Government insensitivity, police extortion spark high hike in foodstuff prices
Bad road network, government insensitivity and extortion by police and army officers have been identified as the major causes of high cost of foodstuff especially in Akwa Ibom State.
The recent hike in foodstuff prices in Nigeria, particularly in Akwa Ibom State, has brought untold hardship, pains and sorrow to the people of the state despite government claimed of food availability and sufficiency in the state.
The recent hike in foodstuff prices effects widely consumed food stuffs the most.
For example garri, one of the common food commodities consumed by the people, now sells at ₦1400 for a small custard pail in the market or 3 cups for ₦200.
The local rice, which used to sell ₦80 a cup, is now ₦180 per cup.
There have been many speculations and reactions trailing the sudden shortage of food and subsequent hike in foodstuff prices in the state.
Findings have shown that a combination underlying factors have conspired to enthrone high cost of living in the state and hike in foodstuff prices.
Akwa Ibom: A Consuming State?
Apart from the sea food from Oron, the majority of foodstuffs consumed in the state are practically supplied from outside the state, especially neighbouring Cross River State. This has strong bearing on the current hike in foodstuff prices
Government lip service:
It will be recalled also that Akwa Ibom State Government had also granted tax waivers to consumable goods yet police and others have been accused of extorting money from the commercial drivers who are bringing food stuff into the state.
It was also learnt that despite government’s tax wavers on food stuff, some revenue agents and unions in the market are still charging the traders some levies, including ticketing.
It was learnt that the much-talked about rice and garri processing mills claimed to have been built by the Akwa Ibom State Government at Abak, Ibesikpo and Ini Local Government Areas only exist on the pages of newspapers as none of the acclaimed mills is producing.
The fact that garri, and rice, two most highly consumed food stuff are still brought into the state from the neighbouring states.
Police sabotage and extortion:
Investigations by Morenews.ng revealed that despite the fact that Akwa Ibom State Government have excluded commercial drivers conveying food stuff from the COVID-19 lock-down restriction of movement and curfew in the state, police and soldiers manning check points at strategic locations are still allegedly sabotaging government’s efforts by obstructing free movement of food stuffs into the state.
The latest of such allegations come from some commercial drivers who transport food stuff from Cross River, Benue and other states into the state.
A commercial driver, Mr Anietie Ekpema, who spoke with Morenews.ng, alleged that they pay between ₦3000 and ₦4000 to police and soldiers at the different check-point at Calabar-Itu Head Bridge whenever they bring food stuffs into the state.
“I am a commercial bus driver; I normally carry market women dealing on garri, yam and tomatoes to and fro Benue State.
“Whenever I return from Benue to Akwa Ibom State I normally pay ₦1000 at every check-point at the Itu Head Bridge.
“There are three police check-point before you climb the bridge and one army-check point at this other side coming to Oku-Iboku.
“At each of the road blocks we pay ₦1000. When we arrive around 11pm or some days 12 midnight the police will not allow us pass. They will say that there is curfew that time and will ask us to stay there till day break.
“Even after detaining us there, we must pay ₦1000 in each of the police check-points in the morning before they let us go and also pay ₦1000 to the soldiers at the army check point when you cross the river to Oku-Iboku.
“It is only at the Head bridge that we encounter this type of challenge. We pay only ₦200 at other check-points in other states we passed but once we get here the story is different.
Ekpema, who lamented the suffering and financial hardship the extortion have caused the drivers and their passengers who are mainly traders, identified the situation as one of the reasons they hike cost of transportation.
“So, when we pay this money to the police we must also charge our passengers who are market women so that we may be able to buy fuel and also maintain our motor,” he said.
Another commercial driver, Mr Iniobong Essien while narrating his ordeal to Morenews.ng, confirmed that he normally pays ₦4000 to three police army check-points at the Itu Head Bridge.
He noted that sometimes when he arrived at the Head Bridge between 3-4 am from Okoja, the police men at the check points will also “stress us and waste our time instead of allowing us to go and rest with our family at home after a day of long journey”.
Essien, called who called on Akwa Ibom State Government to prevail on the police and army officers at the check point to have mercy on them, also confirmed that it is only in Akwa Ibom State they experience such level of extortion at Police Check-points.
Also speaking, Mr Etimbuk, another commercial driver who plies the road, corroborated the allegations and threatened that if nothing is done to stop the police from harassing them, “we will stop work”.
Deplorable road network and fuel hike:
Despite, NLC threatened strike action, fuel still sell at N161 per litre.
Motorists also lamented the deplorable condition of roads and hike in the pump price of petrol by the federal government which they said have also caused them untold hardship, pains and damage their vehicles.
“If government will not intervene, I’ll not enter that road again. As you can see, the road is bad but after all the sufferings and pains on the bad roads police will still punish you plus. It is not good, I better sleep in my house instead of suffering only for police to benefit,” Mr Etimbuk threatened.
Meanwhile, when Morenews.ng had contacted the Divisional Police Officer in Itu, CSP Joseph Udourioh, he denied having knowledge of such practices by men and officers of Nigerian Police under his watch.
A call was also put to the State Police Command Public Relations Officer, Mr. Dikko Macdon who also denied knowledge of the incident but promised to launch investigation into the scandal.
But a market woman at Itam Market, Uyo who confirmed the story told Morenews.ng that they bear the burden of extortion and will transfer same to the cost price of food items if they must stay in business and make ends meet.
“All the problems are on our heads as the passengers. Transportation is high because of all these challenges. When the drivers want to charge us they don’t look back because they can’t go home empty handed after giving police so much,” she remarked.
A trader, who did not want her name on print, attributed the high cost of food stuffs currently experienced in the market to high transportation.
“We must also ensure that we share the burden with our customers by increasing the prices of commodities,” admitted.
Another trader at Akpan Andem Market in Uyo, who blamed the high cost of commodities in the market to bad road network and transportation fare, also stated that because of these challenges different unions in the market have decided to hike the prices of commodities.
It appears the state government lacks moral justification to intervene in the matter, even as some see it as more part of the problem than the solution.
It could be recalled that in 2017, Governor Udom Emmanuel had threatened to sack market unions over astronomical food prices in the state.
The then Special Assistant to the governor on Trades Matters, Mr Idorenyin Raphael, had said that market unions in the State were creating chaotic inflationary trend in the state by cashing in on the poor economic situation of the country to exploit the masses by creating artificial market forces and warned them to reverse the situation or risk serious sanctions.