The Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) has denied an allegation by food sellers that its officers extort money from foodstuff dealers at certain quarantine posts in the country.
In a statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday, NAQS spokesperson, Chigozie Nwodo, said all the claims from the food dealers are false.
Daily Trust reported that members of the Food Stuff Dealers Association of Nigeria (FSDAN) had threatened to embark on a nationwide strike if the multiple quarantine posts allegedly erected by the officials of NAQS are not dismantled immediately.
In the petition issued on Sunday by FSDAN chairman, Christian Afiaonwu, the food sellers said they were concerned about multiple quarantine posts on roads in Benue State and brazen extortion of their members.
They said the quarantine posts in Kastina Ala and Orokam both in Benue State are illegal.
In response to the claims, the agency said the accusation of extortion against NAQS officers was made out of bad faith.
The statement said it is standard practice for NAQS to inspect agricultural commodities on transit within the country.
“As the single point of command for all agricultural quarantine activities in Nigerian, NAQS has a duty and responsibility to control and prevent the introduction, spread and establishment of diseases and pests of animals, plants and aquatic resources”.
He said NAQS is obligated by its enabling laws to police the Nigerian agricultural economy and “to safeguard it from all discernible threats that could undermine its integrity”.
Mr Nwodo said siting of a quarantine post is the exclusive prerogative of the federal government as provided for by the NAQS Establishment Act 2018 and the Animal Disease Control Act of 1988.
He said the positioning is done with the approval of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD).
“The Control Posts are all fully captured in the Official Gazette of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. (No. 77, Vol 106).”
Mr Nwodo said NAQS established the Interstate control posts within the North Central zone of the country to mitigate risks of the spread of diseases and pests all over the country.
Vehicles carrying agricultural commodities from the far North pass through that axis to the South and vice versa, making it imperative for NAQS to establish Interstate Control Posts there, the spokesperson explained.
He said NAQS erected an Interstate Control Post at Katsina-ala because that location fell within high traffic animal trade routes.
He also mentioned that the post at Orokam was established because that is the gateway into the South-East.
Mr Nwodo said NAQS officers at the quarantine posts collect only user fees, the service charge payable for the inspection and certification of agricultural products.
“The user fees are legal. They are provided for in the NAQS (Establishment) Act.
The User Fees on agricultural commodities were agreed upon and approved by stakeholders involved in the Implementation Committee on Curtailment of Cattle Rustling in Nigeria and on Multiple Taxation by the Nigerian Police.
“NAQS operates under Category B of the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2008 and remits 25 per cent of the User Fees to the consolidated revenue fund of the Federal Government,” he added.
Mr Nwodo said NAQS does not require additional payment when a truckload has a valid receipt and movement permit for a specific route on a particular trip.
He said that NAQS is pro-business in orientation and cannot levy multiple taxes on agricultural products.
“The agency is one of the key drivers of the implementation of Executive Order 001 on the Ease of Doing Business. This is particularly why NAQS is insisting that state government not station their revenue collectors on the federal highways.”
He said the supposed food dealers union had been obdurate in its campaign of blackmail and intimidation against NAQS.
“The members of the union are in the habit of violently obstructing the conduct of routine quarantine procedures”, Mr Nwodo said.
“They have refused to change their ways in spite of the several meetings and sensitization engagements the Agency have initiated to win their peaceful cooperation.”
He advised members of the association to stop at the quarantine posts for inspection of their agricultural products instead of creating chaotic scenes that could cause avoidable accidents at the posts.