Drivers transporting perishable goods blame rising food costs in the southeast on touts

By Okey Sampson, Umuahia

Perishable goods transport drivers under the Truck and Bus Drivers Association of Nigeria (TABAN) have blamed the rising cost of food in the South East on the activities of hoodlums who harass and extort money from their members.

The drivers’ union alleged there were more than 2,000 checkpoints on federal highways in the southeast area where touts collected more than 20 different levies and taxes.

Drivers who have made this known while protesting the thugs’ activities have said that the taxes paid by the drivers are then passed on to consumers, resulting in soaring food prices in the market.

The protesting drivers who barricaded the Lokpanta axis, Umunneochi LGA, Abia State of the Enugu – Port Harcourt highway, lamented that they lost more than 5 drivers and 3 vehicles at the hands of the thugs who beat their limbs and destroyed their vehicles for non-payment of what they described as “illegal levies” on federal highways.

Association President Mr Okezie Okeke lamented that they had spent over N500,000 on hospital bills for many drivers who were beaten for refusing to pay what he described as the “illegal levies” charged by touts along federal highways.

The president revealed that they petitioned Inspector General of Police Usman Baba Alkali who ordered most of the thugs arrested on federal highways, but they returned to their nefarious activities within a few days.

He listed the worst areas where thugs beat drivers for refusing to pay illegal revenue including Lokpanta, Obollo Afor, Okigwe Junction and Umuikaa Junction among others.

“The Southeast zone could soon face a food crisis if the activities of illegal thugs are not controlled on all federal highways in the zone. Truck and bus drivers transporting perishable goods from the North to the South East are daily beaten and their vehicles destroyed for refusing to pay more than 20 different fees charged by these thugs.

“The activities of these touts who claim to work for both state and federal tax collectors are the reasons for soaring perishable food prices in the Southeast.

“We transport perishable goods such as okra, tomatoes, vegetables and onions from the North. We don’t have a problem in the North, but the problem starts as soon as we get to Obollo Afor in Enugu to other cities in the South East.

“The thugs will hit you and destroy your vehicle if you don’t pay the over 20 different fees they charge. We have paid over N500,000 in hospital bills for our drivers who were beaten by the touts.

“Three days ago they beat up our driver at Amansea, he is still in hospital while his bus loaded with perishables has yet to be seen. We have lost more than 5 drivers and vehicles to them. At night they rob drivers at these checkpoints.We will be withdrawing our services soon if the government does not address the issue.

“We call on the five Southeast Governors and the Southeast State Houses of Assembly to quickly arrest the thugs and find out who is holding them accountable, as their activities are causing more hardship for Southeast residents.”

He said the South East would soon face a food crisis as they threatened to withdraw their services if something was not done quickly to control the touts’ activities.

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