This is coming after the Organised Labour declared a two-day protest against the current economic hardship in the country.
Sources in the Presidency and the NCS told Saturday PUNCH that the task force established by President Bola Tinubu to tackle food hoarding had heightened alert levels at Nigeria’s land borders across Borno, Niger, Katsina, Sokoto, Kebbi and Jigawa states, describing them as “dark spots.”
The development comes hours after an emergency meeting between the President, Vice-President Kashim Shettima, and state governors at the Aso Rock Villa, Abuja, on Thursday.

At the meeting, Tinubu who cited large-scale hoarding of food in Kano State, directed the National Security Adviser, the Inspector-General of Police, and the Director-General of the Department of State Services to coordinate closely and “ensure that security agencies in the states inspect such warehouses with follow up action.”

The President also ruled out importing food as part of strategies to address the high costs of foodstuffs and the economic hardship troubling the country.

Although 80 per cent of Nigeria’s grain is produced in the North-West and North-East, violence in the regions has largely compromised supplies, even as at least 63 per cent of the country’s 220 million people live in extreme poverty, according to the National Bureau Statistics.

A Presidency source, who is privy to ongoing operations of the government to crack down on food items’ hoarders, told one of our correspondents that cartels were now using the round-tripping system to smuggle goods across the borders, leading to price increases.

The source said, “There is an ongoing inter-agency operation involving the Customs, DSS, EFCC and other agencies. They moved to grain markets, especially markets around northern Nigeria, and they were able to discover large-scale smuggling of grains outside of Nigeria and most of these grains are actually being round-tripped. So, there are cartels specialised in round-tripping food items across Nigerian land borders.

“What they do is that they buy grains, say from Jigawa, enter into Niger Republic with them, then bring them back and sell at higher prices and they use foreign currencies, especially the CFA, so that they can be able to buy more food and then take it back to these countries and then bring back and sell here. So, it is a sophisticated smuggling chain. So, they (security agencies) have been able to bust a number of them.
What they do is that they buy grains, say from Jigawa, enter into Niger Republic with them, then bring them back and sell at higher prices and they use foreign currencies, especially the CFA, so that they can be able to buy more food and then take it back to these countries and then bring back and sell here. So, it is a sophisticated smuggling chain. So, they (security agencies) have been able to bust a number of them.

“Now, the Federal Government has beefed up security across the borders to stop smuggling in Borno, Niger, Katsina, Sokoto, Kebbi, and Jigawa states because these are the major dark spots. Even yesterday (Thursday) at the President’s meeting with governors, the Niger State governor raised an alarm about these same cartels. That was why he recently announced the banning of food moving outside of his state.”

The source further explained that the security agencies had uncovered huge stores containing hoarded food items principally by some major companies in the guise of manufacturing feed and other items.

The source explained, “One of the stores even contained about 50,000 tonnes of grains.

“A lot of the cartels have been busted in Kano, Borno and Katsina states. And in one grain market alone, five illegal Bureau De Change operators were discovered and arrested. They were exchanging CFAs and naira and were being used by these cartels to move money easily.

“The government is going through a process to ensure that harmful hoarding is stopped. Of course, storage is permitted…but hoarding that harms the economy and creates hardship and hunger is being stopped.”

Confirming the operations, the Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Customs Service, Mr Abdullahi Maiwada, said the service had “re-strategised” and beefed up its alert mechanisms across the borders.

He told Saturday PUNCH, “Last week, the Comptroller-General of Customs held a meeting with all area comptrollers in the border areas and he has given marching orders to man these borders and ensure that there is no form of smuggling in their territories. It is emphatic that we are taking action.

“We have re-strategize. It will warrant our presence, the use of intelligence-driven operations, and our visibility in terms of increased patrol and non-kinetic approaches such as engagement.

“It is not all about using force or our physical arsenals to fight smuggling. We are also exploring engagement with the populace to tell them why they should not support smuggling. In the next few days, we will reveal further strategies we are taking.”

FG against strike

Meanwhile, the Federal Government has kicked against the planned two-day protest by the leadership of the Organised Labour, stating that the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress leaders are always in a hurry to embark on industrial actions to press home their demands.

The government was reacting to the declaration by the NLC that it would go on a two-day nationwide protest over the rising cost of living.

The protest is to begin on February 27 and end on February 28, 2024.

The declaration was made at a press conference by the NLC President, Joe Ajaero, on Friday.

The union said it had already put machinery in place ahead for the nationwide protest to ensure that the Federal Government heard its cry.

Ajaero said the protest would begin a week after the expiration of the 14-day ultimatum issued to the Federal Government, which expires on February 23.

The ultimatum, according to him, was issued because of the failure of the government to implement the agreements reached with the organised labour on October 2, 2023, following the removal of subsidy on Premium Motor Spirit, also known as petrol.

According to the labour leaders, efforts to ensure industrial peace were met with laxity on the part of the government, which they claimed was unperturbed by the mass suffering and hardship across the country.
It also said the government had failed to honour an October 2, 2023, agreement focused on addressing the “mass suffering and the general harsh socioeconomic consequences of the ill-conceived and ill-executed IMF/World Bank-induced hike in the price of PMS and the devaluation of the naira.”

Ajaero said the National Executive Council of the NLC thought it wise to express its displeasure in a peaceful nationwide demonstration.

The organised labour lamented that millions of Nigerian workers were facing hunger, erosion of purchasing power and insecurity due to reforms that drove up inflation.

Ajaero stated that if the government fails to meet the demands after the nationwide protest, the NLC members would be on standby for an indefinite strike that would commence seven days later.

He emphasised that Labour was no longer interested in empty talks from the government but in action.

The NLC president further directed its affiliates and civil society allies to begin mobilisation for the nationwide protest.

Ajaero said, “On Monday, the 29th day of May, 2023, the President of the Federal Republic announced during his inaugural speech the withdrawal of subsidy on Premium Motor Spirit in Nigeria.

“Consequently, the price of the product, which is central to transportation and power in Nigeria, escalated across the nation, throwing the nation into turmoil and confusion as citizens were left stranded, thus increasing suffering, hardship and angst among the populace.

“Series of meetings were held with the Federal Government culminating in the signing of an agreement, which we now call the October 2 Agreement.

“This agreement contained several safeguards, which we had believed if implemented conscientiously would have gone a long way to ameliorate the suffering and hardship that the ill-conceived and ill-implemented policies of the government have foisted on the masses and workers.

“The NEC-in-session considered the unfortunate state of our nation. The huge suffering pervading the nation, the general crisis of living, the outrage expressed by the majority, and the increased attendant fears of the continued consequences of these Policies and the persistent refusal of the government to implement the tenets of the October Agreement.

“It also took notice of the decision of the National Administrative Council (of both congresses of the NLC and TUC) to demand that the agreement be implemented.

“To this end, NEC unanimously noted its deep disappointment and condemned the actions of the federal government in refusing to implement the agreements and reached the following decisions:
“It reaffirms the 14-day notice issued to the Federal Government within which to implement the agreement and address the mounting crisis of survival in Nigeria.

“That the notice expires on the midnight of Thursday, the 22nd of February, 2024. If on expiration, the congress is not satisfied with the level of the government’s compliance with the conditions of the notice, it will be at liberty to take action that will compel the government to implement the agreement.”

Exercise patience – FG

However, the Minister of Information, Idris Mohammed, said it was improper for labour unions to regard the Federal Government as an adversary instead of a partner.

While stating that the administration of President Bola Tinubu would not shy away from dialogue, Mohammed gave an assurance that concerted efforts were ongoing to address their agitation.

He said, “What we can tell the NLC and TUC as always is that the Federal Government sees itself as a partner and not an adversary to Organised Labour. We are always calling on them to join hands with the government so that we can have a peaceful and prosperous country. We don’t want a situation where labour is always in a hurry to go on strike. Strikes do not solve problems.

“We appreciate their concerns and promise that the government will look into them. The Federal Government will always see labour as a partner because we are not in opposition to them. We need them just as they need us. Whenever it is necessary, we will meet with them. We can’t shy away from dialogue with them.”

Meanwhile, the leadership of the National Association of Nigerian Students has said it will not join the labour protest of February 27 and 28.

The National Senate President, NANS, Mr Akinteye Babatunde-Afeez, said in a statement on Friday, “NANS is not joining the protest. The NLC is a body and their decision is their own, not for NANS.”

Millers blame hoarders

Meanwhile, some rice millers in Gombe State, on Friday, blamed the rising price of rice on the unavailability of paddy due to hoarding by some merchants.

Paddy is a major raw material used in the processing of rice. The millers, who spoke in Gombe, described the situation as frustrating.

According to them, there is pressure on the available paddy as a result of the activities of middlemen who have bought up the paddy and stored it in their warehouses to the detriment of Nigerians.

The Production Manager, Lula Rice, Mr Auwal Manu, said the price of rice had almost doubled within the last three weeks because of the unavailability of paddy.

According to Manu, paddy is scarce and there is a lot of pressure on the little quantity available because middlemen had during the 2023 harvest mopped up the available paddy and refused to release it to the market.

This, he said, had led to the increasing price of rice as those who had paddy now determine the price they want their commodity sold.

He stated, “This has affected and halted production in our company because paddy is the major raw material for rice processing venture.

“A bag of paddy now is about N50,000 which cannot give you 50kg of processed rice, so how does one continue business and make a profit?

“Before now, a bag of paddy was sold for between N15,000 and N20,000, but now it goes for N47,000 upwards.

“Weekly, we used to process at least three truckloads of rice, or 1,800 bags of 50kg rice, but for the past two months, we have halted production.”

Manu said their workers had been asked to stay at home until the company gets adequate supply of paddy to process.

He appealed to the Federal Government to intervene by taking action against food hoarders as well as increase investment in the agriculture sector during this year’s wet season so that farmers could produce more.

For a rice processor at Nasarawo Industrial Layout, Gombe, Alhaji Musa Arab, the rising price of rice is a result of subsidy removal, insecurity and activities of hoarders.

Arab, who is a large-scale rice farmer, told the News Agency of Nigeria that the subsidy removal impacted the cost of farming making it too expensive and out of reach for many local farmers.

He said that security issues affected many farmers who had abandoned their farmlands leaving few to cultivate the commodity and “to make it worse, the little produce is mopped up by middlemen’’.

He said, “I think the government should urge big rice companies to set up their farms and go into farming instead of bringing big money to buy off paddy from local farmers so they can be in business all-year-round.

“Today, even local millers have nothing to process and you know the ordinary man cannot afford these big companies’ processed rice so the whole issue is on Nigerians,” he said.

Another miller at the Gombe Main Market, Yusuf Abdullahi, said many of the middlemen were already getting ready to invade villages to mop up paddy cultivated by farmers during the dry season.

Abdullahi said such would worsen the current situation, hence the need for punitive measures against hoarding because “it increases hardship and worsens unemployment status in the country.

For now, we are no longer milling because no paddy and many of our workers are now at home without jobs, it has never been this bad.

“Government must go tough against hoarders else they will create food crisis in spite that there is food in this country,” he said.

Saturday PUNCH gathered that as of Friday at the Gombe Main Market, a bag of 50kg rice (long grain) sold at N75,000, while the locally processed 50kg rice was between N56,000 and N60,000 depending on the quality.

About three weeks back, the same bag of foreign rice sold for about N55,000, while the locally-processed rice went for between N42,000 and N47,000.

Zulum declares fast

Borno State Governor, Babagana Zulum, has urged citizens of the state to fast and offer special prayers on Monday for divine intervention over the current economic hardship in the country.

He added that special emphasis should be placed on the state while making the special prayers.

He made this known in his broadcast to the people of the state on Friday, imploring traditional rulers, clerics and citizens to observe a one-day voluntary fast on Monday for peace, prosperity and the development of Borno State.

The governor said, “I am deeply troubled by the recent hardships faced by our citizens, particularly the high cost of food items.

“I understand the burden that this places on families and individuals, and I want to assure you that we are taking decisive steps to alleviate this issue.

“Our government is focusing on reviving agriculture in the state, intending to increase food production and reduce our reliance on food palliative.”

The governor also expressed gratitude to security forces and volunteers for the sacrifices they were making to safeguard lives in the state and create a peaceful society for prosperity and development.



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