By Omeiza Ajayi
The COVID-19 Pandemic brought with it so many things and even helped to expand the vocabularies of many students. For a long time, some were not conversant with words such as Coronavirus (a family of viruses to which COVID-19 belongs), pandemic and then, palliatives, which is often used in medical circles.
With COVID-19 came disruption of businesses and lifestyles, a development which forced the Federal and state Governments to devise ways of mitigating the impact of the pandemic on the people. That was how “palliatives” became a byword for foodstuffs, condiments and other relief materials that were put together by governments and individuals to assist the people.
However, as with nearly everything Nigerian, any attempt to solve a problem ends up creating another problem. In other words, a supposed solution usually turns out a problem on its own. This is because government policies are usually made without inputs from the people that such policies are meant for.
So, it was not surprising that soon after the #EndSARS protests were hijacked by hoodlums, things began to fall apart as hoodlums started wreaking havoc on public facilities and in the process, invaded a palace in Lagos where they carted away several things including foodstuffs. That incident opened the floodgates for further attacks on warehouses in Lagos and other states including the Federal Capital Territory FCT, Abuja. But it was not just hoodlums who invaded places. Majority of those who did were actually angry and hungry residents of those areas.
From the sublime to the ridiculous, angry residents not only invaded warehouses but also the residences of some current and past lawmakers. In one of such instances, they carted away even toilet seats and bath tubs. Then, police stations were also invaded. There are reports that some arms were stolen in some cases, while there have been reports about a particular station where one of the hoodlums reportedly stole two cartons of beer.
There have been jokes about the woman who went into a warehouse to loot and then forgot her three-year old son inside the facility; the motorcyclist who went to loot a carton of noodles and on coming out could not find his motorcycle. He dropped his noodles and went in search of his motorcycle. By the time he came back, he couldn’t find his carton of noodles, and ended up losing both ways; the university student who slapped a man for dragging a bag of rice with him, only to look up and discover that it was his Project supervisor. While these were just on a lighter note, they go to underscore the fact that those who looted warehouses and other places were made up of citizens of different strata in the society as opposed to labelling all the suspects as professional hoodlums.
Some looted tractors, vaccines, medical consumables, expired rigs, fertilisers (which they mistook for garri), fermented corn, goats etc. A particular man looted so much that Nigerians nicknamed him, Looter King Snr.
At a point, the Presidential Taskforce PTF on COVID-19, had to beg the looters to return vaccines and medical consumables stolen from government medical stores.
Minister of state, Health, Dr Olorunnimbe Mamora at a briefing in Abuja said; “Disruption of these (storage) conditions would render them ineffective and in some cases poisonous. The NCDC warehouse in Idu is used for the storage of medical and laboratory consumables and equipment.
“Destruction of these items will impact negatively on our response to this pandemic. I also call on all who are in possession of vaccines, medicines and other equipment and consumables to please return them. Those that can still be salvaged will be used and those that can not will be disposed off properly.”
One point to note is that there was no looting of warehouses until a day after trigger-happy operatives shot at protesters at the Lekki Tollgate in Lagos. Was that the trigger?
Being a centre of excellence, Lagos always comes tops in nearly everything in the country, especially because of its metropolitan nature which makes it a melting pot of civilisations.
It was therefore not surprising that looting of government-run warehouses and private buildings started there.
Here, hoodlums attacked a warehouse where COVID-19 palliatives were stored at Monkey Village in Mazamaza community of Oriade Local Council Development Area.
The Lagos High Court in Igbosere was also invaded. There have been fears that some court documents and exhibits might have been stolen in the process.
Television Continental TVC and The Nation newspapers were not left out.
For the nation’s capital, it was days of rage as hoodlums and angry residents invaded several warehouses and other storage facilities.
The first port of call was the warehouse at the Arts and Culture building in Area 10, Garki.
The youths, numbering over 40 had invaded the area last Saturday morning and made attempts to gain entry into the building to evacuate palliatives warehoused in the place by the Federal Capital Territory Administration FCTA. They were repelled by security operatives, but that was not before one of them advanced reasons for the attempted raid.
“Some people who were in charge of the palliatives were selling them to people. They would re-bag and sell some of the stuffs for between N2000 and N2500. That was why we said since it has gotten to this level, we have to break in”, he said.
Then, they went to the Idu Industrial Layout where even private warehouses were attacked. Thereafter, they went to Dakibiyu village in Jabi district and broke into a warehouse belonging to the National Emergency Management Agency NEMA.
The Agric store in Gwagwa-Tasha which is owned by the Federal Capital Territory Administration FCTA was also invaded, with the hoodlums carting away farming implements, fertilizers and others.
The hoodlums also invaded a warehouse in Gwagwalada where some of them said it would take them two days to be able to empty the large facility of stocks. Not done, they went to the Customs Training School, forced their way in, despite stiff resistance from security operatives, all in an attempt to cart away confiscated contraband.
In Kubwa, they invaded the NYSC Orientation Camp. Officials had a day before opened the gates of a warehouse within the camp to show residents that the place was empty. However, some hoodlums invaded the camp, attacking residents and carting away their personal belongings. The situation was such that apart from a contingent of security operatives on the ground, the Airwing of the Nigeria Police and the Nigeria Air Force NAF had to conduct aerial patrols of the area for over an hour.
In Jos, Plateau State, several facilities were looted including the house of a former speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara. He is from Bauchi but he has a house in Jos. Reports say the invaders moved tricycles, furniture, electronics, and other valuables out of the house.
In Calabar, Cross River State, over 50 public and private buildings, including the Pensioners Office on Asiya Ita street were looted.
Tricycles, water heaters, bathtubs, Air Conditioners, Speakers, Executive chairs were reportedly stolen from the Campaign office of a House of Representatives member, Hon Etta Mbora.
At the Calabar International Conference Centre CICC, stage equipment were vandalised, sewing machines stolen from a garment factory, while fumigating equipment, cartons of pesticides and others were stolen from other places.
Federal Psychiatric hospital looted
The Calabar situation was such that even the Federal Psychiatric Hospital in the city was looted and about 200 patients set free.
The private residences of Senators Gershom Bassey and Udoma Egba were also raised and vandalised. It was in one of these houses that even toilet seats were removed.
If one thought the looting in Calabar was massive, that of Adamawa was unthinkable. Here, hoodlums stole about 110 tractors and other farm implements from the North East Commodity Association NECAS Warehouse in Yola. There was nothing to show that those who stole the tractors were even farmers.
Not done, the hoodlums also broke into the main warehouses of the Rice Farmers Association and Maize Farmers Association of Nigeria, carting away valuables which include farm inputs and fertilisers.
They took away tonnes of rice, beans, maize, sorghum and millets, and computers, tables, chairs, office equipment, water dispensers and cash.
Hoodlums also looted Kwara Agro Hall in Ilorin, an agro resettlement centre, where they carted away Aluminium roofing sheets, mattresses, bags of cement and bags of flour among others. They attacked ShopRite and other stores in the area as well.
In Ibadan, Oyo State, angry residents made their way into a property belonging to the senator representing Oyo Central, Teslim Folarin where they carted away hundreds of motorcycles, refrigerators, grinding machines and other items which the lawmaker said were part of his “constituency projects”.
Residents invaded a facility owned by Osun Central senator, Ajibola Basiru where they took away motorcycles, sewing machines, fertilisers, power generating sets, grinding machines and freezers. The senator has insisted that the items were part of his constituency projects meant for the Federal Cooperative College, Ibadan.
Looters invaded a COVID-19 palliatives store, a SEMA relief store, and a NAFDAC store where expired and fake drugs were kept.
Kogi, Taraba and Sokoto states quickly took steps to disburse some of the remaining palliatives in their stores but the action seemed late. In Kogi, hoodlums invaded a warehouse and carted away foodstuffs. They thereafter invaded a medical store and vandalised the place, a development which forced the state Commissioner of Health, Dr Saka Audu to weep on national television.
The situation in Taraba was so pathetic as hoodlums invaded even schools, burnt their vehicles and vandalised equipment.
Angry residents looted a warehouse which they believed had palliatives. Unfortunately, the government said the residents looted phosphate which they mistook for Garri. Government also asked them to return the fermented corn and other thinks they took away from the facility, saying they are poisonous.
Arguments being made for the recent turn of events is that poverty is a major cause. Add illiteracy, anger, greed, fake news and hunger to the mix, then you have a cocktail, capable of disrupting the social order. The looters had a field day as policing had crumbled nationwide after police stations and officers were attacked in many parts of the country. There were fatalities. And the officers were yet to return to duty in many places up till yesterday the directives of the Inspector General of Police notwithstanding.
While Nigeria’s population is said to be about 200 million, statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics NBS show almost 83 million people, or 40 percent of the population, live below the poverty line of ¦ 137,430 a year. It goes without saying that there are people who do not make that much in a year.
Presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina believes that more than anything else, greed was responsible for the lootings. Speaking yesterday in Abuja, he said; “I wouldn’t agree completely with that (that the looters are hungry) because criminality is criminality. Would you justify armed robbery because the man was poor?
“Just as you can’t justify armed robbery because a man was poor and then he took a gun to rob another person, you can’t also justify the lootings that are going on. It is pure criminality.
“It is not everybody engaged in that looting that is hungry, that is the truth. It is pure greed and criminality”.
The development was also a show of anger and frustration at the inefficiency of government. With hunger in the land, many citizens wondered why it would take the government weeks or even months to distribute the palliatives to the people. This is in spite of arguments that some of the palliatives were received in August and even September.
Fake news played a great role in fuelling some of the invasions. Many were made to believe that every warehouse was owned by the government and they all contained palliatives meant for them.
If anything, one lesson that Nigeria must learn from the recent turn of events is that it must no longer keep for tomorrow what can be done today. The country’s bureaucracy is sickening. In spite of laws to the contrary, many hospitals would still not attend to gunshot victims until there is a police report. Budgets would not be implemented even where there is cash backing. Sometimes, projects are approved on paper and to get the needed cash for implementation becomes another challenge. Except we change our slow response to issues, people may continue to resort to self-help.
That said, the looting of police armoury must never be condoned. The police hierarchy must do more to recover all stolen weapons and ammunition.
Indeed, those who looted palliatives and those who hoarded them can best be referred to as pallia-thieves. There can be no justification in hoarding what was meant to be shared. Conversely, there is no justification for attacking strategic reserves – designed to cater for the rainy day, nor can there be any justification for looting Armouries and private businesses or residences. Governments at all levels must seek ingenious ways of bringing down the high cost of living. If a bag of rice continues to sell for between ¦ 28,000 to ¦ 36,000, there is no guarantee that residents would not break into warehouses to help themselves to some free scoops of the grains.
President Muhammadu Buhari must however understand that there is hunger in the land -not just for food but for justice.