The inability of the Benue State government to upgrade the Zaki Biam International Yam Market despite the huge revenue being generated from the market is raising concerns, HEMBADOON ORSAR writes.
Approaching the entrance of the Zaki Biam International Yam Market, one could easily notice the untarred road and the absence of other basic amenities.
Considered as the largest yam market in West Africa, the market is located along Zaki Biam-Dangoa road in Ukum local government area of Benue State.
The market provides a huge revenue base for both the state and local governments, given the large number of trucks loading yams and exiting the market from Monday to Saturday.
Though insecurity in the Sankera axis almost crippled activities in the market, the recent ban on motorcycle operators popularly called Okada by the state security council was a relief for the yam farmers and traders who stopped farming and trading due to persistent attacks by the bandits.
Added to this is the loose security in the market, as all the five exit points could not be closed, which led to frequent attacks by bandits, a situation that almost crippled activities at the market.
An assessment by LEADERSHIP Sunday revealed that the market was poorly constructed, even as the absence of water makes it almost impossible for traders and customers to use the toilets.
In a chat with the acting chairman, Association of Yam Shield Owners and Yam Sellers at the market, Mr John Terkura Anda, he said the market and traders were suffering setbacks following the absence of basic amenities.
According to him, over 160 trucks loaded with yams exit the market every week apart from Sundays.
While commending the federal government for the construction of two warehouses, a police post and offices at the market to address the problems of storage and insecurity, the chairman said the contractors executed shoddy jobs.
“There are five drainages but none was reconstructed, so during the rainy season, the market will be flooded and trucks will find it difficult to gain access and because of this, the union had to construct one drainage,” he said.
“Though the federal government built a security post, we are also appealing for the extension of solar lights in all parts of the market.
“The borehole and toilets built by the federal government are not functioning due to the shortage of water because the sumo is faulty and cannot pump water. We are appealing to the government to assist us because the borehole is now an abandoned project,” he said.
He added that drivers of each truck load of yams pays N3000 to the local government, aside the monies collected by the Benue Internal Revenue Service (BIRS) amounting to N480,000 per week.
The chairman also disclosed that the yam market has a total of 650 yam shops popularity called shields, adding that the union is responsible for the payment of security personnel.
On how the union raises money to pay the security personnel, Anda explained that each yam shop was mandated to pay N1000 weekly to help them offset the bill.
He pointed out that poor access roads to the market leads to congestion and traffic gridlock.
Vice President Yomi Osinbajo had inaugurated two warehouses, offices and a police post at the market, with a promise that the federal government would provide access roads and street lights.
Osinbajo, who performed the virtual commissioning from Abuja, said the market accounted for over 70 per cent of cultivated yams in the country.
According to him, over 200,000 tubers of yams go out of the market on a daily basis.
Osinbajo explained that the facility would also serve as a meeting point for all the regulatory bodies, including the Bank of Industry (BoI), adding that shared facilities are expected to expand production by Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).
In his address, Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom acknowledged that the deliberate policy by the federal government to intervene in the informal sector is strategic to revamping the economy.
Ortom maintained that the facility had directly impacted on millions of poor households and would go a long way in supporting livelihoods, prevent post-harvest losses and ensure food security in Benue and beyond.
“The location of the project in Zaki-Biam (the traditional yam-producing area of Benue) is therefore strategic, as the facility will serve as a hub for Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba states,” the governor noted.
He called on the federal government to end the consistent free entry of armed herdsmen from other countries into Nigeria.
“We believe that the time is ripe for the federal government to revisit the protocol on free movement of people among Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) member countries.
“Benue is ready to provide food for the entire country, but the activities of the Fulani herdsmen have continued to thwart this effort,” he said.
Following the security situation in some parts of Sankera axis, the Benue State security council banned commercial motorcyclists in Katsina-Ala and Ukum local government area of the State.
Our Correspondent gathered that the council has also banned illegal revenue check points in the affected areas to stem the rising crime that claimed many lives within two weeks.
The permanent secretary, Bureau of Internal Affairs and Special Services, Mathew Uyina, who disclosed this recently, explained that having considered the security situation in Katsina-Ala and Ukum areas of the state, the security council banned Okada riders in the two local governments.
“The use of motorcycles is hereby banned in Katsina-Ala and Ukum local government areas till further notice. Only tricycles also known as Keke Napep and other means of transportation will be allowed in the two local governments,” he said.
Uyina also mandated security operatives to arrest defaulters of the directive and impound their motorcycles.
He also warned that aside the revenue collection point at the head bridge in Katsina-Ala, no other revenue point would be allowed within the local governments.
“All staff of the Board of Internal Revenue Service (BIRS) are expected to wear customised jackets and identity cards for easy identification,” he added.
He also urged security agents to dismantle all illegal revenue collection points and makeshift shops, adding that loitering at Katsina-Ala Head Bridge was also prohibited.
“I want to warn that henceforth, loading and offloading of vehicles at Takum Junction and Katsina-Ala head bridge has also been banned,” Uyina added.
He advised residents of the affected areas to go about their normal activities without fear of molestation.
Some of the traders who spoke to our correspondent including Chia Swem, Rhoda Samu and Kyaan Number lamented that aside poor access roads, water and other basic amenities, multiple taxation is another major problem facing farmers at the market.
They pleaded with the federal government to rescue the farmers from over-exploitation.