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Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Sad saga of looting ! ~ Nigeria is a tinderbox of deep social and economic grievances

A Nation is represented by its people, rulers and its culture !! Civilization may not be about development but should be more about the culture and development of humans in a society to live happily and let others too to live peacefully !  Sad many parts of the globe already reeling under the ill-effects of Covid 19 are no peace havens with different groups spoiling harmony, for different reasons.

A decade or so ago, in our dollar city, the textile kingdom on the banks of Noyyal river – Tirupur, part of Kongu Nadu, there were concerning news that Nigerians who had come as workers were  causing trouble – the TV news showed groups of Nigerians as causing trouble to the womenfolk, threatening traders and taking away material at will without making any payment.   Around that time, TN Police went on a fresh enumeration of Nigerians staying in Tirupur knitwear cluster following  arrest of Michael Odinnaka alias Michael Okke, a Nigerian national, on the charges of sending heroin through a courier office at Erode.  In 2009, it was reported that there were only four registered Nigerians (i.e. those staying legally on business visas)  in the entire district. There was another news of a Nigerian national punching a police 53 year old sub-inspector.  Following the incident few Nigerians were picked up from the Kadar Pettai retail market  which is known to sell inferior quality goods.   At that time 9 Nigerians were arrested  for illegal stay in the country.  Police officials stated that they were arrested under Foreigners’ Act 1946.

Jos  is a city in the Middle Belt of Nigeria.  Popularly called "J-Town", it is the administrative capital and largest city of Plateau State.  The Federal Republic of Nigeria  comprising 36 states has Abuja as its capita.  The country is located in West Africa and shares land borders with the Republic of Benin in the west, Chad and Cameroon in the east, and Niger in the north. Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, the seventh most populous country in the world, and the most populous country in the world in which the majority of the population is black. In terms of religion Nigeria is roughly split half and half between Muslims in the North and Christians in the South; a very small minority practice traditional religion. Since 2002 there have been a spate of clashes, particularly in the North of the country, between government forces and the Islamists Boko Haram, militant jihadists who seek to establish sharia law.  The country is located in West Africa and shares land borders with the Republic of Benin, Chad, Cameroon  and Niger.  Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, the seventh most populous country in the world.  Nigeria is in news – for wrong reasons !!

Three weeks of protests in Nigeria that provoked a violent response from the military have been followed by a looting spree, highlighting the divide between the nation’s rulers and its poverty-stricken citizens. The fault lines were evident before the discord surfaced on Oct. 5. About half of Nigeria’s 200 million people live on less than $2 a day despite the nation being Africa’s largest oil producer, and 55% are either jobless or under-employed. Rampant poverty has been exacerbated by the coronavirus and restrictions imposed to curb its spread.

In what is being projected as extreme civilian unrest, thousands of anti-government protesters went on a looting spree in  an aid warehouse in Nigeria and accused ministers of 'hiding food' after shortages caused by Covid lockdowns.   Thousands of people have been filmed ransacking a food aid warehouse in Nigeria amid widespread unrest in the African country. The warehouse, located in the city of Jos, was targeted at the weekend after angry demonstrators accused the government of 'hiding' food aid from them.  Footage shows people clambering on the roof of the warehouse, ripping off corrugated metal panels and then throwing out food sacks to the crowd. The warehouse in Jos is just one among a string of similar buildings to be hit, with almost a third of the country's 36 states reporting raids on food aid. Those raiding the warehouse accused the government of hiding food supplies from them, in a country that has been wracked by shortages of basic supplies during coronavirus lockdowns. 

The warehouse in Jos was just the latest in a long line of similar buildings that have been hit, with another looted in the capital of Abuja on Monday as authorities appealed for calm.   People were filmed carrying away 50kg sacks of grains and rice as the warehouse was stripped of supplies. Ministers denied hiding the food, and said they were in the process of distributing it.   But amid widespread anti-government protests and in the wake of peaceful activists being shot dead as security services watched on, people were not buying it.  One person at the Jos food warehouse told France24: 'How can we have such a wicked government, where their citizens are dying of starvation and they hide these relief materials from them?

There is hunger and starvation because there is high inflation of food prices in the market and not everyone can afford to buy due to lack of employment and poor wages and salaries.' Another who was present during the Abuja raid on Monday added: 'We are hungry, you understand. 'There is plenty of food in this country but people are suffering. The government is cheating us by parking away this food. We are not stealing, it's our food and our right.' According to the Nigerian government, more than half of the country's population was forced to take out loans to pay for food during lockdown earlier this year.  Meanwhile 68 per cent of households experienced moderate or severe food insecurity during August, even after the lockdown had eased.  A coalition of state governors has denied allegations of graft and said the supplies were held back as a 'strategic reserve' in case of a second wave of the virus.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Sunday appealed for 'peace' as authorities struggled to halt the looting. A statement from the presidency said Buhari backed a judicial inquiry in Lagos 'to give justice to peaceful protesters who lost their lives, security men who were murdered' and those who lost property in days of violence. The leader 'appealed to the people all over the country to maintain peace and brotherhood as the machinery of the government and the wheel of justice turn against the perpetrators', it said. Peaceful demonstrations against police brutality erupted in Nigeria on October 8 and snowballed into one of the biggest challenges to the ruling elite in decades. Chaos spiralled after security forces on Tuesday opened fire on peaceful demonstrators in the centre of Lagos, sparking international outrage and days of rioting in Africa's biggest city.

Buhari has faced fierce criticism for failing to publicly address Tuesday's shooting of protesters, in which Amnesty International says the army and police killed 12 people. The situation has calmed in economic hub Lagos after days of violence that saw official buildings torched, supermarkets looted and vehicles destroyed. But authorities over the weekend struggled to halt a wave of looting in a number of regions as crowds defied curfew orders to ransack government warehouses. The presidency said 229 suspects accused of looting and destroying property were set to face prosecution in Lagos.

Nigeria is a tinderbox of deep social and economic grievances with around half of the estimated 200 million population living in extreme poverty. Frustration runs deep among younger generations furious with the country's graft-riddled leadership over a lack of opportunities.  .. .. .. and that speaks ill of the Nation and its rulers ! 

With regards – S. Sampathkumar


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