EXCLUSIVE: How poor planning, logistics, politicians’ interference, others marred launch of Lagos discounted food markets [PHOTOS/VIDEOS]

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By Toyibat Ajose, Alagbe Shenayon Elisha, Adelani Khadijat, Adekanla Esther

 

Lagosians were full of expectations last week when the Babajide Sanwo-Olu-led Lagos State Government announced plans to launch special food markets across the 20 Local Governments and 37 Local Council Development Areas offering discounted prices on important edible items.

NewsClick Nigeria reports that the ‘Ounje Eko’ initiative which kickstarted on Sunday, March 17th, 2024 was conceived to help cushion the effects of the prevailing economic hardship faced by Nigerians owing to the policies of the incumbent administration. According to the government, the markets will offer Lagos residents a 25% discount on staple food items like rice, beans, gari, bread, eggs, tomatoes, and pepper.

Sighting a possible hijack and diversion of the discounted items, the government in a statement signed and released by the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso on Friday, said voucher system will be introduced.

“In order to prevent sharp practices and ensure the foodstuff reaches a large number of Lagosians, a voucher system will be introduced as the pilot scheme kicks off,” the statement read.

“Independent payment solution providers and food vendors have been identified and carefully selected to operate the process. They will also provide real-time data on the exercise for monitoring.

“For the purpose of transparency, prices of the items have also been listed. A 5kg bag of rice would sell for N5,325 while 1kg goes for N1,065; 5kg bag of Beans – N6,225 while 1kg would sell for N1,245. Prices of other staple food items will also be made available through various media outlets.

“The markets will be open at 27 locations in Ikeja; six in Lagos Island; nine in Ikorodu; five in Epe; and 10 in Badagry divisions.

“Mr. Governor has called on all Lagosians to cooperate with the operators at the various locations, monitor the process, and provide feedback through official channels of the Lagos State Government,”

However, despite the clear terms of engagement as stipulated by the Lagos State Government, field trips by NewsClick Nigeria reporters to the various market locations across the 57 locations showed non-compliance.

 

Late arrival/non-availability of vouchers

NewsClick Nigeria reporters observed that in most of the locations visited, vouchers meant to procure food items either arrived late and in some cases not even available. According to the state government, markets were supposed to commence selling by 11am on Sundays in designated locations. However, despite arriving most of the centres as early as 9am, our reporters fed back that there was little or nothing on ground to suggest selling activities would commence anytime soon in some centres.

The situation at St Thomas Primary School, Badagry was so bad that vouchers had not arrived till 1pm. Up till 3pm when our reporter left for other locations in that axis, selling had not yet commenced. However, this was not the case in the two other designated locations in Badagry. Though, selling was behind schedule due to logistical challenges as explained by the vendors, however, sales soon began and people were orderly. Sales was also smooth in some locations on the Island and Mainland. This includes Ibeju-Lekki, Itire Ikate, Ajeromi-Ifelodun, Aradagun in Badagry and other locations visited.

‘I skipped church today because of this market. I have been here since 8 am and this is 4 pm, yet I’m yet to buy a single item. Not Rice, Beans, Gari or pepper. Why waste people’s time when you know this programme wasn’t well planned?,’ a woman lamented to NewsClick Nigeria at Igando High School, accredited location for Ikotun-Igando, LCDA.

Meanwhile, some of the vendors explained that their lateness to the locations was not deliberate.

“Our not coming on time is beyond us. Plans were well laid out to eliminate late arrival of items and early commencement of sales but things didn’t go as planned and we apologised to the people who were patiently waiting before our arrival,’ one of the vendors told NewsClick Nigeria.

 

Politicians invite unaccredited vendors, inflate prices of items

Our reporters observed some grassroot politicians hijacking the smooth process by bringing in unaccredited vendors from normal markets to rival those accredited by the government. This led to hike in prices of items. The accredited vendors were told to either adjust their prices or forced to leave the locations.

At same St Thomas Primary School, Badagry, an accredited pepper vendor from the popular Mile 12 market identified as Taiye had packaged his items in the stated Kilograms (Kg) and price tags. However, no sooner had he settled to start selling that other unaccredited vendors trooped in their numbers with scantily packaged items and almost doubled price tags. When Taiye protested, the politicians who acted like coordinators told him to either adjust his price regime or leave the premises.

‘They are not following guidelines and we are surprised to see our everyday market sellers also bringing their items to sell here. This is a clear disregard for Lagos State Government directives and we won’t let it stand. If you go to the Rice, Beans and Gari vendors, you will notice the vendors trying to play a fast one on the people. They had prepackaged the items before bringing them to the venue and when we weighed them, some 5kg tagged items weighed 4kg while some weighed 3.5kg or 3kg,” one of the visibly angry customer told our reporter.

 

Cash payment over ATM cards

Despite clear warning by the Lagos State Government on non-cash deals at the markets, findings by NewsClick Nigeria revealed that many of the vendors resorted to receiving cash. According to some, the reason was as a result of instability of the banks’ networks.

‘The non-cash transfer strategy is best for us at least for accountability and safety. Nobody wants to move cash that might be hijacked by waiting hoodlums. However, we are all aware of what happened a few days to our networks with the subsea cable damages. Most of the banks networks are either down or have transactions pending for days. This is why we resorted to receiving cash for those that have it so they don’t end up not buying anything. And we also attended to those whose bank ATM services were in good shape,” a vendor said.

 

Unannounced change of selling locations

Another drawback to the ‘Ounje Eko’ initiate was the unannounced change of proposed locations. At a point, different version of  circulars announcing locations were flying around on social media and people found it difficult identifying which is real or fake.

However, the version obtained by NewsClick Nigeria from the Lagos State Government official social media handles, indicated 57 locations across the Local Governments and Council Development Areas.

Our reporter observed that the location approved for Agege Local Government, Keke High School was empty all through Sunday and there was no notice or signage directing people to another location.

“We came here hoping to buy discounted food items like other locations but we were shocked to find the school empty and no directive whatsoever to another location. This school is strategic in this area and can be easily identified so I don’t know why the sudden change of location without prior or immediate alternative,” a disappointed resident said.

It was a similar case in one of the locations in Badagry, however, the new location was within approachable distance.

“Our location was also changed unannounced but we were lucky that the new place is within a stone throw to the former place. However, we feel there should have been a prior notice to this change,” a concerned resident said.

Efforts by NewsClick Nigeria to reach the Commissioner of Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotosho for comments was unsuccessful as at press time. However, an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak said all the lapses were kindly noted and will be improved upon before next Sunday.

“We read and heard of some lapses, particularly the ones you brought to our attention being a responsible media organization and I can also you that the government will work on them and ensure such do not repeat itself coming Sunday,” he told NewsClick Nigeria in a telephone interview.