James Emejo in Abuja
The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is currently working with various farmers-crop producers, poultry and tractor services associations-to design a mechanism of providing special passes to be recognised by the security agencies to facilitate free movement of food stuff, perishables, farm inputs, livestock and fish amid the current lockdown in some states to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Security agencies officials at both states and federal levels have also been mandated to within the framework of the Federal COVID-19 Emergency Action Response Plans with relevant law enforcement agencies to develop modalities of ensuring easy movement of foodstuff, livestock and farm inputs.
These were contained in a communique at the end of the meeting of the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Sabo Nanono, with the Ministers of Defence, Interior and Police Affairs on emergency response to COVID-19.
The communique, which was signed by Nanono, further recommended that the relevant security agencies should work in a coordinated way with clear instructions and directives to law enforcement agents at the various checkpoints to facilitate the passage of vehicles conveying foodstuff, perishable farm products, livestock and farm inputs without compromising national security or health measures.
It followed recent complaints of extortion by the police and other security agents who hindered the free flow of essential commodities during the ongoing lockdown in some states.
Only recently, the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, Nasir Sani-Gwarzo, expressed dismay over the alleged extortion and delay of legitimately certified transporters by men of the police, military and other security operatives nationwide.
He said their actions served as a huge obstacle to the directives by President Muhammadu Buhari for the free-flow of the delivery of foods and essential commodities across the country to alleviate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The permanent secretary who is the head of Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) had while receiving briefs from its Committee on Sustainable Production and Delivery of Essential Commodities, lamented that despite reporting the development to the higher authorities of the Nigerian Police and the Security Task Force of COVID-19, the complaint still persisted.
He lamented that: “It is very unfortunate that despite the intervention and escalation of the police extortion and by the military and other security agencies to their heads, the situation still persists.
“This is a great blow to the noble directive of the president for an unhindered movement of essential commodity across the country, but we will not stop until the situation is addressed.”
Nonetheless, the communique further mandated that Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and law enforcement agents under the guidance of the four ministers to set up joint technical task team to draw guidelines to ensure the safe operations of farmers/grains markets, livestock and poultry markets as well as dealers and sellers of agricultural inputs during the COVID-19 crisis.
The proposed joint task force will also work with state commissioners of police, commandant of civil defence corps and other senior military officials in the states to respond rapidly to any reported logjam involving foodstuffs or livestock.