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Blockade of food supply to South: Counting the gains, losses

By Onyedika Agbedo, Tobi Awodipe, Ijeoma Thomas-Odia and Maria Diamond
06 March 2021   |   4:20 am
Nigeria is a country where practitioners in virtually every profession, trade, vocation, etc. has a union. We find a lot of them in all sectors of the economy.

Nigeria is a country where practitioners in virtually every profession, trade, vocation, etc. has a union. We find a lot of them in all sectors of the economy. That is why we hear about unions like the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), which has become notorious for embarking on strikes that keep university undergraduates out of the classrooms for as long as one academic session; Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN), National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), Association of Amalgamated Commercial Motorcycle and Tricycle, Owners, Repairers and Riders Association of Nigeria (ACOMORAN), National Butchers Association (NAN), Vulcanisers Association of Nigeria (VAN), National Association of Barbers and Salon Employers of Nigeria (NABSEN) and what have you.

The sole aim of these associations is to protect the interest of their members. And they can go to any length to do so. When they feel that a wrong had been done to one or all of them and want to seek redress, in most cases by embarking on strike, they give little considerations to the negative impact the action might have on national development.

This explains the recent strike action embarked upon by members of the Amalgamated Union of Foodstuff and Cattle Dealers of Nigeria (AUFCDN). On February 18, this year, the leadership of the union wrote to the Federal Government demanding the protection of its members, payment of N475 billion compensation for the lives and properties of members lost during the #EndSARS protest in October last year and the recent Shasa market crisis in Ibadan, Oyo State. The group also demanded the dismantling of all roadblocks on federal highways, alleging that their members were being harassed and money extorted from them by the security operatives.

“Based on the above, we are therefore giving the Federal Government seven-day ultimatum from the date of receipt of acknowledgement, within which to address the issues raised or we will have no other option than to call our members on a nationwide strike,” said Secretary General of the union, Ahmed Alarama, while addressing a press conference in Abuja.

The union commenced the nationwide strike penultimate Thursday following the expiration of the ultimatum. This entailed closing all routes between the North and South for vehicles conveying cattle and food items. They created a task force that mounted illegal roadblocks on highways leading to the South to enforce the strike. Not even the prompt warning by the Defence Headquarters that the armed forces would not condone any attempt to disrupt legitimate economic and commercial activities deterred them. They were determined to sustain the action until they drive home their point. By last Wednesday when they eventually called off the strike following the intervention of some stakeholders like the Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello and former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, the union announced that the Federal Government had agreed to pay N4.75 billion compensation to them.

President of AUFCDN, Comrade Muhammad Tahir, said the government also agreed to ensure protection of its members and stop all forms of multiple taxation and intimidation from security officials on the highways.

“All the stakeholders and members of AUFCDN in our nationwide strike are glad we achieved what we wanted to achieve. Since the Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, begged us on behalf of the Federal Government, we agreed to call off the nationwide strike today.

“They agreed to pay the compensation and call off any multiple taxation on federal highways and allow us to engage in our business activities peacefully nationwide,” Tahir said.

Truly, the union achieved what they wanted to achieve, if indeed the Federal Government committed to meet those demands. But the six days strike was not without losses that would no doubt have a telling impact on the economy in the long run. Across the southern states during the period, the prices of some food items sourced from the North increased by over 100 per cent. This further worsened food inflation in the country, which climbed to 20.57 per cent year-on-year in January 2021, the highest level since July 2008.

In the northern states, the non-movement of the food items to the South resulted in a glut. This is as some of the items that were already in transit got rotten, forcing potential buyers to look the other way. The traders unavoidably bore the brunt.

In Lagos State, traders in perishable food items at the popular Mile 12 Market were close to tears as they lamented their losses when The Guardian visited the market. Between last Monday and Tuesday when the strike was still ongoing, a basket of tomatoes in the market was sold at a price of N30, 000 while a bag of bell peppers was sold at N20, 000; hot pepper (rodo) was sold at between N19,000 and N25, 000 depending on the size. The traders weren’t very pleased with the situation anyway.

“Please buy from me; the best price I can give to you is N30, 000 per basket. We are no longer happy that we can’t sell as usual and get quick turnover. This is now the new cost of tomatoes, which wasn’t the case as at last week,” said one of the sellers.

When asked how the tomatoes were transported to the market since there was a blockade, the seller said: “A few trucks come into Lagos, but they are only offloaded at night. We don’t want to be caught offloading without due permission from our ‘Alhaji’, as it is illegal to offload in broad daylight.”

The music, however, changed in the evening of that same day as the strike was suspended. As soon as trucks carrying food items were allowed into the market, the prices crashed.

Last Thursday, a basket of tomatoes was sold at between N7,000 and N8,000. Despite the low price, retailers were unwilling to buy because most of the tomatoes were rotten already.

A retailer at the market, who identified herself as Adijatu Ibrahim, said her customer called her to rush down to the market last Wednesday morning after he had got wind that the blockade would be lifted that same day.

“However, when I got here to buy, most of the tomatoes were bad already. They put fresh, firm tomatoes up but as soon as you remove those ones and look deeper, all the ones below were spoilt and have turned to what we call ‘esha’. I can’t buy it because it will turn to shortage for me and I won’t be able to recoup my capital not to talk of making profit,” she said.

Ibrahim wasn’t the only one who encountered this problem, as few women stood around looking for good tomatoes. The sellers far outnumbered the buyers, persuading them to buy.

Further observations showed that many trucks carrying tomatoes, pepper and onions dotted the market but couldn’t offload, as sellers were yet to clear the goods they had on ground.

A trader, who identified himself simply as Yobe, regretted the strike, saying tomato traders were more affected. According to him, their losses ran into millions of naira.

He said: “Those of us selling pepper and onions were not too affected. But that does not justify the strike. The problem did not happen here, so I was unhappy when they dragged us into it. We brought in these goods since and everybody knows that tomatoes have a very short lifespan. We had to hide and try to sell some of them on Monday and Tuesday just to ensure that they won’t all get rotten and we would lose all our money. But even now that the blockade has been lifted, we have many baskets of tomatoes but people are not buying because the tomatoes are not very good again. We tried to mix them up and crash the price but people are still not buying. They said they are waiting till we offload the new goods. But if we don’t sell these ones, how are we going to offload the new ones? We would end up with the same problem, as those ones too would be going bad by the time they are offloaded.

“This is a daily business; we cannot afford occurrences like these. Most traders here are already groaning because they may have to sell off their goods at a loss or worse, get rid of them. We are calling all our customers to please help us buy them. This problem was not our fault and we hope it doesn’t happen again.”

A visit to the market on Thursday afternoon showed that the situation hadn’t improved much as buyers were still complaining that the tomatoes were rotten.

A buyer, who identified herself as Iya Shola, said she and many others weren’t going to buy tomatoes till maybe next week.
“Some people bought the tomatoes and pepper when it was very expensive and they will surely pass the cost on to the consumers. So, expect these things to be a bit costly for now. However, the traders here will still be forced to sell it at give-away prices when they see everything spoiling before their eyes. We are not the ones that said they shouldn’t sell; now they want to force us to buy spoiling food items? No way! This is tomato season; there is no reason it should be this expensive if not that we are a wicked and greedy people,” she remarked.

It was the same tales of woe for dealers on potato, another perishable food item. Because the potatoes endured heat in the lorries for several days, they had started going bad and the traders were trying to sell them off cheaply.

For one of the dealers, Nurudeen, the experience was a sad one. He lamented: “All of us are going to experience serious losses with this problem. I just thank God that it did not go on longer that this, else only God knows what would have happened. Look at goods lying down, staring at us. Our creditors are calling for their money. What are we going to do?”

The Guardian tried to speak with the chairman of the Mile 12 market, Shehu Usman, but was told he was not around as at the time of the visit to the market.

The scenario in Lagos, especially as regards high cost of food items, also played out in other states in the South. The reports below pictured the situation.

‘We Had To Throw Away Many Tomatoes And Pepper’
From Odun Edward, Ilorin

THE sudden halt of movement of tomatoes, pepper, onions and grains from the northern parts of the country to the southern parts led to scarcity of the items in Kwara State.

Even though Kwara is located in the North Central region, trucks conveying the items were stopped by yet to be identified persons before Jebba settlement, the border town linking the state with neighbouring Niger State.

Sources said the goods were diverted to neighbouring Republic of Benin.
As at the time of filing this report, some men and officers of the 82 Armoured Battalion, Ilorin, had moved into the scene and dislodged the mounted barricades, thereby allowing unhindered movement of goods and persons across the Niger Bridge into Kwara and beyond. 

The depot of such goods, Mandate Market in Adewole, Ilorin, had again become a beehive of activities. But the cost of the produce in the town was still higher than usual, with some of them costing even two times the initial price.

A pepper seller in the market, who identified himself as Mallam Sanusi, from Katsina State, attributed the spike in the prices to the monumental loss incurred by the traders due to movement restrictions.

“We had to throw away many tomatoes and pepper that spoilt inside the lorries due to hot weather conditions. It was a big loss to many of us. So, to keep us in the business, we need to increase the prices,” he said.

Analysing the development, a lecturer at the University of Ilorin, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, described the blockade as an eye opener to the affected Nigerians.

“Therefore, the concerned people should embrace farming the more while the state governments should guarantee a more friendly environment for agriculture to avoid food supply crisis in future,” he added.

Only Price Of Rice Remained Stable In Abia
From Gordi Udeajah, Umuahia

IN Abia State, the prices of food items supplied from the northern parts of the country shot up immediately the protesting AUFCDN began to block the movement of farm produce to southern parts of the country.

In Aba, a bag of onions cost N30,000 as at last Wednesday instead of the initial price of N20,000. Confirming this, an onions dealer at Orie Ugba market in Umuahia, the state capital, who identified herself as Bala, stated that having transported the produce to Umuahia, he would not sell below N45, 000 per bag.

A tomato, pepper and allied perishable food items dealer, Mrs. Ekene Eje, lamented that the prices of the food items had reduced recently, as it was harvest season, but suddenly shot up because supplies from the North were withheld.

Another dealer on the items in Umuahia, Mrs. Jane Kalu, said a basket of tomatoes that was sold at N10,000 last Friday cost N20,000 as at last Wednesday while the price of a 50kg bag of pepper rose to N13,000 from N10,000.

Further findings showed that the price of rice did not increase, perhaps because the ones produced by local farmers augmented supplies from the North.

A rice seller at Ubani market in Umuahia, Okoro Mba, however, said the blockade impacted on the price of beans, as the price per cup rose to N130 from N100.

He predicted that the price of rice might soon increase if there were no supplies from the North to augment available stock within the next two to three weeks.

Many residents, who spoke with The Guardian, urged the Federal Government to quickly dialogue with the union to find a solution to the problem and restore free flow of foodstuff from the North to the South.

An agriculturist who spoke on condition of anonymity, however, noted that should the situation persist, there would be gains and losses on the part of the traders/farmers and consumers in the South.

“The northern farmers would be the first to lose billions of naira. The South can manage to skip tomatoes and others food items in the short run and adjust with alternatives but the farmers in the North will take time to recover their losses. The effect would kill the incentive to farm,” he said.

AUFCDN Strike Was A Blessing In Disguise, Say Imo Stakeholders
From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri

THE effect of the blockade of foodstuff to the south by members of the AUFCDN was felt much last Tuesday in Owerri, the Imo State capital, as many traders that deal in food items from the North could not either sell or sold at exorbitant prices. 

For instance, a tuber of yam, which was sold at N600 prior to the strike cost N800, while cow meat was worth about N500 was purchased at N2,000.

Further findings showed that restaurateurs in Owerri transferred the high cost of the items to consumers by adding at least N100 to their prices.

One of them, Ijeoma Okoroigwe, said: “Meat, fresh tomatoes, fresh pepper, onions, are expensive now. I used to sell a plate of garri at N700, but I sell at N800 now. Meat that I used to buy at N1, 000 now goes for between N2, 000 and N2, 500. Cow and goat meat are nowhere to be seen in the markets.”

According to a former Imo State chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), and media consultant, Chief Fidel Onyeneke, the strike was a wake-up call to southerners.

“We should work towards preparing ourselves. There should be an agrarian policy that should be taken seriously by the governments of the three geo-political zones in the South. The policy should incorporate real farmers, ensuring that they are encouraged with loans and grants that would lead to massive farming, storage facility, including provision of silos and agricultural extension programmes. This is not the time to give loans to political farmers,” he added.
A public affairs analyst in Owerri, Chief Jude Ugbaja, said the blockade was a “blessing in disguise.”
Ugbaja, who also is a farmer, stated that the strike by members of the AUFCDN was detrimental to all Nigerians.

“This is a blessing in disguise. It is a wake up call to embrace agriculture. Two wrongs cannot make a right. It is certainly not the best; it is even to producers’ detriment. Dialogue will only bring peace. We advice both the federal and state governments to grant near interest-free loans and incentives to farmers in all regions. They should be monitored to ensure that the loans are utilised for the purpose, not to go and marry more wives,” he said.

For Smart Nnachi, a pastor, the development was “a litmus test of what one has to expect in future.” Nnachi berated some wealthy people from the zone who build fuel stations and hotels in choice locations but turn blind eyes to agriculture.

Meanwhile, Coordinator of the Concerned Citizens for Good Governance, Duru Daniels, expressed doubts on the ability of northern farmers to sustain the action, blaming the Federal Government for stepping in to resolve the debacle.

He said: “I doubt if they (the northern farmers) could have sustained what they were doing for the next one month because the items are perishable. They were shooting themselves on their legs. Southerners should wake up; there is real fire on the mountain.”

The Strike Left Us Redundant, Say Enugu Traders
From Lawrence Njoku, Enugu

AS at last Wednesday, the prices of food items remained high in markets in Enugu State despite the fact that the Federal Government has reached a truce with the Amalgamated Union of Foodstuff and Cattle Dealers of Nigeria (AUFCDN).

Investigations by The Guardian in Ogbete Main Market, Gariki Market and New Market, revealed that while prices of the food items were high, some items had not entered the market since last weekend.

The prices of items such as onions, tomatoes, yam, beans, beef, carrot, Irish potato, cabbage and apple, among others, increased by over 100 per cent.

For instance, a basket of tomato, which was sold at between N5, 000 and N6, 000 before the strike, rose to between N14, 000 and N15, 000 while one kilo of beef cost N2, 000 as against N1, 000. A ‘painter’ of beans that was sold at N1, 200 before the blockade now cost N1, 800, while small tubers of yam that cost N800 before was sold at N1, 000. An apple that normally cost N60 now goes for N100 while a sizable watermelon cost between N500 and N700.

Some foodstuff dealers in the markets visited said that for six days, their trucks loaded with farm produce were not allowed to move from the North, adding that some items might rotten under heavy sunshine.

One of the foodstuff dealers, Charles Ugwu, said: “This is where we eat; it makes us stay redundant doing nothing in the market with nothing to sell. You will just come to the market, waste time and go home; we are hugely affected because this is where we feed our family.” 

Another trader who deals in dry fish from North, Chidi Ibe, said:  “The available fish in the market now were smuggled into the state and they are costly. The quantity of dry fish we sold at N40, 000 now costs over N60, 000.”

Enugu State Vice Chairman of the Onions Sellers Association of Nigeria, Ogbete Main Market, Mr. Fabian Okpemadu, lamented that “the blockade has affected us tremendously because the quantity of the onions we sold earlier at N11, 000 now costs above N17, 000.”

Another dealer, Abubakar Mohammed, noted that his customers who were largely women could not afford to buy it due to high cost. Rice, beans, maize and other grains dealers said their goods were not exempted from the blockade and consequent hike in price.  

Emmanuel Isiokpi said a bag of beans previously sold at N40, 000 now cost about N60, 000. He, however, stated that the blockade was a two-way thing, adding: “It affects dealers, sellers and producers. If we don’t sell, they won’t produce and nobody will consume. So, I think that government should wade in and sort out whatever the grievances are to enable normal supply begin.”

Speaking on the development last Wednesday, National President of the International Solidarity for Peace and Human Rights Initiative (ISPHRI), Comrade Osmond Ugwu, said the action of the union was as a result of leadership failure in Nigeria.

“Why I made that point is that what the people responsible for the blockade of the goods are doing is tantamount to subversion of the state because it can lead to insurrection and total breakdown of law and order. But in the face of this dangerous trend, the Federal Government keeps mute and stays aloof. That action is a typical manifestation of terrorism and should be treated as such. They all should have been arrested and prosecuted for acts capable of destroying the existence of the country. Till now, nothing has happened and they are having a field day, advancing in their acts thereby building up tension in the country; they are strengthening the cord of division while the government is preaching one indivisible nation. That is rather very hypocritical and very mendacious,” Ugwu said.

Explaining that the action was an ill wind that blows no part of the country any good, he stated that those in the North would also suffer the consequences “because there is going to be a glut in northern markets because they cannot consume all they are producing.”

Ugwu added: “There will be a lot of produce without people to buy them and with that there will be discouragement on the part of farmers and cattle rearers. Again, very soon there will be scarcity of cash in the hands of the northern population, which will go a long way to affect the overall wellbeing of the population of the people. Stoppage of produce from the North to the South will lead to shortage of cash flow to the North. Basically the North will suffer the consequences in very severe terms in the long run.”

Meat, Foodstuff Still In Short Supply C’River
From Agosi Todo, Calabar

NATIONAL Association of Butchers, Cross River State chapter, and some traders in Calabar, have lamented the blockade of food supply to southern Nigerian by members of the AUFCDN, saying it has resulted in the shortage of meat and foodstuff in the state.

Also, the President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo in the state, Chief Ugoji Nwabueze, described the development as a sad one for the country, calling on southern leaders to begin to invest in food production.

The Vice Chairman of the National Butchers Association in Marian Market, Calabar, Mr. Patrick Paulinus, said the little cattle they could get was not enough to feed the residents, noting that they were not of good sizes like the supply from Niger Republic and Chad.

He said: “It has been quite challenging for over two weeks now. We have been facing serious challenges in conveying cattle to Calabar. Presently, we are trying our possible best to supply the masses meat but in very little quantity. We are now sourcing cattle from the bushes around to feed residents. And we heard that the government is about handling the situation; we pray that they do that soonest.

“What we are getting here is not sufficient and it is not of good sizes because we love consuming mature cows in the South. Of course, we know that cattle have seasonal growth; now that it is dry season, we don’t expect cows to be that big since there is no grass to feed on. We depend on cattle that come from the North, Niger Republic and Chad precisely. The cows that are within are a bit cheaper compared to the ones that come from the North. We have been complaining over time of the high price of cows coming from the North but the people complained of high taxation by the government on each vehicle that comes in.”

A yam seller, who simply gave her name as Mrs. Ochinta, said: “It is very true that what we are buying now is not what we bought before. The price of yam now is very high that we cannot buy the quantity we used to buy. I used to buy up to 500 tubers of yam but now I hardly get up to 200 since they stopped bringing yam from the North. The Ogoja yam is very expensive; even our customers are complaining. What that woman just bought is N8, 500, which we sold at N4, 500 before now.”

‘Nigerians Should Learn To Live Like Brothers’
From Ahmadu Baba Idris, Birnin Kebbi

The chairman, Birnin Kebbi Perishable Association, Alhaji Umar Bashar, has said the union decided to block food supply to the South because of the attitude of the people towards them during the #EndSARS protest.

He noted that burning vehicles transporting food items to the South was uncalled for.

“You see during that period, we lost billions of naira which some of our members are yet to recover from. The government failed to say anything; there was no sympathy,” he added. He noted that now that supplies have re-commenced due to the intervention of some stakeholders, Nigerians should co-habit in harmony.

“I’m appealing to the Nigerians that we are all one and we should be our brother’s keeper. We should maintain that brotherliness despite religious and ethnic differences,” he added.