high pricing the product was not readily available. Lets us emulate South Africa which is into protracted negotiations between the government and labour unions to introduce a national minimum wage of $261 dollars per month.

Except we act similarly, farmers that have to bribe uniform security officials on the highways and meet so many charges by different agencies for services will keep the rising price of food up there.

 

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