Why Nigerians broke into government warehouses in Lagos, Jos, Ilorin, Ede… [Topnewstv Contributor’s Opinion]
Following the wave of #EndSARS protest, Nigeria’s youth-led anger-driven demonstration against the inhuman dispensation of the Nigerian Police Force, some citizens began to mobilize to invade government establishments and stores. Why this first set of persons did that has remained unclear but poverty easily comes to mind.
On Oct 6, 2020, videos from Lagos monarch, Oba Akiolu’s palace went viral on social media. In it, hundreds of civilians were packing marked food items from a giant stack. These provisions were donated by CACOVID, a charity organization working with the Federal Government and World Health Organization to lessen the impact of Covid-19. The items were to be distributed to Nigerians as pandemic palliatives but they had been hoarded here.
These trending videos invited more people and in no time, the store was cleared. Reports state that the King’s staff of office also got stolen. The sack of Oba Akiolu’s palace inspired a chain of synonymous reactions. The video inspired more people to invade government offices & warehouses in Lagos and in other places like Jos, Ilorin, Ede. A Lagos Politician whose house also got invaded claims ‘he was planning to share the items on his birthday’ which was to come up two days after his home got invaded.
Nigeria has a frightening poverty presence. According to Aljazeera, Forty percent of Nigerians live below the poverty line. That is why people risked their lives to get packs of noodles and rice. Whilst most people were lucky to get away with their loot, some died as a result of an accident or police bullet. For context, a bag of rice now alternates between thirty three thousand and forty two thousand Naira. For the average Nigerian, that is unaffordable.
The revelation that the government hoards food meant to cushion the effect of the pandemic has been met by condemnation across several fronts. For a country with such a tall level of hunger and lack, hoarding food in a time of hardship is nothing less than criminal. Femi Falana told Arise News: “How can a government hoard Indomie? It’s intolerable, it’s provocative. Our government will have to apologize to the Nigerian people.”
But State governments have denied the accusations by saying the stolen items were reserved for special purposes. Some claim that it was ‘in preparation for a possible second wave of coronavirus infections.’ Kwara state Government said: “The palliatives recently donated by the Federal Government are being kept for further distribution to victims of the recent rainstorm.”
John, an Ilorin resident who took part in the looting at the state warehouse, spoke to me about what prompted him to take part in it. “I joined because of a lot of reasons that boils down to a point. I joined because I felt I had direct access to getting food which ordinarily is a bit expensive to get. You need to see the stuff I was able to get away with,” he claimed.
Like many others, John’s motivation leans toward lack. Many people in his shoes only see a chance — to fill the gap of their need.
Saheed, a University student said he had been anticipating the discovery of such a warehouse in his city of residence right from the time he heard about the sack of Oba Akiolu’s palace in Lagos. As fortune would have it, he was one of the first persons to access the warehouse when the looting began in his city.
‘I went straight inside to start packing stuff and then the police started firing their guns.’ Out of fear he ran out but the security personnel later called them to come back for their loot. Saheed dashed in again and this time, he packed more than the first time.
‘It was too much. I packed so much that I couldn’t handle them alone. Later, I cooperated with a stranger together with whom I was able to move my stuff.” At the end of the day, Saheed and his stranger-partner were able to get away with 50kg of rice, 6 cartons of noodles, 2 bags of sugar, 2 bags of semovita, and 6 packs of Spaghetti. How they pulled that off remains a kind of mystery. He claims to have given some to people out of his own share.
On social media, a lot of people have Okayed the decision of frustrated persons to ‘take what is theirs.’ Arguing that in the end, the stock always belonged to the people. However, people who believe otherwise have also aired their opinions. One of them is Zainab Ajumobi who lives in Lagos.
Zainab understands what may inform their actions: ‘ They are not exactly bad people. They are just the product of their environment which is corrupt and unjust.’ Yet she disagrees with their actions. ‘The fact that the government did not distribute it to them in the first place does not absolve them of the crime of stealing. That is a strong word but that’s what it is. They are now the same as the corrupt government officials.’
More than 483 persons have been arrested for crimes associated with looting, and law enforcement officers are still on the trail of others. The question of looting keeps getting dragged into the court of morality. When I ask John if he feels he has done anything wrong, he disagrees.
‘I don’t feel guilty because it’s something that was originally meant for the masses. So what’s the big deal in saving the government the undue stress of having to share all those foodstuffs? I’m not a criminal for taking what’s rightfully mine.’
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