The recent looting of warehouses where COVID-19 relief materials were kept in some states has raised questions about the accountability of the affected governors and the Federal Government.
Just as the dust was settling on the nationwide tension created by the #EndSARS protests, an ugly aftermath has left Nigerians bewildered.
This was the hijacking of the nationwide demonstrations by hoodlums who perpetrated violence, arson and looting.
Some of the targeted places, which beat the imagination of many Nigerians, have been the warehouses where state governments kept COVID-19 relief materials donated by the private sector for disbursement to residents during the lockdown.
The fact that the relief materials, meant for distribution mostly during the first half of the year, are still available in October has cast doubts on the transparency and accountability of the state governments, according to elder statesmen and civil societies who spoke with Saturday BUSTANEWS
Nigeria, on February 27, 2020, recorded its index COVID-19 case; the cases grew geometrically within weeks, forcing the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to declare a lockdown in Lagos and Ogun states as well as the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, beginning from March 31.
The COVID-19 pandemic-induced lockdown lasted for about three months, bringing untold hardship, suffering and hunger on Nigerians, which thereafter necessitated the financial interventions of the private sector.
Apart from the N500bn stimulus package set aside by the Federal Government to cushion the effects of the pandemic, the private sector on March 26 established the Coalition Against COVID-19 to assist the government in combating the coronavirus disease in the country.
Till date, CACOVID, as it is called, raised more than N26bn which was mostly used to purchase relief materials, mainly food items. These food items were delivered to state governments for onward distribution to their residents .
Not many Nigerians could remember to what extent the distributions of the relief materials went across the states, as the country later began heaving a sigh of relief following the gradual reduction of COVID-19 cases.
Consequently, not much was heard or said about the relief materials until the events of the aftermath of the recent #EndSARS protests.
The outcome of the protests would be the reign of hoodlums which led to the discovery and looting of COVID-19 warehouses – first in the Satellite area of Lagos State.
On October 22, hoodlums attacked a warehouse where COVID-19 palliatives were stored at Mazamaza community in the Oriade Local Council Development Area of Lagos State.
After the hoodlums gained entrance into the warehouse, they reportedly began looting the COVID-19 palliatives from 8am till noon, leaving the warehouse, located around Monkey Village, a shadow of itself.
The same scenario played out on Friday, October 23, when hoodlums broke into COVID-19 warehouses in Osun, Kwara, Ekiti and Cross River states.
Like wildfire, COVID-19 warehouses in the northern region of Plateau, Bauchi and Kaduna states as well as those in Rivers and Delta states in the South-South, soon became victims of the wanton looting – with attendant loss of lives in some cases.
In the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, at least three women were reported on Monday to have been stampeded to death as looters reportedly invaded a COVID-19 warehouse in the FCT.
Only a few states like Niger were lucky as attempts by some youths to gain access into the warehouses were foiled.
However, many Nigerians have questioned why some state governors allegedly refused to distribute the relief materials amid the biting hunger and suffering of the people.
This was just as many residents across states said the relief materials never got to their areas.
The Head of Transparency International in Nigeria, Mr Musa Rafsanjani, said the affected state governments should apologise to Nigerians, for not being inclusive and accountable in the disbursement of the COVID-19 relief materials.
He said, “First and foremost, we had called for accountability and transparency in the disbursement of the COVID-19 relief materials, from the beginning of the pandemic. We advised state governments to ensure inclusiveness in the committee meant to undertake the distribution. We suggested that this should include the civil society, community, religious leaders and the media.
“Unfortunately, the federal and state governments did not see wisdom in the advocacy we made. They didn’t see reason to prevent the kind of situation we have now found ourselves. Recently, there have been accusations of government officials diverting these relief materials.
“These palliatives were given to Nigerians to support them during the lockdown. But they refused to give them these materials and some of them may have even expired by now. The explanation by the NGF is not a justification for hoarding the materials.
“We do not also support people using the peaceful protests to loot public and private property. This is not in the spirit of democracy and justice in which the protests were organised. We call on the looters to desist forthwith.”
Meanwhile, the looting later went beyond warehouses storing COVID-19 palliatives; state governments-owned food storage facilities and silos were also reportedly looted.
Several states such as Osun, Plateau, Kaduna, Abia, Rivers and Delta were forced to impose curfew to contain the violence and wanton looting perpetrated by the hoodlums.
However, a number of arrests began to take place nationwide even as the Inspector-General of Police, Muhammed Adamu, ordered Commissioners of Police and commanders on Saturday to take charge of their public spaces and end the looting spree.
In Lagos, over 400 persons have so far been arrested by the police and are awaiting prosecution; it happened in other places such as Plateau where 109 persons were apprehended for allegedly invading warehouse.
In states like Kwara, some of the COVID-19 palliatives looters have been taken to court; the police on Tuesday arraigned 71 persons before an Ilorin Magistrates’ Court for their alleged involvement in the looting of CACOVID palliatives at Agro Mall and Cargo Terminal, Ilorin.
They were charged with “criminal conspiracy, trespass, mischief, voluntarily causing grievous hurt, theft and disturbance of public peace and belonging to gang of thieves.”
But the Nigerian Governors’ Forum on Monday denied the allegation that governors hoarded palliatives meant for distribution to Nigerians during the lockdown.
The NGF claimed that some state governors had yet to begin the distribution of the relief materials, while adding that some of the items were reserved for a suspected second wave of the pandemic.
The forum, however, noted that some governors had set up judicial panels of inquiry to look into such cases of looting.
The NGF, in a release, said, “Some of the properties stolen and vandalised, include palliatives set aside for vulnerable members of society.
“Until mid-October, when the NGF had its last meeting, up to 10 states had not participated in the flag-off ceremonies for the distribution of palliatives in their states. This was because the items meant for distribution in these states had not been completely received from CACOVID.
“Some other states that still had palliatives in their warehouses chose to keep a strategic reserve ahead of a projected second wave of Covid-19.”
Despite the NGF’s explanation, some civil societies carpeted the governors insisting that the reasons adduced for keeping the palliatives were not tenable.
On Tuesday, a coalition of 33 civil society organisations called on the affected state governors to explain to Nigerians why palliatives meant for citizens were not shared.
Some of the CSOs were; the Centre for Democracy and Development, Enough is Enough, Partners for Electoral Reform, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, the Centre for Information, Technology and Development, Yiaga Africa, Global Rights, Project Alert and Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre.
The civil societies, however, condemned the attacks on the COVID-19 warehouses.
They said, “The looting of COVID-19 palliatives, which were supplied by CACOVID, has thrown up another worrying dimension and exposed the rot and corruption in our governance system.
“We unequivocally condemn these attacks and call on the governors’ forum to tell Nigerians why they (governors) intentionally hoarded food items supplied in good faith by the coalition.
“We have read various official statements from some of the state governments and an unofficial statement attributed to the CACOVID. Some of the statements raise some credibility questions.”
Meanwhile, the Federal Government exonerated itself saying it gave the palliatives to states for “onward distribution to the people.”
The Chairman, Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha, stated this in Abuja at a briefing during the week.
He said, “Of particular concern to the PTF is the issue of palliatives found and looted from various warehouses around the country.
“The Federal Government palliatives consisted largely of the 70 Metric Tonnes of grains released from the Strategic Grain Reserves as well as rice secured from the Nigeria Customs Service.
“The shares for each state were handed over to the state governments for onward distribution to the citizens.
“The private sector coalition worked with the states through the Nigerian Governors’ Forum to determine the quantum of their intervention, which was intended to be effective and equitable.”
The PTF chairman was silent on why the state governors delayed in distributing the palliatives to their residents.
Interestingly, Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State alleged people within and outside government had used COVID-19 to steal billions of naira.
In an interview on Channels Television during the week on the nationwide looting of warehouses by hoodlums, the governor said, “I did say COVID-19 has economic and political undertone but we are still not addressing it.
“We have been doing palliatives and so have other governors, whether the All Progressives Congress or the Peoples Democratic Party. We do all these palliatives and the rest. So, why would the governors hoard those things? How much are they going to make out of it?
“Those CACOVID materials were brought and handled by them. It was unfortunate. Among all the governors, we don’t trust each other because of a few interests to the extent we are allowing ourselves to be ridiculed.”
Against the backdrop of the nationwide looting of warehouses storing palliatives, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar-Faruk, said in an interview in Gusau, Zamfara State, on Monday that it was now clear that the Federal Government’s palliatives were shared to all the states and not diverted as alleged.
She said, “I am aware many people have made various spurious allegations and accusations against my person and my ministry over the way we distributed Federal Government palliatives to cushion the effect of COVID-19.
“I have always said I am carrying out my duties and responsibilities to the best of my ability and with fairness to all parts of the country.”
Speaking with our correspondent, a leader of the Yoruba’s socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, noted that against the pervasive hunger in the country, the state governments should have distributed the materials to the people.
He said, “We are in an unfortunate situation and it is the system that encouraged it. Why are the governors keeping the materials till another batch? Are the people not hungry now? That is the question.
“Why don’t you give them? I don’t want to give any comments further because there is so much conflicting information. I have said that most state governors are not in charge of their resources.
“Sometimes, the Federal Government arrogates too much power over these things. The governor has no control over the police and over the military on his state. That is why we need restructuring. We have to restructure the country to avoid this kind of embarrassing situation.”
Also, the President, Campaign for Democracy, Mr Usman Abdul, said the state governments had shown their insensitivity by keeping the COVID-19 relief materials which were largely private sector efforts.
He said, “For me, it is a deliberate action by governors to hold on to these palliatives. You would see that most of the states where these palliatives were discovered; they were preserved to meet some hidden targets at a time God knows.
“I think it is unpatriotic of them to say the materials were kept while envisaging a second wave of COVID-19 outbreak. If there was anything that would have cushioned the harrowing effects of the lockdown for several months, it would have been these palliatives.
“More so, these materials came as private initiatives and why were they then kept by the government? It is unnecessary for them to say they are keeping them till a certain time. Are the governors going to concoct another wave of the virus? There is abject poverty and starvation in these states and food materials are being kept, while the state officials and their families live on government resources.
“It is wrong for the government to come up with that excuse. It shows their lack of human engagements. If anything, they should hoard palliatives donated by the government, not private sector-driven.”