Looting of COVID-19 palliatives has devastating effect on economy – Experts

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By Anayo Ezugwu

WHEN President Muhammadu Buhari addressed Nigerians over the crisis that followed the protest against the brutality in the country, he warned that the government would deal with criminal elements vandalizing public and private properties. The president’s warning angered the hoodlums who hijacked the protests into attacking government warehouses containing COVID-19 palliatives.

By Sunday, October 25, the warehouse attacks that started in Lagos had spread like a wildfire across the country. The warehouses hold tonnes of relief materials, including food meant for distribution during the lockdowns previously imposed to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

While the distribution programme had been temporarily halted across several states in the country in recent months, it emerged during the protests that relief items were still stored in some of these facilities, as well as the private homes of politicians. The news angered many hungry and angry Nigerian youths who broke into the warehouses storing COVID-19 palliatives in Lagos, Calabar, Jos, Osogbo, Ilorin, Kebbi, Jalingo, FCT, among others.

They said they were taking what belongs to them. They protested that it was wrong to hoard the COVID-19 palliatives meant for the people. It was a bizarre situation. Not all the looters were hungry young men and women. Some middle class persons also went with cars and tricycles and carted away their own part of the loot.

Some of the palliatives – bags of rice, sacks of garri, cartons of Indomie and other food items were found in private homes.  In Lagos, for instance, the majority leader of the State House of Assembly said the palliatives found in his house in Ikorodu were being kept for distribution during the celebration of his forthcoming birthday.

In Ibadan, another prominent politician from whose home over 300 motorcycles and 200 refrigerators were carted away said the materials were meant for the people’s empowerment. In Ilorin, Kwara State, soldiers were seen telling looters to loot peacefully and return peacefully! In Calabar, the home of Senator Gershom Bassey was raided. Furniture and other household items were carted away.

The event of the last few days really showed that Nigeria with more than 200 million people is the poverty capital of the world. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, more than 83 million people, or 40 percent of the population, live below poverty line of N137,430 ($381.75) annually, with millions depending on daily income for survival.

As the federal government and the security agents work to contain the looting of palliatives, economic experts have raised alarm that the wanton exercise is bad for the Nigerian economy. Aminu Usman, an economist, said inflation may worsen as a result of the activities of the hoodlums looting government facilities. He said the economic implication of the protests and its aftermath was better imagined as the economy was just recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, which caused it to shrink in the second quarter of the year.

“To say the least, we are certain to go into recession the second time within four years, having passed through the same in 2016. The economy now facing a second round of lockdown followed by devastating destruction of economic infrastructure means that the fourth-quarter Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will most likely be much worse than earlier expected.

“Lagos is the hub of the nation’s economic activities and a day’s slow-down will cost the nation heavily, talk less of the magnitude of the destructions to public and private investments,” he said.

According to Usman, the destruction of property experienced in Lagos may cause its economy a loss of potential private and Foreign Direct Investment, which is much sought after for development and job creation for the youths. He said no investor would invest in a state or country where resort to lawlessness had become recurring with government seemingly incapable of doing anything.

“The humongous amount required to put back destroyed and looted public and private properties as stated by the Lagos State Governor means that the public treasury would be overstretched to bring things back to normal. This means also that the proposed 2021 budgets by both the Federal and State Governments are challenged and are likely to suffer implementation problems. Provisions made for other key programmes and projects would now have to be diverted to mend the damages done to the public and private assets.’’

On his part, Isaac Wadak, financial expert, said the lockdowns occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic and vandalism of public and private institutions by hoodlums who hijacked the peaceful #EndSARS protests nationwide have negatively impacted the already turbulent Nigerian economy. He called on financial experts in the country to urgently come up with soothing measures to assist the federal and state governments to recover the country’s economy that is gradually sliding into recession.

Wadak expressed sympathy with those who lost their loved ones and properties in the melee that succeeded the peaceful #EndSARS protests around the country. “The curfew (another form of lockdown) all over the country is going to further compound the fragile economy of the nation, which is already moving towards a recession as a result of dwindling oil revenue and COVID-19 lockdown.

“An economy like ours which is high in consumption and low in production I’m afraid cannot stand this negative development. These groups have found a place and temporary engagement of their time and energy in the looting, pillaging and destruction. What we are experiencing now is a backlash of pent up anger, despair and despondency of the youths made up of students, who are home because ASUU is on strike, graduates can’t enroll for NYSC, unemployed and the not too fortunate to get an education,” he said.

Wadak said there was need for the authorities to listen to the youths, who are in better position to explain what they want and is good for them and their future. He advised that government at all levels should involve the youths in decision-making processes for good governance in the country. He appealed to the youths to sheathe their anger and engage with the authorities in elevated discussions for the good of the Nigerian economy and their future.

But Femi Adesina, special adviser to the president on media and publicity, has said that the looting of warehouses and shops by hoodlums was not necessarily caused by poverty, but by the pandemonium that accompanied the #EndSARS protests. He said attributing the looting to poverty was like justifying armed robbery.

Speaking on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily programme, on Thursday, October 29, Adesina said criminality is criminality. “Would it justify armed robbery because the man was poor? Would it justify armed robbery because the man didn’t have money? Just as you cannot justify armed robbery because a man was poor and took a gun to rob another person, you can’t also justify the looting,” he said.

Adesina claimed the protracted protests provided an atmosphere for looting to take place. He said if police stations were not burnt down, there wouldn’t have been a breakdown of law and order. “Criminality will always be criminality and mere anarchy promotes criminality. What has happened in the last two or three weeks led to what has happened now. If there was cohesion and tranquility in society, this wouldn’t happen.

“Therefore, it was corollary to the mere anarchic situation that came on the country because of the protests. If you didn’t have people burning police stations, killing policemen, burning private and public property, you wouldn’t have this spate of looting. So, I don’t agree that it is all about poverty. Yes, in any country, you will have at any given time, you will have people who are poor, who are hungry and that is one of the reasons why you have government is to ensure that the number of poor and hungry people is reduced.”

– Oct. 30, 2020 @ 18:09 GMT |

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