The scene looked tense. It carried a poise of commotion and chaos as drivers kept hooting ear-splitting horns as if in an orchestral competition.
Some were seen struggling with their vehicles which had developed instantaneous faults due to the long wait. At a point before Lekki second roundabout, some drivers alighted from their cars with perturbed looks on their faces as movement came to a complete halt.
Some, however, tried escaping the situation but only succeeded in extending it by hitting other vehicles, which resulted in intense arguments over who was right or wrong. The police and traffic-control officials had enormous task as they made efforts to control traffic on both sides of the road, especially inward Lekki Phase 1 and Ozumba Mbadiwe and within Oniru.
Suddenly, a bigger chaos erupted. Everyone left his business and focused on the event. A driver, who claimed he needed to get somewhere urgently, bolted out of his car in frustration heading towards the edge of the bridge screaming, “I can’t take it again”. Within the twinkling of an eye, strong hands pinned him to the ground and he kept screaming, “Leave me, let me die. What’s all this. Let me leave this life for them.”
All these happened at the Lekki- Ikoyi toll bridge recently. The bridge, which happens to be a 1.346km cable stay iconic bridge was implemented by the state government in collaboration with a private company Lekki Concession Company Limited (LCC) to reduce traffic congestion around Eti-Osa, Lekki, Epe, and Ikoyi environs by providing additional choices and flexibility for road users, through an improved network of top class roads, highways and bridges.
The bridge, since it was commissioned on the 29th of May 2013 had met up with expectation over the years providing the necessary services to road users. However, towards the end of last year, LCC declared an increase in the toll, which took effect from February 1 this year. New Telegraph gathered that at the Admiralty Circle Plaza (Lekki-Epe expressway), cars now pay N200 from the once obtainable N120; sports utility vehicles (SUV) now pay N 250 from N 15 0; while commercial buses pay N150 from N80. Motorcycles however pay N100. At the Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge, saloon cars now pay N300 from N250; sports utility vehicles (SUV), mini vans, and light trucks now pay N400 from N300. Motorcycles will now pay N200.
This decision has however elicited angry reactions from road users, who refused to pay the toll, causing a long queue at the tollgate. They pointed accusing fingers at the government and the LCC for the inconveniences they are made to go through. Speaking with New Telegraph, A motorist, Mr. Olu Bamidele, asserted that the increase in the toll was an unwelcome development and an extorting strategy by the LCC and the government.
He said: “This inhumane treatment is not what we deserve. The economy is too harsh and they are aware of that. Everything keeps increasing in cost yet our income has not increased even with one kobo. People are losing their jobs daily and no government in this country can boast of any scheme that they have put in place to employ people.” He therefore called on the government and the LCC to review the new tolls and consider the people’s plight. Another road user, Miss. Korede Olamuyiwa, who spoke with New Telegraph, averred that the increase in the toll should not be considered on the surface level as it will have multiplier effects on the people and urged the government to find a lasting solution to the problem.
“At this time of the year, people are still recuperating from their December expenses and to be sincere with you, transport fare has increased in Lagos. They were blaming it on fuel scarcity and now that fuel is available, they have refused to reduce it. With this one now, transporters will increase fares again. This is not what we bargained for. The toll fare is too much. Even the initial toll was much, let alone this new one.” Mr. Bolatito Anthony, a motorist, said that the increase in the toll is one of the means of getting campaign money for those in power to remain there even as the 2019 election is approaching. According to him: “These people are very unfair to us.
They deliberately created gridlock on the route so that stubborn motorists like me would have no other option than paying the toll whether it is convenient for us or not.” He said that he had resolved to avoid the tollgates until he could understand the logic behind the increase but which he cannot avoid now after weighing the cost of taking the alternative route which is far more than the hiked toll. “I turned back and accepted my fate like every other person but God will judge.
Paying N500 per day which is approximately N12,000 for 24-working days in a month is too much. How much is the salary remaining,” he quipped. Speaking on the issue, Alhaji Taofeek Oluwa, the chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (Jakande chapter) had assured commuters that there won’t be an increase in transport fares and that the union welcomed the toll review. He however urged the LCC not to renege on its agreement. He also stated that the NURTW had been carried along by LCC in their decision- making.
He said: “It is encouraging that LCC carried the union along as one of the critical stakeholders consulted during the engagement process for the toll review which resulted in the minimal increase in the toll charge branded commercial buses. Commercial buses, which previously paid N80.00 would be paying N90 for e-Tag payments and N100 for cash payments.” Oluwa further assured commuters that there would be no increase in fare and affirmed the union’s support of the toll as long as LCC honoured its agreement of the mutual understanding which was established at the stakeholders’ meeting. “The NURTW is happy to endorse the toll fare review,” He said.
In an interview with journalists, the Managing Director of LCC, Mr. Mohammed Hassan, justified the review. He maintained that the feedback and recommendations received during the series of consultations held in December 2017 with stakeholders in Eti-Osa Local Government area and its environs led to the adoption of the new toll. Hassan said: “Since the commencement of tolling in December 2011, the toll had remained the same despite the continuous increase in the cost of operations to ensure that the toll plazas and the road infrastructure are well maintained.
The toll review has also become necessary to enable the company meet its loan obligations to its local and foreign lenders, considering the fact that foreign exchange rates have continued to increase astronomically in the last couple of years. LCC cannot continue to operate or provide the services required from us if we do not review the toll.”
All await the long grains of Cross River
The quest for food sufficiency and resort to agriculture is a mantra that is fast spreading across the country. In words and deeds, many leaders are preaching the need for agriculture. In Cross River, the world is waiting for the long grain rice, which the state promised. CLEMENT JAMES reports from Calabar
Last year, the Nigerian Customs Service in Cross River State impounded about 1,521 (50kg) bags of foreign parboiled rice which were ferried into the Cross River State through its borders with neigbouring countries.
The Customs Area Controller for the Calabar free trade zone and Akwa Ibom area command, Patience Nanbyen Burromvyat, who made this disclosure, identified the routes as Cameroun and Equatorial Guinea.
That same year, the Nigerian Navy arrested two boats, which entered the country through the eastern waterways with a total of 671 bags of rice and 22 people on board.
One of the boats carried 14 Nigerians with 550 bags of rice, while the other carried eight Cameroonians with 121 bags of rice.
According to the then Flag Officer Commanding, Eastern Naval Command (ENC), Rear Admiral Atiku Abdulkadir, the boats were arrested by men of the Command on board of “Nigerian Navy Ship Makurdi” while on sea patrol.
Clearly, the motivation for this importation or in most cases, smuggling of rice into the country, even against national interest, is the huge profit that is associated with it. Indeed, before the Federal Government started waging war against importation of foreign rice into the country, billions of Naira was being frittered away in foreign exchange.
The lucrative nature of such business has however continued to serve as an alluring factor for those who care little or nothing about national interest.
Apart from the fact that foreign exchange is thrown away through importation of what can be safely and conveniently produced, the attendant job losses have contributed to the army of young Nigerians, who roam the streets in idleness.
To stimulate interest in made-in-Nigeria rice, the Federal Government initiated the Anchor Borrowers’ scheme with the aim of facilitating massive production of rice and its uptake by Nigerians.
In Cross River State, the Governor, Senator Ben Ayade, realizing that easy access to loan facility by rice farmers is key to the overall success of the rice revolution, caused the state to key into the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Anchor Borrowers Scheme.
So far, not less than 12,415 farmers have benefited from the scheme in the state, according to the Special Adviser to the State Governor on Revenue, who is also in charge of the programme, Mr. Emmanuel Akwaji.
He said farmers in all the Local government areas were provided with improved variety of rice seedlings, herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers and cash to facilitate cultivation of the produce.
He explained that successful farmers were selected after a rigorous screening process which included the validation of Bank Verification Number (BVN), and visits to rice farms to ascertain the readiness of each farmer in order to ensure that the beneficiaries had all the requirements as laid down by the Central Bank.
“We went through the different stages of the programme; we started by enrolling the farmers and visiting their farm sites for inspection, validation of BVN numbers and so on. We thoroughly screened the list of pre-qualified farmers before arriving at the number of real beneficiaries to ensure that all those who benefited were genuine farmers and not portfolio ones,” Akwaji explained.
Perhaps, it was to contribute to the Federal Government’s initiative in rice production that the Governor of Cross River State, Prof. Ben Ayade last year unveiled some bags of rice tagged; “Ayade rice,” which he claimed, was produced and packaged at the rice village in Ogoja.
In view of the huge interest in rice cultivation by many people in the state, the governor has since followed up this interest by constructing a multi-million dollar Rice City currently being undertaken in partnership with the Thai-Africa group.
The project, which covers over 3,000 hectares of land, is located along the Goodluck Jonathan bypass in Calabar.
According to the governor, when operational, the project is expected to produce specie of rice that is “highly vitaminized” and good for local consumption and export.
The effort of government to complement the Calabar Rice City and create its brand in the rice sector has resulted in the construction of the state of the art rice mill in Ogoja.
Our correspondent recently undertook a visit to the rice plant and discovered that it is set to commence business.
For instance, virtually all the equipments have been installed.
From the Intelligent DC series colour sorter of large capacities which helps in mass and high speed data transmission system with a strong anti-jamming power, to CCD colour sorter which has high quality trough with an extra width of 300mm, the plant is merely awaiting commissioning.
This sorter has a special anodizing treatment technique which ensures high quality yield.
There is a combined structure of track transmissions and the colour sorting. The stable transmission of materials is able to effectively increase the take out ratio and the net sorting accuracy rate, and this, in turn, will effectively reduce the percentage of damages of the materials in the process of colour sorting.
Our correspondent noticed a rail-like facility which meanders through the expansive hall with the job of sieving the rice, making sure that no stone or any other external element is allowed into the long grain specie.
The rice milling machine consists of two chambers. The first one is the huller. This chamber removes the rice hull. When the hull is removed, the rice becomes brown rice. Brown rice is passed to the next chamber to polish. Polishing is the removal of the outer layer of the brown rice. This layer is also called bran.
When the bran is removed, the rice becomes polished rice and another machine is handed the responsibility of coating it with protein material to become coated rice like the imported rice.
The import of this sophisticated technology in rice production did not go unnoticed as the leadership of Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria, led by its national Vice President, Segun Atto, recently commended the governor for constructing a state-of-the-art mill which is regarded as the best in Africa with the capacity to generate N100 billion revenue annually.
Atto said:“What we have seen so far is very incredible because this is the first time I am seeing this type of thing in the whole country. We are so impressed with what we are seeing today. When we were invited to come and witness what is going to happen here, we never envisaged seeing this kind of facilities.”
While assuring that the group will partner the state, Atto said: “In terms of partnership with the state, we have a lot of areas to benefit from each other. The first benefit is that whatever they are producing here, we are ready to partner them and we will off-take some of them for our own multiplication so that it can be circulated around the country.”
For Chief Godswill Akpabio, the immediate past governor of Akwa Ibom state and Minority Leader in the Senate, sheer technological sophistication of the rice seedlings plant signposts the vision of a great leader.
Akpabio said: “This seeds multiplication plant is the first in Sub-Saharan Africa and with a very high yield producing seedlings, fully vitaminized that when cultivated, will not only feed the people of Cross River State and Akwa Ibom, but the whole of Nigeria. I am really amazed and I say bravo to Governor Ayade.”
Meanwhile, a group of farmers in the state have been falling over themselves to identify with the state government in order to be the first to benefit from the rice plant.
Our correspondent spoke to a farmer in Akpabuyo, who is coordinating farmers in that local government area, Asuquo Nyong and he said rather than wait for the plant to kick-start production and let off its long grain produce to people outside the state, farmers in the state were willing to follow up progress of work to its conclusion.
Nyong said; “We are looking forward to being the beneficiaries of the special variety of this rice. We have brought farmers from other parts of the country to come and assess this plant and what it can produce and they are willing to do everything to benefit from it. We are not going to sleep and allow this opportunity to pass us by.”
He said apart from accessing the seedlings, the finishing product from the Ogoja mill would also be bought and packaged for both national and international consumption. According to him, the state would witness a revolution in the agricultural sector, especially in rice production in no distant time because of the activities at the plant.
“Don’t forget that apart the seedlings, there is the value chain aspect of it and we in the agricultural sector will liaise with the plant management to explore other areas of usage. Believe me, this rice plant is the best thing that has happened to our state in particular and the country in general,” Nyong posited.
There is no doubt that the current struggle by the Federal Government to keep smugglers of rice out of market can only be made easier with the production of best quality rice in the country, comparable not only to the Thai rice, but the Basmati rice, the Chinese Black rice, Jasmine rice, Paella rice, Risotto rice and the Sushi rice of this world which seems to be the intention behind Ayade’s innovative rice plant.
Kerang Hills: Plateau’s volcanoes home of giants gold
The plains stretch as far as the eyes can see; the horizon is sleepy and is obscured by massive cones of varying colours – some lush green and others, earthly brown jutting out into the skies and standing imposingly like enormous yam heaps on a village farm.
These beautiful volcanic mountains are the source of cool, enchanting springs, which supply water to the popular spring water company (SWAN).
The district head Da Philemon Mutang, told the visiting journalist that the major language of the people around the mountain is Mwaghavul which is derived from the words “Mwa-avul” or “Mun-vul” literally meaning “we are two’ or ‘always in pairs’.
The main occupation of the Mwaghavul people is farming. They cultivate crops like maize, potatoes, beans, cocoyam, millet and acha. The district head also spoke passionately about a festival they observe April every year known as ‘Bwanzuhum,’which marks the end of every other festival in the land. The volcanic hills are of great antiquity to the people. The significance of the hills have been captured and expressed in their folklores, myths and legends. The legend of the people of Kerang says that the area around the volcanoes was once inhabited by a race of giant people who were wealthy and had lots of gold.
Speaking to this reporter, Da Mutang said these giants and their possessions were however all destroyed by large fires from the volcanic hills. This legend could probably be referring to some eruption from the volcanoes.
Another legend about the volcanic hills states that the one at Kerang, which was a female, occasionally intermarried with the one at Ampang West, which has a crater lake and was considered the male. The marriage union was at a shallow pond in Mufil. (It lies between Kerang and Ampang West). After the marriage, the water which has a sparkling appearance, remained there for two to three months before the marriage was broken up and both husband and wife returned to their original place with the pond drying up. The marriage, however, would be renewed after about one or two years depending on the mood of the female volcanic hill.
The Kerang volcano was also said to have a big hole that the chiefs of Kerang were said to have used to hide their soldiers during fierce battles with their enemies.
Apart from the tourist attraction of the volcanoes and the crater lake of Pidong in Ampang, the hills have natural springs which have been the source of drinking water for the people of the area.
Recently, the Spring Water of Nigeria (SWAN) has been harnessing the springs at Kerang for commercial purposes. Besides, the rich volcanic soil supports the cultivation of various types of crops.
Ramadan: Coping with high food prices
As Ramadan, the annual Islamic fasting season, begins, prices of various food items have increased in Abuja environs and other states.
A recent News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) survey of markets in the Garki, Bwari, Wuse neighbourhoods of Abuja as well as in Mararaba, Nasarawa State, revealed between a five to 10 per cent rise in the prices of foodstuffs.
For instance, in the markets of the four areas, the prices of different brands of a 20-litre gallon of vegetable oil have increased from N12,300, N10, 480, N9, 700 to N14, 200, N11, 100 and N9, 900 respectively.
Similarly, a 25-litre can of palm oil, which formerly cost N9, 000, now sold for N10, 500 but traders attributed the increase in palm oil price to the onset of the rainy season.
NAN observed that the price of tomato has spiralled, as a big basket of tomato now attracted prices ranging from N15,000, N22,000, N25,000 to N30,000; up from its old price of N15, 000 and N12, 000 and N9, 000, depending on factors such the freshness and the species of the tomato.
The prices of a big basket of chilli pepper had fluctuated between N12, 000 and N15, 000, depending on bargaining power of the purchaser, while price of a big basket of the pepper variety known as tatashe had also increased from N13, 500 to N17, 000.
NAN gathered that barely two months ago, a polythene bag of white garrisold for N10, 000 but the price had now shot up to N14,000. The price of a mudu (measure) of garri had increased from N120 to N170, while that of a paint-rubber measure of the commodity had increased from N350 to N450.
The price of a 100kg. bag of white beans had risen from N30, 500 to N38, 000; the cost of a similar quantity of red beans had increased from N45,000 to N60,000, while a mudu of red beans now cost N470.
In respect of rice, the price of a 50kg. bag of rice ranged between N13, 000, N17, 000 and N22, 000 — depending on its brand — while the markets were fully stocked with the made-in-Nigeria varieties of rice.
Similarly, the prices of iced fish in some cold rooms in the Mararaba neighbourhood of Nasarawa State had increased considerably.
Before now, a carton of mackerel fish cost between N12,000 and N14,000 but the carton now cost N22, 000, while the price of a carton of croaker fish nowadays was N35, 000.
The market survey also indicated significant increases in the prices of other food items like water yam, yam, cocoa yam and potato but the price of sweet potato had somewhat remained stable.
Going from the general to the specifics, price of a set of five big tubers of yam, which formerly cost N2, 800, now sold for between N3, 500 and N4, 500.
The price of water yam species had also changed, as a set of five tubers of water yam now sold for N2, 500, as against its former price of N2,000.
A bag of Irish potato, which used to sell for N7, 000, now attracted prices ranging between N10, 000 and N10, 500.
NAN also discovered that the prices of frozen food items and poultry products, including eggs, fish, turkey and lobster, were on the increase.
Eggs were now sold in the markets at N1,000 or N1,100 per crate, compared to the previous price of N800 or N900 per crate.
A jute bag of dried onions, which previously sold for prices between N9, 800 and N11, 000, now cost between N18, 000 and N22, 000; while a jute bag of fresh onions now fetched N15, 200, as against its former price of N9,000.
NAN, however, noticed that the prices of other consumables like beverages, sugar, milk, bread and noodles have remained stable in the last two months.
Mrs. Imoyosola Ajao, a civil servant, nonetheless, told NAN that she had resorted to buying only essential commodities, instead of going for all the things she needed because of the high cost of most items.
She said that a mudu (measuring can) of corn flour, which cost N245 a couple of weeks ago, now sold for N270, while a mudu of cassava flour now cost N175, up from its N140 price a couple of weeks ago.
“How can people survive now? What do we eat now? This is because the mixture of corn flour and cassava flour is a common staple food for most people.
“Now that the blended flour is getting out of the reach of the common man, what is the alternative? Semolina, wheat flour and yam flour are not within our reach. What then should we eat?’’ she quipped.
Ajao bemoaned the continuous increase in the prices of food items in the market, saying that government ought to initiate some price-control strategies to stem impulsive increases in food prices.
Nevertheless, some traders in the markets have attributed the price increases to seasonal factors, forced migration of farmers due to the current security challenges facing certain parts of the country and increase in transportation costs.
They also blamed the increase on factors such as flood, high cost of transportation, high interest rates of loans, ageing farmers and rainfall patterns, among others.
The traders stressed that price increases had caused some setbacks for them, saying that there had been a remarkable fall in patronage.
One of the traders, Mrs Eunice Nwachukwu, said that the fall in customers’ patronage had affected the economic wellbeing of the traders, adding that some of them who got bank loans for their businesses had not been able to pay back the loans.
She said that most of the shops in the markets were owned by government officials who rented them out to traders at high rates, thereby forcing the traders to jack up the prices of their wares.
Another trader, Madam Alima Agbaje, said that in recent times, most customers could not engage in bulk purchase of food items, adding that they instead make piecemeal purchases because of the prevalent cash squeeze.
She said that the development had affected sales in most markets, while the drop in sales had forced several traders to abandon their shops, thereby creating chances for the remaining traders to increase the prices of their wares arbitrarily.
However, Mrs Agnes Igiewe, a plantain seller, trader blamed the increase in the prices of food items on factors such as the unwholesome practices of middlemen, dealers and shop owners.
She stressed that the problem was compounded by the harmful habits of middlemen who impulsively jacked up the prices of food items arbitrarily.
“From Edo State to Abuja, a truckload of plantain usually costs N250,000, but the middlemen will make sure you pay extra costs before the plantain is moved from the farm.
“Nobody is checking the activities of the middlemen and they dictate food prices; their pronouncements on the prices are final and binding.
“All the extraneous costs would be added to the selling price of the foodstuffs in order for you to make some profit,’’ she said.
Mr Ralph Abakuku, a stock fish seller, also attributed the increase in the prices of food items to the prevalent cash flow problems in the country, which had forced many traders to obtain bank loans without consideration for the high interest rates of the loans.
Another farmer, Malam Abdullahi Danbaba, blamed the current increase in food prices on unstable rainfall patterns and erratic electricity supply.
He said most of the food crops were cultivated via irrigation farming, adding the unstable electricity supply had forced most irrigation farmers to rely solely on the use of petrol to operate their equipment.
He said that the farmers then had no other option than to increase the prices of their crops to enable them to break even.
In the main market of Bwari, a satellite town in the FCT, most of the traders attributed the high prices of food items to Ramadan.
They said that some traders often review food prices up in the lead-up to the fasting period.
“Some foodstuff sellers know that consumers, particularly Muslims, often buy and store food items during the period; they, therefore, see it as opportunity to increase food prices and make more profits,’’ said Alhaji Muktar Hassan, a beans merchant.
“It is so unfortunate that the market leaders are aware of such unscrupulous activities; yet they failed to stop such practice and those who engage in it,’’ he added.
All the same, Mr Silas Alejolowo, an agriculturist, told NAN that prices of food would continue to rise if the country’s farmers continued to face myriad challenges.
He also noted that most youths in the country were not interested in taking up farming, while inadequate efforts were also being made to encourage the youth to embrace agriculture.
He said that this was as a major challenge facing efforts to boost Nigeria’s food security, adding that the challenge was reinforced by the fact that agriculture in the country was labour-intensive and still relied on the use of crude tools.
He said that the prevalent use of primitive farm implements had made Nigerian farmers less efficient and less productive, while creating perceptible threats to food security and stability of food prices.
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