Nigeria

#EndSARS Bruises: Booting for Looting

By Eddy Odivwri

During the week, most Radio stations in Lagos ran a debate on the morality of the lootings that took place in the last one week. The question was whether those who broke into several warehouses across the country to cart away stored-up palliatives committed any offence.

Expectedly, opinions were sharply divided. While many explained that the looters acted rightly by “possessing their possessions”, others argued that what the looters did was pure crime, as long as they broke into warehouses without the permission or approval of the custodians or keepers of the warehouse.

But those who justified the looting asked why the food items were hoarded since April/May by those who were meant to distribute them to the people. So the question that kept ringing out is why did the government not share or distribute the palliatives during the lockdown?

‘For a fact some of the food items in some warehouses were already expired or going bad.

Nigerians were shocked at the level of deprivation that the government across board had inflicted on the Nigerians people. Its recalled that some of these palliatives were donated by private corporate organisations like CACOVID and co. So it is shocking to see those same items hidden away in several warehouses in the country.

Many contended that it amounted to wickedness on part of the government to have stored up the food items while hunger and lack was wreaking havoc among the people during the fierce bite of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the governors, smarting from the embarrassment the discovery caused them, explained lousily, that the said food-items were being stored to be given to the masses when the second phase of the Corona virus infection comes.

It was a vexatious excuse. Why hide away what can save me today? And plan to give it to me tomorrow, whereas I need today to be able to access tomorrow. You keep palliatives for the future. What if the prospective beneficiary does not survive today? It is a great folly, if not executive deception.

With the breakage and looting of several warehouses in Lagos, Kwara, Osun, Abuja, Akwa-Ibom, Delta, Edo, Adamawa, Jigawa etc., it is certain that most governments at sub-national level are very detached from the pains and desires of the people.

However, if the looting had ended with the raid of the warehouses for palliatives, perhaps the argument could be strongly made that they were acts necessitated by hunger and the physiological need to satisfy the pangs of hunger.

But how do we explain the looting of private homes of individuals? How do we explain the looting of tractors (in Adamawa), looting of school buses and computers in Jigawa, pulling out of ‘Jalingo’ signpost, or the removal of Ekiti House of Assembly signpost.

Yes, the anger triggered by the Lekki shooting had resulted in some crass damages like the destruction and burning of NPA Building, BRT Terminal at Oyingbo, Ikotun etc, as well as the burning of TVC The Nation newspaper.

If the burning of TVC and The Nation Newspapers is based on the suspicion that the owner of the two media houses, Senator Bola Tinubu was behind the invitation of the Nigerian Army to the Lekki shooting saga, (even though the truth about it is now coming clearer), so what explains the burning down of the Igbosere High Court and almost all the documents thereof?

The fact that crass criminals hijacked the protests is no longer in doubt. The raw brigandage that followed and still reverberating in some states bespeaks of the danger in the land. It all indicates that there are so many criminals out there in town that are only being contained and reined in by the law enforcement agencies.

From all indications, the legitimate protest served as the booting process for the unchecked looting that eventually took place. And once the chance came, criminals in their thousands, across the country, swooped on society, raiding and wrecking everything on their way.

The spate of lootings have thrown up a number of issues.

One of which is the degree of hunger in the land. The fact that the people were first very excited in ‘discovering’ many warehouses containing food items which were supposed to serve as palliatives, means that the issue of feeding is still key among the people.

The volume of youths who trooped (and still trooping) out in each city/state to raid and loot speaks to the huge number of unemployed youths in the country.

Yes, unemployment is high. Hosting such raw energy and sitting idle all year long, the idle youths are like a keg of gunpowder, waiting to explode with the slightest spark.

That spark was the Lekki killings.

Another fall out of the #EndSARS protest is the widening gulf between government and the governed. The character of the aftermath of the crisis has further shown that beyond the core issue of trust, there is some hatred of government by the people.

It is not for nothing. The government has several times in the past, failed the credibility test among the people. The fierceness and depth of the damage to government property and assets is an indication of the deep-seated anger and hatred against government.

Bad and despicable as it is, the attack on private properties and investments may be interpreted in some quarters as the rise of the “oppressed” against those perceived, rightly or wrongly, to be their oppressors.

In Ibadan, the looters swooped on the home of Senator Teslim Folarin and raided the home, carting away over 300 motor-cycles that were supposed to be distributed to the youths of his constituents, as constituency project.

In Jos, the hoodlums had also raided a warehouse, some breaking into the warehouse from the roof. Such was the desperation. They went on to sweep clean the private home of former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, carting away practically everything in the house including electronics etc.

In Calabar, the hoodlums raided the homes of Senator Gershom Bassey and former Senate Leader, Senator Ndoma Egba, and later set them ablaze.
Across board, the looting of private homes of those perceived as “Big men” was common.

The manner of the looting sometimes reflects the criminal tendencies in the people, and not necessarily a quest to quench hunger. For instance, those who raided the NYSC camp in Abuja, carting away mattresses and uniforms meant for corps members, are not looking for what to eat. Same way, those who wanted to swoop on the Customs armoury in Adamawa, leading to the death of one looter, were certainly not doing so because of hunger. They are just criminals. And sadly, there were some parents who went with their children on those looting expeditions. It speaks to how social morals have collapsed in the country.
In kaduna, the hoodlums had raided a warehouse containing treated seedlings meant to be distributed to farmers for the next planting season. It had to take NAFDAC announcing that the seedlings were not fit for consumption having been treated with chemicals.

It is instructive that in all the cases of these mindless lootings, the police seemed to have gone on long holidays. It was only few days ago, after the directive of the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, that the Police have started arresting the situation.

In Lagos over alleged 520 hoodlums have been arrested. In Lagos, six policemen were killed, over, 22 police stations were burnt, 37 police vehicles were burnt, 80 BRT buses were burnt, innumerable private cars and vehicles were either burnt, raided or destroyed.

Shops and major Departmental stores in Suru-Lere area of Lagos were raided by fierce hoodlums, whom the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila has said ,”are not Suru-Lere children”. So, Mr Speaker, where did those hoodlums come from? Is the Speaker saying or implying that “Suru-Lere children” are so disciplined and holy that they cannot engage in looting?
By last Tuesday, another set of hoodlums continued the attacks on Mile 12 market, raiding and robbing traders. Trucks carrying food stuffs were burnt.

Chaos and pandemonium had seized various neighbourhoods. Great was the damage.
The Lagos State government has estimated the cost of rebuilding the state at N1 trillion.

It is interesting to hear that the 72-hour deadline given by Osun State governor, Mr Gboyega Oyetola, for hoodlums to return all the items they looted, has started yielding fruits as many hoodlums have started returning what they stole.

In Lagos, the traditionalists were relieved when they heard that the Staff of office of the Oba of Lagos which was also carted away when the palace was raided, has been returned.

The consequences of these lootings and destruction are far too grave for the people.

Yet, they will be borne by the people—Looters and non-looters alike.

The first noticeable consequence is the inflation that the chaos has triggered.

Cost of food items especially, have jumped high, ostensibly because of the shortage of food stuff supply, what with all the curfews announced by several state governments across board. The people are already groaning.

Transportation will become more difficult in densely-populated cities like Lagos, where over 80 BRT buses have been burnt.

Ironically, it is the ordinary citizens who will bear the brunt of the arising hardship. Primero, the operators of the Blue BRT buses in Lagos have already announced the suspension of their service.

Already traffic flow has been chaotic since the crisis also chased away the LASTMA officials out of the roads.

Many filling stations have long closed their stations with the few selling, besieged by long queues of motorists.

On a larger scale, the damage to the economy is huge. Not only has the destruction caused the loss of jobs—imagine the drivers and other ancillary staff of those burnt 80 BRT buses, the owners of the many shops that were looted and destroyed. How would they recover their individual economies?

Such chaos and social upheavals are bound to scare local and foreign investors.

Which investor would knowingly plough huge sums of investment into an unstable economy and society?

One other fallout of the crisis is the avalanche of Fake News. It was just everywhere, no thanks to the abuse of the Social Media. Old and photo-shopped video clips were being circulated.

At the onset of the crisis, they had claimed Bola Tinubu had fled to France, supporting the claim with an old video of a Tinubu walking very fast to catch a flight. That his son, Seyi had been flown in a private jet to London. A fake tweet was also circulated where Tinubu was said to be begging the mob not to kill his son as he was not the one who invited the military to Lekki tollgate.

There was another video that claimed the soldiers were arming Fulani youths in Badagry preparatory to attacking southerners. It was an old video of surrendered arms during the amnesty offer to Niger Delta youths. The fake news purveyors changed the narrative.

But the worst of them all was in claiming that Prof Wole Soyinka had ordered that all Igbos should leave Yoruba Land.

Clearly, there was nothing farther from the truth. It was all meant by the IPOB campaigners and other enemies of state to cause divisive and huge tribal disaffection that could trigger ethnic unrest. Thankfully, the plot failed.

Perhaps one of the gravest fallouts of the crises is the credibility concern for Governor Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu over the invitation of the soldiers who eventually shot and killed some protesters.

On his Wednesday, October 21 broadcast, Gov Sanwo-Olu had given the impression that he was not aware of how the military invaded the Lekki tollgate. He said the authority that brought the soldiers to the tollgate was clearly beyond him.

He had claimed that he had complained about how the military invaded the protest ground at Lekki tollgate. As he put it: “for clarity, it is imperative to explain that no sitting governor controls the rules of engagement of the military. I have nonetheless ordered an investigation into the rules of engagement adopted by the men of the Nigerian army that were deployed to the Lekki tollgate last night…”

The above gives the impression that the governor was not aware of how the soldiers got into the arena.

But by last Tuesday, the Nigerian Army had issued a statement that they were invited to the scene by Gov Sanwo-Olu to maintain civil order. One of his media aides had gone ahead to claim that the governor had never denied inviting the soldiers. That was not the narrative in the public domain. If the governor was indeed the one who invited the soldiers, why was all the shenanigans on the issue of not knowing the “rules of engagement” in his broadcast? Didn’t the governor claim that he had called on Mr President twice when he heard that soldiers were at the tollgate, but that the President was not available for talks, thus giving the impression that he was helpless? If he had invited the soldiers, so why was he calling on the President? Why was the governor feigning ignorance about the coming of the soldiers? He claimed, in an ARISE TV interview that it was his wife and cabinet members that told him that soldiers were shooting at the protest venue. If he had knowingly invited soldiers, why was he surprised they were shooting? No wonder he was reluctant to admit that there were fatalities. He had earlier claimed there were no fatalities. Four hours after his broadcast, he tweeted to admit one person died. A day after, he admitted that another person had died from bullet wounds. Yet soldiers did not shoot at protesters!.

He had admitted that many were injured and some had undergone surgery. Yet, they claim solider did not shoot at unarmed protesters. That they shot into the sky. So those who were killed or injured were living in the skies? It is things like this that breach the trust quotient between leaders and the led. Now we understand why his mother’s house in Suru-Lere was also burnt in the ensuing rage.

This has surely dented the credibility of Mr Governor, and it will be a cross he’d have to carry for a long time to come. I think we should not bother asking who ordered the soldiers to shoot Soldiers are not policemen. When you invite armed soldiers to a place , what other “shooting instruction” would they need?
But hey, why did it take the military almost a week to admit that they were the ones who shot protesters at Lekki tollgate?

Were the soldiers merely gaslighting Nigerians?

Didn’t the soldiers claim that the story about their shooting protesters at the tollgate was fake? Didn’t they claim they were not behind the shootings? How can such a major national institution like the Nigerian Army engage in petty lies with all the videographic evidences that belie their claims?

Needless to say it was the shooting and killings that triggered the spate of attacks and lootings that has seized the country. If the soldiers did not shoot and kill protesters, the protests would have most likely ended peacefully.

Already sitting, is the judicial panel of enquiry into the shooting and killings at the tollgate. Nigerians look forward to what they will report back, provided its findings are not doctored. I say this because of the stories that participants have been asked to sign oaths of secrecy at the panel. Evil breeds in secrecy. It is ironical that a panel that is supposed to unravel all that were foggy in the crisis is already taking oath of secrecy. How can those sworn to secrecy be willing to reveal dirty dealings?

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