On the heels of the recent #EndSARS protests in Nigeria, mobs of angry citizens overran several government-owned warehouses and looted food items meant to be distributed to the poor and vulnerable as coronavirus palliatives.
On the whole, lootings were reported in 9 states of the federation including Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), where storage facilities holding tons of relief materials were burglarized and looted.
A private sector coalition against the coronavirus, known as CA-COVID, had collected tens of millions of dollars’ worth of aid for coronavirus victims and donated them to the government for distribution to the poor who have been more negatively impacted by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. But many state authorities have halted distribution of the aid since the easing of lockdowns.
Some Nigerians accuse authorities of hoarding items meant for them while millions of people are hungry, following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, which exacerbated hunger for many of the country’s extremely poor, who are in the region of 83 million, constituting about 40 percent of the population, according to the National Bureau Of Statistics.
The can of worms opened by the discovery of hoarded food items in some states of the federation as indicative of the general systemic failure that has been the bane of Nigeria’s stagnated development, alongside the lack of transparency and accountability by the occupiers of public offices, which was responsible for the general skepticism that accompanied government’s initial proposal to distribute palliatives to poor and vulnerable Nigerians, following the lockdowns induced by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Another disturbing part of the whole drama is the seeming disconnect between the federal and the state governments over which level of administration was supposedly responsible for the delay in the distribution of the looted palliatives. While the federal government claimed to have distributed the food items to the states for onward distribution to the needy in their constituencies, the states have denied hoarding the palliatives, claiming that they were being kept in anticipation of a possible second wave of COVID-19 infections in the country. So, who’s lying here?
More disturbing is the possibility that there might be more skeletons in the cupboard of the federal government as regards the execution of its COVID-19 intervention programmes across the country, for if a government cannot be transparent about mere food distribution, the million dollar question is, how can Nigerians be expected to believe that the purported cash disbursements that were made to Nigerians during the lockdown was not a phantom show? Who knows how much was actually released for the exercise, how these monies were distributed, and to whom? What happened to the remaining cash, the one not disbursed? Where is it lodged? Who lodged it? So many questions are begging for answers.
WAY FORWARD: The labeling of the food scavengers as “looters” by the government and continued threats to deal with them are nothing but poor attempts at damage control, face-saving strategies by a government that has been sorely exposed by its vigilant followers as fraudulent and uncaring. So, rather that continuing with its game of blames and threats, government should take stock of its losses from the recent upheavals across the country as collateral damages, learn its lesions, hard as they might seem, pick up the pieces and move on.
The truth is that there is poverty and hunger in the land, which, despite not being good enough reasons to engage in brigandage, are sure recipes for chaos, for as Chuwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu would say, “a hungry man is an angry man, an angry man is an unreasonable man, and an unreasonable man is a violent man”. Nigeria’s ranking as the poverty capital of the world, makes it a mighty laboratory waiting to explode, if nothing is fundamentally done to redress the unjust social imbalances in the country that enriches a few at the expense of the many.
God bless Nigeria!