Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, has blamed rising cost of food items on corrupt practices of men of the Nigeria Police, Nigeria Army, and Nigeria Customs Service.
Ogbeh told stunned members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture that the extortionist practices of the uniformed operatives especially at the numerous check points and ports was responsible for the acute hunger in the land.
The minister spoke at the 2017 budget defence of his ministry.
He noted that despite having written formally to the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, Comptroller General of Customs, Hameed Ali and other heads of security agencies against the unhealthy situation, the fraudulent practices remained unabated.
Ogbeh said: "One of the factors responsible for the high cost of food items is the daily unbearable extortions men of the Nigeria Police, their counterpart in the Army and Customs Service visit on truck drivers conveying farm produce from the hinterland to urban centres under the guise of carrying out security checks.
"These truck drivers based on raw lamentations made to the Ministry in recent time, alleged that at every check points, they are always forced to part with reasonable amount of money by any group of the security agencies, which they said, made farmers to have no option than to factor cost of the extortion into prices of the food items".
Ogbe also listed other factors that affect government's agricultural policies including high cost of diesel which now sells for N300 per litre .
He noted that because trucks conveying farm produce are powered by diesel, the cost of diesel affect the cost of the produce.
He also said that the treaty on free movement of goods and services put in place by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) among member states, paved the way for movement of not less than 300,000 trucks of grains outside Nigeria on daily.
The Ministry of Agriculture, he said, cannot check such huge movement of grains outside the country..
He assured that the federal government would soon reduce prices of food items following the Presidential committee set up to that effect.
He however said that farmers were already kicking against the move to reduce the prices of food items.
Ogbeh noted that farmers were angry with him over the move to reduce prices of food items because they see the subsisting situation as very favourable economically to them.
He said: "The situation on ground as far as high prices of food items are concerned is one of a dilemma to me because while the city dwellers are unhappy with us, farmers are very happy and seriously kicking against any move to tamper with their happiness by cutting down the high price of farm produce for now."
The Minister said one of such farmers asked him recently in Katsina not to tamper with the present price of food items.
The farmer, he said, claimed that he made N4 million from the sales of Sorghum which had catapulted him from the realm of poverty to that of affluence.
He said that another farmer in Anambra state claimed to have made N1 million profit from sales of rice as a result of the current market price.
Ogbeh told the committee that his Ministry's 2017 budget would be driven by the need for food security in the country.