INVESTIGATION: How bribe-taking security operatives, gangs force Nigerians to pay dearly for food (PART 2)

By Ibanga ISINE

NIGERIAN security operatives, fake federal, state and local government revenue officials and gangsters extort over N5.8 billion annually from traders conveying livestock from the far North to the country’s South-South and South East states, an investigation by this newspaper has revealed.

With a minimum of 400 truckloads of cattle leaving the North to the 11 South-South and South East states weekly, traders pay a minimum of N300, 000 per truck in illegal levies, fees and taxes.

In a month, no fewer than 1,600 truckloads of cattle are transported to the two regions and more than 19, 200 truckloads in a year.

The Adamawa State Chairman of the Amalgamated Cattle Dealers Association of Nigeria (ACDAN), Inua Abubakar, said livestock dealers part with billions annually in the illegal fees.

“Not less than 400 trucks loaded with cattle leave the North to the South-South and the South-East every week and our members spend a minimum of N300, 000 per truck on illegal fees, levies and taxes,” Inua said.

“In a month, over 1,600 trucks convey cattle to the two zones and over 19, 200 trucks in a year.

“When you calculate how much we pay in illegal fees and levies and taxes per truck along the roads between Adamawa, Taraba, Benue and Cross River, you will understand the cost of extortion we have been shouting about.”

In an undercover report earlier published by this newspaper, it was found that a total of 154 checkpoints are mounted along the federal highways linking Adamawa, Taraba, Benue, Cross River and Akwa Ibom states.

To carry out the investigation, this reporter had joined a truckload of cattle from Yola, the capital of Adamawa State, to Uyo, the capital of Akwa Ibom State.

Our correspondent saw first-hand, how armed gangs, Nigerian Police, Nigerian Army, Nigeria Immigration Service (NIA), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) used checkpoints to fleece traders.

Fake federal revenue officials and others purporting to work for Benue, Taraba and Cross River states also created barricades along the route to charge traders.

The only agencies whose operatives did not extort from the truck throughout the journey were the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) and the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS).

While the blockage of the highway violates Section 2 (2) of the Taxes and Levies Act Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (2004), the billions collected in the illegal levies and taxes are pocketed by a few persons.

Based on the Nigerian government budget benchmark, the N5.8 billion extorted from the livestock dealers annually and pocketed by individuals could patch a larger part of the over 900-kilometre pothole-ridden federal highway crisscrossing Adamawa, Taraba, Benue and Cross River and Akwa Ibom states.

The toils and tears of extorted traders

Mustapha Ibrahim has been selling livestock for over a decade and owes almost everything he owns to the business which he learnt serving seven years of apprenticeship with his father.

Apart from his many landed properties and cars, Ibrahim said he has lived a decent life and sent his children to one of the best private schools in his home town, Mubi in Adamawa State.

“Walahi (I swear) my brother,” he told our correspondent, “It was easy to convey either foodstuff or livestock from any part of the north to any part of the south before now.

“Our brothers in the south also brought things like fish, crayfish, palm oil and garri to the north without any problem.

“You only needed to go to the bush markets to buy what you want and load them in a truck and the next day, you were on the road to Calabar, Uyo, Port Harcourt, Onitsha or Owerri,” he recalled.

“Nobody would ask you for a kobo on the road but we normally carried extra foodstuff and change to appreciate police officers and other security officers along the road.”

But all that changed in 2015, when the security situation in the North-east and North-central took a plunge leading to heavy deployment of security operatives to the troubled areas.

Ibrahim said the business started slowing down when the security operatives deployed to the two affected zones abandoned their rules of engagement and rather extorted heavily from motorists.

Investigations by this reporter showed the Federal Government ordered the massive deployment of security operatives along the Adamawa, Taraba, Benue and Cross River routes from 2014.

The move became necessary following the bloody campaign by Boko Haram insurgents to take over more towns after it captured a swath of territories in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states.

It was further meant to tackle the escalating skirmishes involving armed herdsmen and farmers along the Benue Valley.

But long after the armed crisis in the affected areas abated, livestock and foodstuff dealers and drivers said the security operatives have remained and now extort from traders and drivers fulltime.

The Adamawa State Chairman of Cattle Dealers Association of Nigeria, Inua Abubakar said over 100 foodstuff and livestock traders are currently out of business.

According to him, the high cost of doing the business, perishability of foodstuff and the death of livestock due to unnecessary delays at hundreds of checkpoints and the bad condition of the roads are major reasons for the losses incurred by his members.

“A lot of our members are now out of business because there are unable to meet the high cost of extortion on the road. Like I said before, most of those still able to buy livestock and take to the south are butchers,” he told this newspaper.

“To reduce the amount our people spent on the settlement, many now take over 70 hours to get to Akwa Ibom and Rivers and slightly less to get to Delta, Imo and Anambra states.”

One of the military checkpoints in Cross River State where the truck driver was extorted N1,000 . Picture by Ibanga Isine

But the Nigerian government has shown little or no interest in halting the criminal extortion by armed security operatives and gangs across the country, as shown by months of investigation by this newspaper.

An earlier report by this newspaper had shown how the prices of livestock and foodstuff across the country have skyrocketed as a result of criminal extortion by criminal gangs, security forces and fake state and federal revenue agents.

Despite promises by the government and authorities of the indicted security agencies to stop the menace, livestock and foodstuff dealers, as well as long-distance truck drivers, insist the ugly trend has persisted.

The earlier report had exposed how security operatives including the Nigeria Police, the Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) extort livestock and foodstuff dealers.

Others engaged in the shameful act are operatives of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), fake federal and state revenue officials and criminal gangs working for influential politicians.

The huge cost of beating the extortion routes

While many traders have continued to put up with the outrageous extortion along the Taraba, Benue, Cross River and Akwa Ibom routes, others in a bid to cut cost have resorted to a longer route.

Instead of the taking the Taraba, Benue, Cross River via Akwa Ibom federal highway which is less than 1, 000 kilometres, some traders from the far North now travel for close to 2, 300 kilometres to get to Port Harcourt in Rivers State.

For instance, they do a total of 532 kilometres from Yola to Kano and then another 427 kilometres from Kano to Abuja.

From Abuja, the truck heads out for Port Harcourt going through Lokoja, Okene, Auchi and Warri which is about 1, 300 kilometres.

For a trip that is supposed to take about 24 hours and a maximum of 1,000 kilometres, the traders now do a total of 2, 300 kilometres under a minimum of 72 hours.

One of the traders, Abba Ibrahim (not his real name) said he and many of his colleagues now take the long zigzag route which lasts between three to four days to convey livestock and foodstuff to South-south Nigeria.

“Instead of following Adamawa through Taraba to Benue and there to Enugu and then to Port Harcourt which is about 24 hours journey, we now go through Gombe to Kano and then link Abuja before heading out to Lokoja from where we get to Okene, Auchi and Warri before we get to Port Harcourt,” he told our correspondent.

“Sometimes it takes us four days to get from Yola to Port Harcourt and three days to get to Uyo when we go through the Kano.

“Along the Gombe to Kano to Port Harcourt route, we spent a maximum of N80, 000 only, to settle security operatives on the road while we spent between N300, 000 to N450, 000 when we use Taraba, Benue, and Cross River route.

Another trader, Saidu Babalaju, who spoke about his ordeal said, “We normally leave Yola in the morning and go through Gombe from where we hit Kano and arrive Abuja the next morning.

“We don’t go through Bauchi because security operatives and thugs along Jos and Lafia routes collect settlement from us.

“If we go through Nasarawa, we met them and so we cut these areas out and go through Kano direct and from there to Kaduna and then to Abuja.

“From Abuja we take Lokoja and from there, there are two roads; one from Okenne through Auchi to Benin and to Warri to Port Harcourt.

“The other road is from Okene we get to Agbo, and then move to Asaba through Onitsha to Awka from where we hit Enugu and Umuahia before getting to Port Harcourt.

“We pay very little taking the long route. We pay between N30, 000 – N80, 000 from Yola to Warri excluding the loading fees, veterinary and other fees we pay at the point of departure. But if we take Benue, Taraba, Cross River, we pay between N350, 000 to N400, 000 to security operatives and gangs,” he said.

A total of N14, 000 is paid to cover veterinary, union and loading fees at the point of departure.

While traders saved a huge chunk of funds they would have used in settlement by taking the longer route, many are said to have lost several animals on transit.

For instance, on April 11, our correspondent learnt one of the livestock dealers lost 18 cows while on transit to Port Harcourt.

This newspaper learnt the animals died before the truck could get to its destination due to the extreme temperature experienced in the far North during the week.

The temperature in Yola, Gombe and Kano was oscillating between 42 – 45 degrees, a situation which led to dehydration and fatigue which ultimately killed the cows.

With each cow selling for N230, 000, the unlucky dealer lost a total of N4, 140, 000 during the ill-fated trip.

But the situation could have been averted if the truck had taken the shorter route and had exited the northern high temperature and got into Cross River State which has a relatively lower temperature.

What possibly killed the animals?

Policemen extorting from motorists at a checkpoint in Taraba State – Picture by Ibanga Isine

In the course of the investigation, our correspondent spoke to two veterinary physicians who insisted the cows might have died as a result of bacteria-induced stress, dehydration caused by high temperature and starvation.

A veterinary doctor with the Akwa Prime Hatchery and Poultry Limited in Uyo, Ebereobong Umoren, said the animals might have suffered from what he referred to as “transit fever” which is caused by a certain bacteria.

According to him, while the animals are on the ground, they could have the parasite without developing life-threatening complications.

“But during transit, the parasite causes stress in the animal and this result in some of the fatalities recorded,” he said.

When transporting animals, he said consideration is given to the number of animals loaded and the temperature likely to be experienced.

If the anticipated temperature will be high, the expert insists that it is safe to transport the animals in the night

But because of some reasons including the need to escape extortion routes, livestock dealers take rather long distances and expose the animals to excessive fatigue.

“In such cases, other preventive measures could be explored, like pouring water and feeding the animals on the road. Where none of these is done, a lot of fatalities will likely be recorded.

“Besides, most of the cattle dealers don’t seek professional advice. They simply load the animals anyhow and then move during the day when the temperature is too high. They also carry more animals than necessary in a single load,” he maintained.

Continuing, he said, “Just like human beings, if you are travelling, you will take some rest along the way especially if it’s a long trip. Even the vehicle needs rest so the engine can function maximally.

“In the case of livestock, you know they cannot complain. The only way they could complain is either become lame or die on transit. Those that die would have been stricken by the bacteria I told you about but healthy ones would go lame are the healthy.”

Umoren, therefore, advised that before animals are transported especially to long distances, they should undergo a minimum of three-day treatment.

While the cost for treating about 20 animals is N50, 000, the animal expert said much depends on the relationship between the livestock owner and the professional.

“The other professional advice we give is that the traders should always ensure that the drivers stop on the way so water can be given to the animals. But where it is not possible to give then water to drink, they can at least pour water on the animals to reduce the body temperature so they can withstand the stress and get to the final destination.”

Collaborating Umoren’s diagnosis, a veterinary doctor with one of the major security agencies in the country, Adaeze Ibe (not her real name) said the animals might have died as a result of overloading, high temperature and hunger.

She said, ‘One of the problems would have been overloading where the animals don’t have enough room or space to move.

“With the kind of temperature we had at the time, it is inevitable for the animals to choke especially when they are taken over a long distance.

“When the packing density is too high and with very little room for air to circulate and for them to move around, it results in a fatality.

“Another cause of the mortality could be starvation and dehydration because they rarely feed the animals while on transit. They are supposed to stop and give the animals water if they cannot feed them.”

She advised livestock dealers always feed animals while on transit but if food is not readily available, they should be given water to reduce the level of dehydration, especially during the period of extreme temperature.

“High temperature and dehydration could lead to shock and the animals would collapse and die. The animals usually suffer suffocation due to packing density,” she advised.

How relevant authorities fail to rein in extortionist operatives

Despite several engagements with key stakeholders including the police, the army, federal and state officials from Adamawa, Taraba, Benue and Cross River, the nuisance has continued.

The engagements, which started in late 2016 and continued till date, have failed to check the criminal activities on the nation’s highways.

This reporter obtained the first sets of petitions by the leadership of the Amalgamated Cattle Dealers Association of Nigeria (ACDAN) to the governors of Benue, Cross River and Taraba states.

The letters dated December 16, 2016, were also addressed to the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and the Inspector General of Police (IGP), requesting urgent action to save the businesses of the cattle dealers.

IGP Mohammed Adamu.

Counsel to ACDAN, Amuda Kannike, who signed the separate petitions titled: “A Case of Unscrupulous Oppression, Extortion, Undue Harassment and Inhumane Treatment,” said his clients buy and transport cattle from the North for sale in the South-South states.

Kannike, a professor of law and senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), stated that his clients have endured the excesses of the operatives and sundry tax collectors for too long and were compelled to bring the matter to the attention of the authorities.

The legal luminary listed the locations where his clients are extorted, harassed, and oppressed as Yola in Adamawa State, Lau, Jalingo and Wukari in Taraba State, Zaki Biam, Vandekya and Katsina-Ala in Benue State, Ogoja, Ikom, Obubra, Ugep and Gakem in Cross River State.

He said security operatives in connivance with youth who pose as state and local government task force impose all sorts of taxes and rates on cattle dealers while conveying their animals to the South-south states.

The petition listed some of the taxes and rates as livestock levy, transporters tax, haulage, annual movement permit, levy, entrance fee, safety and security check as well as gate pass, among others.

“Some of our client members who at one time or the other attempted not to yield to the demand of these officers and members of the Task Force narrated to us their ordeal and very ugly experience in the hands of these roadmasters,” part of the petition reads.

“These men, most of whom are above the age of 45 years are made to do ‘frog jump’, face the scorching sun and thereafter pay the taxes and rates as well as penalty for refusing to pay in the first place.

“We find it pathetic especially in view of the stress of the long journey which our client members endure all the way from Adamawa to Akwa Ibom State coupled with further physical and psychological torture which they are subjected to by these offers.

“We, therefore, have our client’s firm instruction go bring this most unfortunate development to your attention with a view to stemming the tide of this unprofessional conduct,” the legal practitioner wrote.

The letter was copied AIGs Zones 4, 6, 7 as well as the commissioners of police in Adamawa, Taraba, Benue and the Cross River states.

Kannike, however, contended that the charges on the cattle dealers are illegal and have no basis in Nigerian laws.

Being Nigerian citizens with rights enshrined in the country’s constitution, he said the traders are entitled to go about their lawful businesses without any form of harassment and extortion.

However, on April 17, 2017, the then IGP, Ibrahim Idris, deployed the Special X-Squad Teams to dismantle all illegal checkpoints across the country.

The directive was contained in a statement signed by the former Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), Jimoh Moshood.

“The Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, has deployed Special X-Squad Teams of the Force across the country to commence with effect from Monday, April 17, 2017, the removal of all forms of illegal blockage of highways and roads, and other obstructions on public highways and roads created by unlawful revenue/tax collectors, road transport unions, labour and trade-related unions inhibiting vehicular movements and smooth passage of passengers and goods and other road users across the country,” part of the statement reads.

“The Special X-Squad Teams deployed are under strict instructions to also arrest, investigate and prosecute any person or group of persons found committing this illegal act.

“It is unlawful and contrary to the laws for any individual, or group under any name to take laws into their hands and block any road or highway in full or any part of it under the guise of collection of revenue/tax or enforcement of interests of such organisations.”

The IGP advised relevant state governments, local government councils, boards of internal revenue service across the country, transport unions, labour and traders associations that it is against the law to create a blockage and restrict the public from the free usage of roads and highways in the country.

Despite the deployment of the IGP’s Special X-Squad Teams and engagements the governors of the contiguous states, the criminal extortion continued.

However, not ready to allow the brigandage to continue, the leadership of ACDAN in March 2018 again wrote to IGP, the COAS and the Senate President, drawing attention to the menace.

It was the National President of the association, Abdulhamid Maina and the National Public Relations Officer, Aliko Mohammed, who signed the letter.

Titled, “Letter of Complain,” the association drew attention to the IGP’s order for the dismantling checkpoints across the country.

The group regretted that the police and the army were colluding with criminal elements to extort over N300, 000 per truck from cattle dealers.

“They are not checking anything; rather, they are collecting money on each truck. The police and the army are collecting N1,000 per truck while the jangali (gangs) are collecting N20, 000 per truck,” part of the letter reads.

“Mostly in Taraba, Benue, Kogi, Enugu, Anambra, Edo, Cross River, Abia and Imo states, the army and the police are conniving with villagers to intimidate our people by beating and destroying our trucks and livestock.”

    ACDAN, therefore, appealed to the COAS, the IGP and the Senate President to urgently address the situation so their members would have a sense of belonging in the country.

    The letter was signed and received at the army headquarters and the office of the IGP respectively on March 22, 2018.

    But more than one year after, cattle and foodstuff dealers in the country are still being extorted and the criminal act has significantly turned up the cost of food and goods, leaving the average Nigerians to pay dearly for them.

    This investigation is supported by the Ford Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR).

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