Tuesday Column By VICTORIA NGOZI IKEANO
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One does not need a crystal ball to predict that should the ongoing unbridled looting of public and private warehouses continue, we shall witness a bleak Christmas festivities. And there could also be a rise in criminal acts because the Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agenct (NDLEA) was attacked with its warehouse where it stored seized hard drugs as Indian hemp, etc., looted; several police stations were razed down, their armoury looted; many prisons (now euphemistically called ‘correctional centres’) invaded and hundreds of prisoners, among them hardened criminals, set free. These prisoners unleashed unto the society and police personnel being endangered species so to speak following wanton destruction of their stations not to talk of the trauma they suffered from seeing some of their colleagues killed and maimed in the process, making them to lie low, emboldened hoodlums to acts of brigandage. Furthermore, easy access to looted cannabis made them lose their sense, emboldening them the more to commit other atrocities as desecrating the palaces of the Oba of Lagos and Soun of Ogbomosho, among others. It left their subjects, the citizens speechless.
In the southwest region the traditional institution is still held in high esteem; indeed they are among the most respectful people in the country with ingrained cultural protocols on how to address one another, as for example, addressing an older person in the plural, not looking into the eyes of an older person when talking to him/her, etc. We saw photos of international boxing champion, Anthony Joshua who also holds a British passport prostrate at full length to his parents in greeting at the arena. And many southwest people (as also in other parts of the country) despite their seeming sophistication still believe in superstitions connected to traditional religion. So, to see that the youths dared these to attack the king, vandalise his abode, running away with his symbol of authority is bemusing to the outsider and “unthinkable” to the indigenes. Perhaps that is why many of them think the atrocity was by non-indigenes. They forget that we live in an era of changing times, of distorted value systems where for example, the youths consider nudeness as a fashion statement, among others. It is not impossible that they acted under the influence of hard drugs that are now accessible in all nooks and crannies of our land. Another possibility is that they were pushed by a force outside their grasp which made the lurking evil within them to flare up, culminating in the physical visible deed of participating in destruction of properties. They each bear personal responsibility for their actions.
It will take millions of naira to rebuild palaces of first class and second class traditional rulers destroyed in the south west. Another millions of naira to revamp and equip police stations vandalized nationwide. Yet another millions of naira would be set aside to compensate security personnel that were killed or injured in the line of duty. What about hospital charges? No amount of money can of course compesate for a lost life. It is irreplaceable. Every single life, whether that of a civilian or security personnel is important. Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila has asked the executive to make provisions for compensation for police brutality in budget 2021, otherwise it would not be approved by the House, he said. The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) in the nation’s commercial nerve centre, said that over N700 billion was lost in the first 12 days of the #EndSARS protests. Part of this money would have gone to the federal treasury as value added tax (the bulk of VAT comes from Lagos state) to be shared by the three tiers of government LCCI’s figure was before the wanton destruction of public and private properties on Tuesday and Wednesday last week. A Lagos State government assessment of its damages put the amount of properties lost at one trillion naira. Even now it continues to lose money as some revenue generating organizations are not fully functional yet. Overall, some billions of naira extra could be spent on recurrent expenditure by the federal and state government. This is money not originally budgeted for, at a time when federal government revenue is dwindling, when the government does not have enough to execute all its targeted capital projects. The result is that the government will undertake less infrastructural projects and deliver lesser dividends of democracy to us.
Private firms and organizations that were attacked are now forced to shut down and retrench workers. That means hundreds of people are now thrown into the labour market, jobless with adverse financial consequences directly for their families and indirectly for the nation as a whole. This is apart from the millions of naira lost by the owners/investors in vandalized/stolen goods which in turn could cause them and their now unemployed workers emotional/ psychological stress which is in itself is unquantifiable. What about the multiplier effects, those who service these firms/businesses in one way or the other, upstream and downstream? The end result is decrease in the money in circulation, a cash crunch of sorts. There is also the fact that farm products from the north, the nation’s food basket could not be transported to the south while the protests lasted, coupled with the fact that there are now night curfews in many southern states. As a result an average-sized onion now sells for N100 in the south.
The #EndSARS protests can be classed into three phases. First there was the clash between them and opposing groups resulting to loss of lives and injuries which cost cannot be quantified in naira and kobo. Then came uncontrolled destruction of properties which is estimated at trillions of naira nationwide and thirdly, now, looting of warehouses. Both government and private-owned warehouses are now being looted, ostensibly by hoodlums. For government houses not only those having COVID-19 palliative food products are burgled but also those having fertilizer/ farm inputs, hospital drugs/nets, Nigeria Emergency Management Agency(NEMA) warehouse for relief materials like, building materials, wrappers, household goods for people displaced by crises and floods, etc. As it is, it appears warehouses of any kind are now being looted. The cost of this looting of warehouses is yet to be estimated.