The aftermath of the condemnable shooting at the #EndSARS peaceful protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos on Tuesday, 20 October 2020 compounded the fears expressed in this column last week regarding the potential negative effects of mega rallies by politicians and youth protests, on the super-spreading of the coronavirus (COVID-19 in Nigeria. This column had observed that the mammoth crowds of people at the Edo and Ondo governorship campaign rallies as well as those at the #EndSARS protests, were complete violation of COVID-19 safety guidelines and non-pharmaceutical protocols. Again, such flagrant violations sent the wrong message that the fight against COVID-19 crisis had either been won already, or was not taken seriously by the mass of the people in Nigeria in spite of the doggedness of the fight against the scourge in Nigeria so far.
Although the large crowds of people at the #EndSARS peaceful protests was already a threat to the effective containment of the virus, the take-over of the protests by hoodlums was like pouring fuel in an already raging fire. The #EndSARS protest took a turn for the worst when very hungry and angry hoodlums turned it into an anarchical situation and started looting public properties and setting them on fire. They also did the same to private businesses and properties. Picture 1 below which shows BRT buses on fire, is just one of the many Lagos State government properties burnt or vandalised. The huge negative impact of such lawless acts on Nigeria’s ailing and struggling economy (already devastated by COVID-19 pandemic) is very palpable and highly regrettable for a country currently serving as the poverty capital of the world.
Unknowingly to these miscreants, their unsavory acts have further made the effective management of COVID-19 scourge very difficult for many states particularly Lagos which is the epicentre of the virus in Nigeria. This is sad for a state which had all along maintained a commendable record of a dogged and focused fight against the virus from DAY ONE. For example, it is on record that Lagos State and the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) so far, are the only sub-national governments that have met the requirement of testing up to 1% of their population for COVID-19. The massive destruction in Lagos would, therefore, constitute a major drawback in the management of COVID-19 crisis.
Sadly enough, the hoodlums also extended their looting spree to many other states and continued in the same pattern of looting public and private properties and burning them down. In Plateau State for example, the war and tension between hunger and coronavirus reached a crescendo when the hoodlums climbed to the roof of the warehouse to loot COVID-19 palliatives. Picture 2 below shows how a massive crowd of people totally disregarded the social distancing safety guidelines on COVID-19 in search of palliatives.
Regrettably again, in a couple of states, medical stores (pharmaceutical warehouses) serving strategic interest were looted, vandalised or burnt down. In Cross River State for example, hoodlums went to the Infectious Disease Hospital, Calabar and stole COVID-19 testing machines. Worst still, the hoodlums visited and looted one of the offices of the World Health Organisation (WHO). According to its African Regional Director, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the hoodlums looted one of its offices making away with Personal Protective Equipment (PPT) and other items used in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic in the country (See Punch newspaper Thursday, October 29, 2020, via https://punchng.com/endsars-hoodlums-stole-covid-19-equipment-says-who/. This is indeed a great national embarrassment. One is confused as to what constitutes the motive for stealing COVID-19 equipment and materials by looters. Was it hunger as a result of poverty? Was it ignorance as a result of lack of proper education? Was it deep-seated anger against those in government? Was it sheer wickedness as a result of lack of patriotism or all of the above? Whatever the answer is, the hoodlums were simply causing great damage to the public health system and to themselves particularly, as these heinous acts were counter-productive to the COVID-19 crisis management.
For these riotous looters, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) safety guidelines on physical distancing were meaningless, as none of them observed the guidelines in their actions. Here comes the real danger to our public health as such riotous large gatherings without physical distancing, constitute a threat to all of us. The looters appeared not to be afraid of coronavirus any longer, but now more afraid of ‘hunger-virus’ given the nature of their ferocious struggle to loot warehouses of COVID-19 palliatives. At the Bukuru warehouse in Jos, Plateau State for instance, one of the looters attributed their action to hunger. According to him, everybody is here (Christians and Moslems) looking for what to eat, rather than fighting one another; (we are no more fighting) suffer too much for Nigeria (as monitored in AIT news, October 24 & 25, 2020). Picture 3 below shows the desperation of looters in search of food items.
Again in Abuja, a disappointed looter who was talking to AIT reporter spoke of coronavirus in the past tense as if the scourge is already over (i.e. probably referring to the lockdown period) The disappointed looter was among those prevented by armed policemen and soldiers from gaining access to the Cyprian Ekwensi Centre (formerly National Council) for Arts and Culture, Garki in search of palliatives previously stored in the compound during the lockdown. According to him, ‘during that coronavirus time, we saw trailers carrying many-many things gala, indomie, rice…’. (as monitored in AIT news, October, 24 & 25, 2020).
Lastly, during the period of the #EndSARS protests and the anarchy subsequently created by the hoodlums looting everything they could lay their hands on, testing for COVID-19 by the states were either slowed down or completely abandoned, due to unsafe conditions for carrying out the testing activities. The result has been the low testing numbers reported by the NCDC over the last week. For example, on the 24th of October, 48 new cases were reported from only six states. On October 25, it was 62 new cases, and on October 26, it was 119 new cases. Then on October 27, it was 113, and lastly on October 28, the number was 147 new cases. These numbers did not in any way reflect the reality in the population, as it only reflected low testing capacity of the states within the period. This is another major setback in the COVID-19 crisis management. Nigeria would count itself lucky if it does not witness a major spike in new cases of infection in few weeks to come.
•Prof. Obasi, a public policy expert is of the Department of Public Administration, University of Abuja. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org