From COVID-19 pandemic to looting pandemic by Lateef Adewole

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Residents looting food and household items loot
Residents looting food and household items
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The Insight by Lateef Adewole

“The children of the poor you failed to train will never let your children have peace”. – Chief Obafemi Awolowo

There was a comedy skit I watched few days ago. A rich man owed someone who did a job for him but he refused to pay him. Despite all the appeals from the creditor who is of lower financial status, he still refused. The next thing the creditor did was to go out, make a call to some guys apparently in some community and told them he has located a place where palliatives were stored. Within a short time, mob invaded the rich man’s house, ransacked it, and looted everything and anything in sight. One guy even looted the man’s young beautiful wife (lol).

Funny but not funny. The above narration depicts the new pandemic that we have been facing in Nigeria in the past 12 days. I was deliberate about the specific period because that has been a subject of arguments among many people. It is now twelve days since the unfortunate shooting incident at Lekki took place. I also deliberately chose my words here too. I will return to that later.

According to the dictionary, “a pandemic means something that is prevalent over a whole country or world”. We are already too familiar with that word since coronavirus happened. That was in the context within which we understood it. In the past ten months, the virus spread like wild fire, wrecking global health and economic havocs and it brought nations to their kneels. Nigeria had her own fair share and we are yet to come out of it. Then from the blues, #EndSARS protest broke!

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For almost three weeks now, Nigeria has witnessed an unprecedented upheaval from protests, riots, and all kinds of disturbances. But the dimension that the whole thing took in the past twelve days became worrisome. While the genuine protesters have been “forced” to retreat and leave the streets, all kinds of people have taken over, committing all sorts of acts, most of which are criminal and even sacrilegious.

Like I said earlier, for the first twelve days peaceful protests took place in many parts of the country. In the process, thugs infiltrated and began to attack police officers, burned stations and carted away guns especially in Lagos. In Edo, two prisons were attacked and inmates freed. In Abuja, hoodlums who looked like they were sponsored, threatened and later attacked peaceful protesters, burned cars and properties. All these were criminal, condemnable and unacceptable.

#EndSARS protesters across Nigeria are calling for an end to police brutality Lekki
#EndSARS protesters across Nigeria are calling for an end to police brutality

However, it must be noted that throughout this period, particularly in Lagos, private businesses and Government offices were still in operation and nothing happened to them. The thugs seemed to have axe to grind with the police while hiding under the protest.

But the escalation of this crisis started on the night of Tuesday 20th of October, 2020, after the shooting incident at Lekki. I avoided talking about “killings” since it is now a subject of investigation at the panel of inquiry set up by Lagos state government, following the controversies that have surrounded that night. In my assessments, many people who were previously peaceful in the earlier twelve days became outraged by the “shootings”. They went wild.

From that night, they started burning assets of Lagos state government, FG and those of political leaders associated with the government. BRT buses, LG secretariats, NPA building, media houses, cars, banks, and others were attacked and burnt down. These actions were unnecessary and not justifiable.

Soon enough, full-blown criminality entered it. Private businesses became targets. Offices, shopping malls, and market places were attacked, all the goods stolen and some burnt. It gradually got worse. A warehouse full of Covid-19 palliatives which were donated by the private sector CACOVID was discovered in Maza Maza, Lagos. It was looted for hours by thousands of people. This soon became frenzy.

Information about “new discovery” of palliatives warehouse in Lagos spread across the country. Other locations were found in Lagos too. Before you could say Jack Robinson, the whole country was battling with massive looting of warehouses where palliatives were stored. In fact, warehouses of many private businesses also suffered.

Like in Lagos, shopping malls and businesses were targeted. Everything in them was stolen including furniture, freezers and air-conditioners and personal effects. Then, houses of few prominent politicians were attacked in Calabar. We saw video clips of how people carried mattresses and toilet seats. Who does that? A car was set ablaze. That was callous. All these started from the south.

We thought we had seen it all until the videos from the north began to flood the social media. They were worse. And the most spectacular till this moment was that of Jos in Plateau state. I can’t remember the last time I saw such crowd. Not even during political campaigns. The warehouse in Jos was besieged and cannibalized. People were so much that the whole city was grounded for hours by traffic jam. Hundreds of people climb the roof just to have access. They removed the roof sheets and collected the packages through the openings.

Some of the looted home appliances recovered by the Lagos Police Command
Some of the looted home appliances recovered by the Lagos Police Command

In other areas, hospitals, agricultural stores, NAFDAC offices, drugstores, Customs offices, NYSC camps, etc. were raided. Even tractors were stolen. While the situation is mellowing in the south, it has not abated in the north. Daily assignment of many young people now is to search for warehouses where palliatives were stored. Security agencies are having hard times to contain it given the widespread and since they too are endangered. The situation became complicated. Thousands of people have been arrested, but where will they be kept?

For those who tried to read ethnicity into the protests, that is largely not true. Although, the infiltration by some irredentists fueled such impression especially the voice note from Nnamdi Kanu which went viral. This gave opportunity to the government and the political class who were jolted to their marrows by the huge success of the protests. They began the usual “divide and rule” tactics which have kept the masses in this miserable situation for decades due to their disunity.

Such was first observed when the northern sections of the country suddenly turned back from the #EndSARS protests and we began to see Pro-SARS groups. We know that style. It is the “modus operandi” of the political class. And unfortunately, many naive and ignorance citizens do fall for it. Some do so because of their own greed since such “anti-people” positions often come with greasing of the palms.

The story in Lagos and south-west was that the Yoruba economy was being attacked, particularly as they affected Lagos state. While people are entitled to their opinions, I did not see how the shop owners and businesses, whose offices were burgled by the attackers, were profiled to separate the Yorubas from the Igbos or Hausas from the Yorubas. Apart from the well-known big organisations affected, other victims are random individuals. They just happened to have their businesses at these locations.

I watched as some owners of these shops and offices were interviewed on live television. Mr. Okey Adibe, the owner of Clayarts Place in Lekki, struggled to hold back tears as he answered questions thrown at him. He must have cried a lot before. He said what was ruined in a matter of few hours was his labour of over 35 years. He said he has been in Lagos, living and working hard that long, and considers himself a Lagosian. He is an Igbo man by birth. Likewise many others too. So, the issue is not about religion or ethnic differences but wholly bad governance.

At the height of the rage, a mob of protesters went to attack a police station at Fegge in Onisha, Anambra state, after they have attacked many others. All the police officers on duties were reported to have ran for dear lives except the DPO. His name is CSP Rabiu Garba. He is a Northerner and a Muslim. The mob stopped immediately they saw him. They started singing his praise. He addressed them and they left. Why? because he has been good to the people in his handling of security matters within his jurisdiction. He was seen as fair-minded, disciplined, sincere officer who sees the people as his own. He was said to have dug a borehole in that community to provide portable water for them, among many others things. He is still a police officer.

And did we see any segregation based on ethnicity or religion among the looters? Even in the north where ethnicity and religion were employed to sabotage the peaceful protests, when the looting began, did anyone see that difference again? All that concerned them was how to carry as much as they could from the loots. There was unity of purpose.

This should serve as another lesson to leaders that they may try to divide the people using religion and tribe, so long they continued to plunder the country into ruins as we have seen over the years and citizens become impoverished, disenchanted and desperate, there will always be times when the hunger and suffering will unite the people against their leaders.

Also, the common narrative was that the people breaking into the warehouses where palliatives were stored are hoodlums. This is not entirely correct. The kind of people we saw on those videos are not all hoodlums. There were different categories of people involved. There were actual hoodlums who are criminally minded. There were multitude who were genuinely hungry. There were others who felt the palliatives belong to the citizens and hence, nothing is wrong in carrying them away. They believed they were only collecting their own shares. Other ones were simply angry at finding such being hoarded and saw the opportunity as punishment for the political leaders.

This categorisation is with respect to palliatives. Breaking into other struggling citizens’ shops and businesses, and ruining them by clearing them out, is completely criminal and callous. Many of these owners are victims of bad governance like them too. A man said their shop inside Shoprite Plaza in Surulere was looted last time when there was a reprisal for xenophobic attacks in South Africa. They lost about 20 milion naira. All promises to them by the government were never fulfilled. They went and borrow another 30 million naira from a bank to start all over. Same shop was vandalised again. Where would they start from? This is the story of many others.

There have been arguments on how to situate the looting of the palliatives. Was it right or wrong? There are those who concluded that stealing is stealing. Many of them look at it from the religious perspective. There are those who believe the citizens merely took what the political authorities hid from them. After all, we read about a lawmaker who used the same palliatives to do her birthday and another who claimed those found his possession were kept to do giveaways during his upcoming birthday too. Who are these people actually representing?

If people who were hungry found out about some hoarded palliatives, I will not blame them for taking what they want to eat. But removing windows, roof sheets, or burgling the properties and businesses of private individuals in the process is completely wrong.

As we await the outcome of various Judicial Panels of Inquiry across the country particularly that of Lagos which has additional mandate to investigate the Lekki shootings, these incidents should teach our political leaders some lessons and I hope they learn from them. By now, they should have realised that the power they wield actually belongs to the people. And they better do right by them to avoid a repeat of forceful demand for it by the citizens as we saw.

The youths should sit back and restrategise if they actually want to make real gains from all that happened. They too should learn their lessons from the unfortunate incidents. One major way is to begin sensitisation towards 2023 political elections. They need to get organised and galvanised. Surely, the ruling elites would have started doing everything to break their ranks after this experience that got most of them ran away or holed up in their safe haven. How could leaders run from those they claim to lead? Something is definitely wrong somewhere.

All efforts at rescuing Nigeria from the demagogues will amount to nothing with this jaundiced electoral process. Youths should begin to pressure the National Assembly and the executive arm to sign the new amendments into law. All cries for youths to get registered, collect their PVCs, join or form new political party and contest for political offices will be useless with a defective electoral system as we have now. We hope the president will sign new amendments into law now since his ambition is no longer on the way. Professor Yakubu has also been reappointed. He should do right by Nigerians for posterity sake.

These rampaging lootings by the citizens, not just youths or hoodlums, need to stop now. Hoarding such relief materials is evil on the part of the governments if they truly did. We should continue to reflect and learn from this experience.

May God continue to protect and guide us aright.

God Bless Nigeria.

Lateef Adewole is a political analyst and social commentator can be reached by email [email protected] or via WhatsApp +2348020989095 and @lateef_adewole on Twitter