Looting, looting and looting everywhere. From Lagos to Ibadan, Ibadan to Benin, Benin to Ilorin, Ilorin to Jos, Jos to Abuja, the stories were similar. Nigerians trooped out in their hundreds to loot COVID-19 palliative warehouses as they “discovered” them in different states of the federation. It was indeed a sorry sight, with the number and calibre of people that were involved – mothers and fathers, accompanied by their children that are of age and minors. They did not mind the risk of getting hurt in the process. Even some law enforcement agents that tried to ward off the looters ended up joining in the looting, as seen in some videos that went viral. It became a case of “If you can’t beat them, join them.” It was a looting spree.
One could see the desperation in the eyes of the people. All they wanted was something to eat. There is serious hunger in the land! You only need to see the videos of the looters to understand the level of hunger in Nigeria. Some people I interacted with were full of regrets that there were no palliative warehouses within their vicinity so that they could also have a share of the “national cake.” A woman that was interviewed by one of the television stations at the Abuja scene said, “We are possessing our possession.” Funny as it sounded, there was a hint of truth in what she said because indeed the palliative materials were meant for the common Nigerians.
States like Sokoto and Abia quickly swung into action and distributed the palliative materials because they were not sure what could happen next. The most interesting was Kogi State, where the looters stormed the warehouse at the point of loading the materials for distribution to different local government areas, according to news. One wonders why they all had to wait until that moment before distributing as expected.
Why is our government expending energy at discussing how to apprehend looters? Why are they not looking at the damage bad governance has done to the country? Why are they trying to treat the symptoms instead of looking at the root cause?
The feedback from most of the states was that they received it from the Federal Government in September and were just in the process of distributing the materials to the people that qualified for them. A friend that works with the Lagos State Government confirmed this and said some staff at the Secretariat had received the palliative materials. Come to think of it, are the employed qualified to receive the palliative materials? Why will the materials be given to people that could buy while there are millions without any means of livelihood? That is a wrong approach. Many families with children go to bed everyday without food in their stomach, yet there was food meant for them locked up in warehouses across the nation. Some people accused government at state levels that state palliative materials were shared only to party faithful while opposition and others were left out.
While I condemn outrightly the looting exercise especially because it degenerated to pure robbery where some hoodlums broke into and looted personal properties of innocent Nigerians that are equally clamouring for better government, the threat by the different state governors that they would arrest and prosecute looters of COVID-19 palliative materials is what I call “Much Ado About Covid-19 Palliatives Looting.” The question is how will our government identify the looters? I watched a video of the plenary session in Lagos State House of Assembly where one of the legislators said the looting and destructions were not borne out of anger and hunger. What then was the cause? This same Lagos House of Assembly member was later exposed to have used the same palliatives meant for the poor and needy as souvenirs during her birthday party. Is that not enough to instigate anger?
Why is our government expending energy at discussing how to apprehend looters? Why are they not looking at the damage bad governance has done to the country? Why are they trying to treat the symptoms instead of looking at the root cause? The approach of government at different levels is uncalled for and indeed a show of shame. Why so much ado about retrieving the loots instead of addressing the main issue that sparked off the fire of hunger and anger? Why wouldn’t the government spend precious time developing strategies for corrective actions to forestall recurrence?
It is apparent that our leaders are living in self-denial. They believe social media is unnecessarily exaggerating the issue of poverty and hunger in the land. Our leaders live in opulence and so much comfort that they fail to understand the extent of poverty in the land. Poverty level in Nigeria pre-pandemic was estimated at 86.9 million people, which was 42.3% of an estimated 205.3 million population. These jumped to 105.1 million people post-pandemic which is 51.1% of the population. Poverty threshold is $1.90 which is less than N1,000 at current exchange rate. How will a family feed on this? The most disheartening is that the escape rate from poverty is a negative of -4.4 people per minute meaning that more people will descend into poverty every minute in Nigeria (Reference: World Poverty Clock).
Sometimes, one wonders what our government does with the quantum of data available at the National Bureau of Statistics. The data appeared gathered to “fulfill all righteousness”. On the other hand, maybe they also do not trust the source and efficacy of the data provided by the bureau. I was listening to a radio programme recently where an Economist was analysing Nigerian economy; he referred to a recent report on the poverty level in Ekiti State, which to him was a false report. He faulted the data gathering process, which led to the flawed outcome.
The happenings that trailed the #EndSARS protest in my opinion, is an indication that Nigerians have lost faith in the leadership at different levels of government. They believe that if they do not take the palliative materials by force it will never get to them. No amount of threat, plea or persuasion will make them return what they have looted. To every looter, that is their own share of the national cake. The style of government currently is like government of the people against the people. It is different from democracy, which is government of the people for the people and by the people.
Nigerian government should engage the youths in productive ways, appreciate their creativity and support them to excel. Battling the youths and looters on media should not be the key issue right now. It is indeed a wrong approach.
Still in reference to the Lagos House of Assembly member. She said the level of drug use was high amongst the youth, and that was why they perpetrated the dastardly act. Her position is questionable anyway. But has she never heard of something like “an idle hand is the devil’s workshop”? Youths are energetic, vibrant and can be very restless at times. Our society has suppressed their creativity and rendered them unproductive. They wake up every day with no hope in sight. How frustrating that can be. How demoralising that can also be. And our Lagos lawmaker madam thinks they needed to take drug to seize the slightest opportunity to free themselves from the shackle of slavery? I need to tell you that that is more than insulting, madam. Drug abuse is a menace which of course requires the attention of the government more than ever. But it would be wrong to say that was the reason for the actions of the youths over the need to end police brutality and the eventual turn of event.
Nigerian government should engage the youths in productive ways, appreciate their creativity and support them to excel. Battling the youths and looters on media should not be the key issue right now. It is indeed a wrong approach. The learning curve for the government should be how to bring government closer to the people, strengthen grassroots governance and make the people feel the impact of government. The local government level of government has become passive, with little or no impact on the people. The local government should be restructured, empowered and made autonomous. Consideration should be given to creating more local government areas because the population is growing, farms are fast becoming towns with more people moving to the hinterland because cost of living in the cities have become unbearable. Yet the structure has remained as it was.
I would rather advise the government to channel the energy that is currently being used at apprehending looters to formulating policies and putting structures in place to address hunger and its consequences. The threats by the state governors are inappropriate responses to the action of a hungry populace that is in desperate need of food. That will not work. Address the issues raised with sincerity of purpose. Be determined and solve the problems. Put all machinery in motion and ensure that the ultimate goal of making every Nigerian a human being is realised.