The looting of warehouses where palliatives donated by a private sector ledcoalition (CACOVID) to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable in the society threw up some issues.
The looting became something of a by-product of the #EndSARS protests that shook Lagos and the entire South. In the North, it wasn’t so much about the #End- SARS protests but in the end, the streets in both the South and the North spoke in unison – there is untold hardship and hunger in the land. From Maza Maza in Lagos, the looting spread quickly all over the country.
Youths flooded the streets looking for palliatives’ warehouses from Edo to Adamawa, from Osun to Plateau, from Ebonyi to Kaduna. Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, was not spared either. Unfortunately, as frequently happen in such matters, what started as search for food items by hungry Nigerians quickly degenerated into vandalism and wanton destruction of properties of both governments and private individuals.
The youth looted everything in sight. The Customs House in Kaduna was stripped bare. Office furniture, fitting, TVs, air conditioners and just about anything that the horde could lay their hands on were stolen from buildings across the country.
Now, why would supposedly hungry people after ransacking warehouses used to store COVID-19 relief materials also remove these other office equipment? Well, it could be argued that many of the youth involved in the mayhem and carnage just wanted to grab something, anything, that they could then sell to buy food.
Howbeit, this does not, in any way, justify the vandalism and sheer magnitude of destruction that took place across the states. In the same vein, nothing can justify the keeping of palliatives meant for vulnerable and longsuffering Nigerians for unduly long period of time. State governors vehemently denied the widely-held belief that they were hoarding the palliatives for whatever reasons.
They maintained that they stored palliatives in their warehouses so as to have a strategic reserve ahead of a projected second wave of COVID-19. Some governors even insisted that they received their share of the palliatives only recently, yet it is public knowledge that some other states had distributed their share of the relief materials to their people. How did this disparity in the timeline of receipt of palliatives happen to engender such huge difference in the timeline of distribution across states? The issue of the second wave of COVID-19 is also problematic.
The state chief executives want Nigerians to believe that the palliatives were being stored for an anticipated second wave of the ailment. This is laughable if not for the seriousness of the matter. What second wave are they talking about? Don’t people need to survive the first wave and be alive to receive relief materials for the so-called second wave? Did the governors tell the people that they had received such materials on their behalf?
Why was the whole thing shrouded in secrecy? People only got to know of the palliatives after the looting started. It is because of this lack of transparency that Nigerians don’t trust their leaders, and this experience has further eroded that trust. Again, the talk of second wave just shows the extent of our aping of Western models.
The fact that second wave of COVID-19 was anticipated in Europe and North America – and many countries in those places are actually in the throes of a second wave of the pandemic – does not mean Nigeria was also going to experience a second wave.
At any rate, the experience of our first wave didn’t suggest a second wave. Many state governments have fully opened up their economies with schools, worship centres and businesses back in full swing.
The question, therefore, is why open up your states fully when you’re expecting a second wave whose time of appearing you don’t know? Their defence leaves so much to be desired to say the least. For the avoidance of doubt, Nigerian leaders need to know that people are not deceived.
Only God knows what their plans were for the palliatives; one lawmaker in Lagos even said he was going to distribute looted palliatives on his birthday as if he got them with personal funds. Many governors issued threats that they would go from house to house to retrieve the looted items yet they couldn’t go from house to house to share the palliatives which were already going bad in several cases. During the looting spree, many youths showed they were prepared to risk anything even death just to live.
It is an existential paradox and Nigerian leaders must not lose sight of. Many of the leaders were running scared, not knowing if they would be attacked at some point. They must learn from this experience, jettison their arrogant attitude and not allow a repeat. They must do the right thing by their people all the time and not loot the people’s commonwealth. A word is enough for the wise.