In the last few days, Nigeria has witnessed a chain of violent incidents ranging from clashes between peaceful protesters and hoodlums, burning of public and private property, looting of shopping malls, banks and warehouses.
Similarly, highbrow estates, private homes of politicians and businesses linked to prominent individuals have also been attacked and torched. The arson and looting campaign began the morning after the shooting of the #EndSARS protesters by soldiers at the Lekki Toll Plaza on Victoria Island, Lagos.
In what appeared like a spontaneous reaction to the attack on the peaceful protesters, some aggrieved persons set ablaze the BRT Bus Terminal at Oyingbo; the premises of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) and Vehicle Inspection Office located at Ojodu/ Berger; the broadcasting studios of Television Continental (TVC); the Corporate Headquarters of The Nation Newspaper; the Lagos State Government Civic Centre at Oregun; the Ikoyi Prisons, as well as several police stations in Lagos.
The palace of the Lagos monarch, Oba Rilwanu Akiolu, was also not spared by the rioters. It was invaded, ransacked, vandalised and looted. The vandals carted away all they could including money and the royal staff of office, the symbol of authority and majesty of the king who escaped death by the whiskers. All these happened when Lagos was supposedly under a 24-hour curfew.
The attacks have the semblance of a coordinated operation with clear objectives and targets. We, therefore, implore the Lagos State Government to probe this unbridled and unrestrained violence and damage to both public and private assets in the city of Lagos. This violent trend had since spread to other states of the federation, but the method has now changed to attacks on police stations and looting of their armouries and raid on prison facilities and releasing their inmates.
In most states, there were attacks on buildings suspected to be warehousing food items donated by the government and corporate organisation for distribution to Nigerians during the COVID-19 lockdown. We condemn in the strongest terms this widespread orgy of violence and we urge all those behind it to desist from further attacks on lives and property. We understand that many Nigerians are aggrieved over the attack on the people’s right to freedom of expression and association, but we urge them not to despair.
Indeed, we should persevere in the face of adversity. Even though the #EndSARS campaigners have been forced out of the streets through the attacks by the hired thugs, supporters of the fight against police brutality should understand that they have made their point and things can never be the same again. In the near future, there would be ample opportunities for Nigerians to put forward all the other demands for political, social and economic reforms in the country. In the meantime, we commiserate with all the families that may have lost their loved ones or valuables during the protests.
We believe that this spate of violence was avoidable and could have been averted if government had taken certain proactive steps to attend to the basic needs of the average Nigerian. We commend the various state governors that imposed curfew on their states to prevent the violence from spreading to more places.
However, we observe with great pains how these protests have exposed the underbelly of our nation and our government’s legendary incapacity to live up to its social contract with the people. It is quite amazing how many public and private buildings were set ablaze in broad day light in Lagos without the Federal Fire Service and the Lagos State Fire Service responding to the emergency and putting out the infernos.
In other parts of the world, situations such as the ones witnessed in Lagos could have been an opportunity to test the preparedness of our fire men and rate their capacity to respond to emergencies. We also noticed a general failure of our security agencies to secure lives and property. Perhaps it is the understanding that our security agencies would not respond to distress calls that encouraged those who unleashed this wave of destruction to public and private property to embark on their mission.
In the same vein, the ease with which the prison gates were forced open with little or no resistance from security operatives, especially prison guards, speaks volumes of the nature of our public institutions including paramilitary agencies.
The most embarrassing scenes of this unscripted drama were the discoveries of large warehouses where tons of COVID-19 palliatives had been hidden in several states across the country. These were food items that ought to have been distributed to citizens in the heat of the global pandemic when the government imposed a lockdown on social and economic activities in the country. It is a big shame that while millions of Nigerians starved during the lockdown, the various state governments hoarded these palliatives.
It is unfortunate that these food items are now being discovered by angry citizens when a lot of the food packs had almost reached their expiry dates. This action of the state governments smacks of sheer greed, wickedness and a high level of insensitivity to the plight of the masses. We urge the state governments to investigate the perceived hoarding of these food items and bring all perpetrators to justice. We cannot expect to have peace and tranquillity when food meant for citizens are left to rot away in hidden warehouses while millions of our citizens are hungry and unsure of the next meal. Let the events of the last two weeks serve as lessons to both the government and the citizens of our country.