High cost of living: Niger residents protest hunger, shut down major roads

Residents of Minna in Niger State yesterday stormed some major roads in the state capital, protesting the high cost of living, lamenting that the development is sending many Nigerians to early graves.

But Governor Mohammed Umar Bago in his immediate reaction, blamed the protest on those he said were out to hijack trucks conveying foodstuffs to Minna from Lagos.

This came as the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, asked President Bola Tinubu to immediately address the high cost of living in the country, saying many Nigerians are finding it difficult to survive. Similarly, Governor Abba Yusuf of Kano State, pledged to personally meet with President Bola Tinubu to intimate him of the economic hardship and hunger faced by the people of the state.

However, the Wife of the President, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, also yesterday assured Nigerians that the hard times they are facing will soon end as a result of the right policies of the Federal Government.

The protest in Niger State started in the morning by youths who chanted war songs and were later joined by women and men.

* Busy highway blocked

The ever-busy Minna-Bida highway was blocked, halting vehicular movements as both commercial and private vehicles could neither come in from Bida nor move out of Minna, the state capital while the protest was on. Also, vehicles coming from the Suleija-Abuja end were also trapped and could not enter the town freely for several hours.

The Kpakungu Roundabout which is central to most commercial vehicles to take off to different directions of the country especially to the southern part of the country, was completely blocked as passengers from other parts of the country were also trapped.

Consequently, traders and civil servants resident in the Kpakungu area had difficulties accessing their destinations and offices.

Motorists and tricycle operators who tried to manoeuvre the protesters were rough-handled and their vehicles and tricycles damaged.

Policemen drafted to the scene had earlier observed the protesters from a distance but later used teargas canisters to disperse the protesters. Shop owners and residential houses in the Kpakungu area and environs hurriedly closed their shops and houses for safety.

Some youths capitalized on the chaotic situation and started extorting money from motorists, tricycle and motorcycle operators (Okada) passing through residential areas in desperate efforts to escape the commotion.
Vanguard gathered that private vehicle owners were forced to pay N500 each, tricycle operators N200, while Okada operators paid N100 to secure passage.

* Police react

Reacting to the development, the state Police command through its spokesman, Wasiu Abiodun, said the Police had to apply minimum force to disperse the protesters.

“The police was this morning (yesterday) alerted that a large number of protesting people blocked Bida road, obstructing motorists and people were unable to go about their work. We had to deploy our men to the area.

“They (protesters) refused to listen to government officials, led by the state deputy governor, Yakubu Garba, as he tried to address them.

‘’As a result, we had to use minimum force to disperse them and it paved way for the eventual opening of the road for easy flow of traffic.”

He said normalcy had been totally restored to Minna, the state capital, especially the Kpakungu area.

Those behind protest out to hijack food trucks coming to Minna from Lagos, says Gov Bago

In his reaction, Governor Mohammed Bago said the protest was due to wrong information received by the people that some trucks of food were coming to the state from Lagos and were ready to hijack them.

Addressing journalists at Government House after a security meeting that came after the protest, the governor added that the main reason was not because of rise in prices of foodstuffs or hardship but to hijack the purported incoming trucks of foodstuffs to the state.

“The real reason why women and youths protested in Minna was due to information they received that trucks of food were being conveyed to the state and the protest was being held to hijack the food trucks.

“Yes, we had restiveness of youths and women in Minna and this was unfortunate. They were yearning and clamouring for the reduction in food prices. However, since that time, we have been in a series of meetings and we have discovered the latest happenings.

“We learnt that a group or syndicate followed trucks of food traveling from Lagos to the North and they caused gridlock in the name of demonstration in Minna today (yesterday), in an attempt to cause heavy traffic while items being conveyed by those trucks are looted.

‘’People were said to have used town criers to gather these women but some good Samaritans informed the security and so, the trucks were diverted from Gidan Kwano to the Talba Farm Road and to their destination.

“Thank God for the men of our security forces that averted the trucks that were heading towards this location and stopped them in front of the university gate at Gidan Kwano. The Federal Government has shown interest in the current situation and we are on top of it.

‘’We have sent several security apparatus to some locations which we think are vulnerable,” the governor explained further.

Governor Bago said government had identified the major cause of the sharp rise in food prices and linked it to the mopping-up of foodstuffs in the villages by some group of people, adding that the government had issued an executive order that anyone found mopping up foodstuff in the villages or local markets would have their goods confiscated by security agencies and distributed to the public.

He said: “We have noticed that due to the inflationary trend and the loss of value in naira, a lot of people have decided to stockpile food items in a lot of warehouses. The mopping of the food items is done by people who are a cartel that is sabotaging the economy.

“We are going to stop people from mopping up food. Even local chickens and goats are being mopped up. An executive order has been given to stop these people. We have issued an order that trucks which come to the parks or buy foodstuff from our villagers in bulk should be halted for now.

‘’We have stopped mass purchases from our local markets in all our local government areas till further notice. Anyone found wanting would have his truck seized and the food distributed to the people.”

* NANS gives ultimatum

On its part, NANS, Southwest Zone D in a statement by the Zonal Coordinator, Alao John, Zonal Secretary, Sanni Olamide, and the Zonal Public Relations Officer, Bamigboye Oluwadamilola, after a meeting in Osogbo, Osun State yesterday, expressed concern over the hardship being faced by citizens.

It also gave the Federal Government two weks within which to address the situation or risk mass protest.
The statement read: “Nigeria has been grappling with a myriad of economic challenges, including inflation, unemployment, and a weakening currency, which have significantly contributed to the rising cost of living across the nation.

“The impact of these economic pressures has been particularly severe on the average Nigerian, making it increasingly difficult to afford basic necessities such as food, shelter, and healthcare.

“Citizens are facing unbearable economic hardship as a result of the soaring cost of living. Many families are struggling to make ends meet, with stagnant wages and rising prices pushing them further into poverty.

“NANS South-west Zone D is, thereby, issuing a direct appeal to President Bola Tinubu to intervene and address the worsening situation.

“As the leader of the nation, President Tinubu is urged to prioritize the welfare of Nigerian citizens and take decisive action to alleviate their suffering.”

The association subsequently issued a 14-day ultimatum for President Tinubu to respond to its demands and implement concrete measures to tackle the cost of living crisis, adding that failure to do so will result in mass protests, with NANS Southwest Zone D vowing to mobilize students and citizens to take to the streets in large numbers.

“With a clear ultimatum issued to President Tinubu and a commitment to mobilize mass protests if necessary, the association has signalled its determination to hold government accountable and canvass the welfare of Nigerian people.

‘’It is now incumbent upon the authorities to heed these calls and take meaningful steps to alleviate the suffering of the populace,’’ NANS stated.

* Gov Yusuf to meet Tinubu

In Kano, Governor Abba Yusuf said he will meet with President Tinubu to intimate him on economic hardship and hunger faced by populace of the state.

The governor spoke while meeting with business, community and other stakeholders at Government House, Kano.
“I will personally go and ask President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to intervene and check the prevailing hunger situation in Kano State, so as to save our people from starvation.

‘’We know that other parts of the country are experiencing the same thing, but we will make a case for Kano State, being our constituency,’’ he said.

He said the rate at which inflation is affecting prices of foodstuffs and other daily needs is very alarming and needs urgent solution.

The governor said: “The purpose of this gathering is to fine-tune modalities on how to address the menace of high inflation because people are really suffering and we need to do something about this.

“We are begging you, the business community to please shun hoarding of foodstuffs in warehouses. Please bring it out and sell to the public to curtail the high price of foodstuffs, especially at this moment that Ramadan is approaching.’’

Hard times over soon, Mrs Tinubu However, the First Lady, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, has assured that the hard times being faced by Nigerians would soon come to an end with the right policies of the Federal Government.

The President’s wife gave the assurance, yesterday at the State House during a meeting with governors’ wives on her pet project, Renewed Hope Initiative, RHI.

She assured that 2024 is loaded with “peace, progress, prosperity and greater achievements” to the advantage of all Nigerians.

Mrs Tinubu commended the governors’ wives for their efforts and support in 2023, urging them not to relent in addressing the needs of the vulnerable in their states.

“Times like this call for sober reflection, hence all hands must be on deck. Moreover, the hardship situation is temporary, it will soon fade away.

“The mission of the RHI is driven by my office to complement the Renewed Hope Agenda of the administration of President Tinubu,” she said.

She said Women Agricultural Support Programme, WASP, under RHI, would empower 20 farmers each, from five states in the South East zone.

“These farmers will get N500,000 each and a total draft of N10m will be given to five RHI states’ coordinators as the case may be.

“The National Agricultural Land Development Authority, in partnership with the RHI, will support an additional 80 female farmers from each state with the provision of training and capacity building and agricultural inputs. We will buy-off all produce from the farms after harvest,” she said.

Mrs. Tinubu said she will soon launch “Young Farmers Club” in public schools across the nation to encourage farming among young population.

She said schools with the best farms will be identified, and prizes given to them, ranging from school renovations, equipping of school science laboratories, provision of ICT equipment and upgrading of school libraries.

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