By Boluwaji Obahopo, Omeiza Ajayi, Emma Una, Luminous Jannamike & Ike Uchechukwu
Lokoja, the capital of Kogi State, was ,like a war zone Sunday night through yesterday, as hoodlums seeking COVID-19 palliatives clashed with security operatives and invaded the state’s Agricultural Development Project, ADP, and private warehouses, carting away fertilizers and rice.
In the clash, four persons were shot dead, while 30 others, including a journalist, sustained various degrees of injuries.
The situation in Kogi was replicated in Calabar, Cross River State, where no fewer than 10 persons, including a pregnant woman, died as a result of the clash between hoodlums and security agents through Saturday till late Sunday night.
Besides those killed in the Calabar clash, at least 80 looters, according to the state police command, have been arrested.
Also, two women died on Monday in a vicious struggle for COVID-19 palliatives looted by hoodlums in a warehouse on Secretariat Road in Gwagwalada Area Council, Abuja.
Kogi looters engage security men
In the Kogi attack, hoodlums, armed with dangerous weapons, burgled the Kogi State Agricultural Development Project warehouse on Sunday night and carted away fertilizers.
They made straight for the warehouse after they successfully overpowered the security men deployed to guard the agency.
The looting continued till yesterday morning as hoodlums invaded a private warehouse belonging to a business tycoon, Mr. Bolu Rotimi, carting away rice.
Other hoodlums simultaneously attacked the ATM stand of a new generation bank located at Cemetery Junction, opposite an eatery.
The hoodlums moved on to Ganaja Junction, where they also quickly shifted their operation to Zone 8 Police junction to prevent the security men gaining access into another warehouse they launched an attack.
However, the security men managed to eventually access the warehouse and engaged the hoodlums in a shoot-out that lasted close to an hour. The policemen took control of the area momentarily.
But a few minutes after the security men left, the hoodlums regrouped, attacked the warehouse and carted away rice.
Simultaneously, another set of hoodlums attacked another bank’s ATM and tried to burgle the ATM machine.
They were, however, resisted by security operatives who shot at them as they fled the scene.
In the process of the clashes between the policemen and the hoodlums, Kogi State correspondent of The Sun newspaper, Mr. Emmanuel Adeyemi, was hit by a stray bullet and is currently receiving treatment at a private hospital in Lokoja
Reacting, Kogi State police command said it arrested some of the suspected hoodlums in connection with the Sunday night raiding of the ADP office
The State Police Public Relation Officer, Mr. William Aya, who confirmed the incident, said yesterday that the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Ayuba Ede, visited the scene on Sunday night and also on yesterday morning.
He noted that some suspects were arrested by the command which had commenced investigation into the attack, stressing that security men have been deployed to the scene to avoid further looting.
Meanwhile, Kogi State government has condemned the Sunday night and Monday morning incidents.
The Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mr. Kingsley Fanwo in a statement yesterday, said those behind the attack have been arrested by security agents in the state.
10 killed in Calabar, as looters clash with security men
In Calabar, at least 10 persons died as looters clashed with security agents. Some of the victims died from the stampede that trailed hoodlums’ vandalism on public warehouses and private homes.
The hoodlums defied the 24-hour curfew imposed on the state by Governor Ben Ayade to continue their attacks on warehouses in Calabar.
At the Free Trade Zone, three persons reportedly died in a confrontation with soldiers and Customs men when the hoodlums attempted to loot rice at the Nigeria Customs warehouse
“We told them we went there in peace and not war, that they should allow us pick rice in the warehouse but they refused and when some people tried to go in there by force, they shot and killed three persons,” one of the looters told Vanguard.
At the West African Examination Council’s office located along the Murtala Mohammad Highway, two persons were reportedly killed while trying to loot furniture in the place.
One of the hoodlums is said to be an electrician and father of three who resides along Atakpa in Calabar South.
“His name is Obongette and he was killed on his third trip to loot after he had successfully looted and carted away items to his house with his car twice,” a neighbour who preferred anonymity told Vanguard yesterday.
Pregnant woman trampled to death
In another instance, a pregnant lady and an old woman were trampled to death at Ikotenim while struggling to cart away foodstuff at the government warehouse where some COVID-19 palliatives were stored.
At Mbukpa, two other persons reportedly died while trying to loot shops after security agents had taken over the streets to protect the city from the vandalism and destruction which gripped city last weekend.
The curfew imposed on the city is still on as schools, markets and other public places remained closed yesterday, while soldiers and a teams of policemen conducted searches in homes to recover some of the looted items.
Miss Irene Ugbo, Police Public Relations Officer, of the state police command, said the deaths resulted from clashes among looting gangs and cases of stampede of looters.
However, the state police command has begun the arrest of those who vandalized various government property in the state capital on Sunday.
They included those who looted private offices, homes, invaded office of a National Assembly member, carting away various empowerment items, including tricycles,stage and sound equipment from Calabar International Conference Center ,CICC.
Looted items recovered, 80 arrested
Speaking with Vanguard on telephone yesterday, Cross River Commissioner of Police, Abdulkadir Jimoh,said the command had recovered a lot of looted items.
He urged the traditional institutions, community leaders, faith groups, youth, community policing committees and the people of the state to expose looters .
He said: “I want to urge community leaders,youth group, religious leaders to expose the looters and shame them.
“We have arrested over 80 suspects and they are under going interrogation in various security facilities. Looters have 24 hours to return all looted items before the house to house search gets to them as recovery of looted items is on going.”
He warned landlords, parents and religious leaders not to hide or cover up for any criminal in their environment.
“No criminal element will be spared, no one who vandalized government property or looted personal effects and invaded people’s private offices will go unpunished as they will face the full wrath of the law.
“We are already working in synergy with other sister agencies in a bid to fish out the bad eggs as well as recover looted items.
“I will advise all those who are in possession of such items to, in their own interest, bring them out at conspicuous locations or face justice,” the CP warned.
Speaking further, Jimoh said the command had so far recovered four new tricycles, water heaters, bath tubs, air conditioners, speakers, executive chairs, among other items, mainly suspected to be stolen from the campaign office of the House of Representatives member, Etta Mbora .
Other items include stage equipment at the CICC, sewing machines from a garment factory, fumigating equipment, cartons of pesticides etc.
The CP said the police would not rest until all the perpetrators of arson and the vandalism which took place in the last 72 hours were apprehended, adding that no stone would be left unturned until total peace returned to the city and the state at large.
Gov Ayade offers N100,000 reward for tips
Meanwhile, Governor Ben Ayade has promised N100,000 reward for information on looted property.
The governor made the promise yesterday in a statement signed by his Special Adviser on Media & Publicity, Mr Christian Ita.
“We will give N100,000 to anybody who volunteer’s information that will lead to the recovery of looted property in the state.
“Anyone with useful information should please contact this number: 0803 450 0531,” he stated.
However, Governor Ben Ayade yesterday reviewed the 24-hours curfew to between 4pm and 8am daily.
He made the announcement in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media & Publicity ,Mr Christian Ita.
He said: “Following a review of the security situation in the state, Governor Ben Ayade has directed that with effect from tomorrow (today), October 27, 2020, the curfew imposed in the state will now be between the hours of 4pm and 8am daily. Consequently, restriction of movement is hereby relaxed from 8am to 4pm.”
2 Abuja women die in looting struggle
In Abuja, at least two women died yesterday in a vicious struggle for COVID-19 palliatives, as hoodlums looted a warehouse on Secretariat road in Gwagwalada Area Council, Abuja.
Vanguard correspondent learned that many people were stabbed, while some fainted in the commotion that ensued; several others were injured during the struggle.
The palliatives were said to include rice, salt, noodles, spaghetti and sugar, as well as other condiments.
Sources said attempts were made to revive those who fainted, while the corpses of the deceased women were taken away by some residents.
A mob had besieged the warehouse around 8:00am to ‘collect’ their own share of the food items neither maintaining any queues nor having security personnel around.
An eyewitness who simply identified as Uhiene, said the process was smooth until around midday when it was disrupted by some impatient persons.
“Right now, they (thugs) are pushing people inside, some persons are fainting, some are dying inside,” she added.
Another eyewitness who preferred anonymity, said: “Getting into the warehouse was very tough and hard. I suffered some bruises, but glory be to God, I made it because it was not an easy feat.
“Some are dying in there (the warehouse), others are suffocating, sweating…. There was a 21-year-old woman that died inside. Another woman also died.
“I saw them myself. They were stepped upon when they fell down (in the stampede). The women couldn’t stand up. They were were trampled upon and killed.”
FCT ministers orders arrest of looters
Meanwhile, the FCT Minister, Malam Mohammed Musa Bello, has ordered the arrest and prosecution of the people who broke the warehouse where CACOVID palliatives were stored in Gwagwalada.
At press time yesterday, military personnel had moved in to restore calm in the area, while the FCT State Police Command had yet to speak on the attack on the warehouse.
FG expresses shock
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has expressed shock at the looting of some warehouses across the country, begging those who looted medical storage facilities to return the vaccines and other medical consumables they carted away.
Government also explained the inability of some states to complete the distribution of palliatives sent to them by CA-COVID, a private sector coalition supporting the national response against COVID-19.
It urged state governments not to also shut down their isolation centres, saying there was need to be at alert in case of a resurgence of the pandemic.
Speaking at a media briefing by the Presidential Task Force, PTF, on COVID-19, chairman of the PTF and Secretary to the Government of the Federation SGF, Mr Boss Mustapha, said CA-COVID worked with the state governments in the distribution of their palliatives.
He said: “Of particular concern to the PTF, is the issue of palliatives found and looted from various warehouses around the country.
“It is important to make the following clarifications. 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 Nigerian Customs Service.
“The share for each state were handed over to the State Governments for onward distribution to the citizens.
“The private sector coalition (CACOVID) that has been quite supportive of the Federal Government, worked with the states through the Nigerian Governors’ Forum to determine the quantum of their intervention, which was intended to be effective and equitable. A number of indices were worked out for this purpose.
“The national coordinator shall also provide further distinction and the modus operandi for the distribution of the palliatives donated to the states by the coalition.”
Don’t shut isolation centres, Mamora warns
Minister of State, Health, Dr Olorunnimbe Mamora, on his part, warned against the closure of isolation centres in the states.
He said with the decline in the number of active cases and the number of cases on admission, some isolation centres in the country were already making arrangements to rationalize the number of frontline health personnel into the reserve pool or redeployed.
“This would be done in a manner that will allow easy re-mobilization where necessary.
“We, however, advise states and relevant stakeholders not to completely close all isolation centres due to consistent lack of patients but some centres should rather be maintained. This is to ensure promptness and readiness against any surge as part of preparation against possible second wave.
“We are taking advantage of this low active cases to carry out appraisal and reappraisal of activities at the isolation centres. This is necessary to assess and understand areas of strengths, weaknesses, available opportunities as well as dangers. Such activities will consolidate gains while taking measures to prevent re-occurrence of errors as well as deployment of appropriate resources.
“We are also making arrangements for stock taking and re-purposing of equipment earlier deployed to temporary isolation centres with a view to using the opportunity provided by the resource Mobilisation for the COVID-19 response for health systems strengthening,” he stated.
Mamora also appealed to the youths to stop crashing into government medical stores, begging those who carted away items to return them.
He said most of the medicines and medical consumables in these stores were stored under controlled environmental conditions such as temperatures and humidity.
The minister said: “Disruption of these conditions would render them ineffective and in some cases poisonous. The NCDC warehouse in Idu is used for the storage of medical and laboratory consumables and equipment.
“Destruction of these items will impact negatively on our response to this pandemic. I also call on all who are in possession of vaccines, medicines and other equipment and consumables to please return them. Those that can still be salvaged will be used and those that can not will be disposed off properly.”
PTF pleads, asks looters of medical supplies to return them
The National Coordinator of the PTF, Dr Sani Aliyu, explained the relationship between CA-COVID and the states, saying depending on the delivery schedule, not all states have completed the process of distributing items sent to them.
Aliyu said: “We are all shocked by the events of the last few days. Some of our warehouses do not contain food items. They contain medical equipment, they contain test kits and valuable items that are very important to the COVID-19 response.
“Therefore, we are pleading with all those who are currently in the process of planning to attack them to desist from doing so. It is important that our assets are protected.
“On CA-COVID, it is a private sector initiative which was set up in the early part of the response and the PTF has worked very closely with CA-COVID to deliver some of our key mandates.
“The process of distributing palliatives is integrated and also very complex. It is also important to stress that palliatives need to be distributed with the greatest urgency so that millions of struggling Nigerians can receive the economic support.
“CA-COVID has also been working with the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, NGF, and the FCT to procure and distribute palliatives to 11.7 million families across all 774 locals government areas in 36 states and the FCT.
“It started in April and is an unprecedented relief effort. The sheer scale of the food programme by CA-COVID meant that the programme had to be delivered in a staggered and controlled manner.
“Of the 11.7 million supplies awarded, 11 million were confirmed to have been delivered and 17 states had 100 percent delivery in terms of the schedule and a kick off exercise was conducted.
“Twelve states have over 85 percent of delivery reached. Only eight states did not have a flag off or formal hand over of these commodities. Of the eight, two had 100 percent delivery reached and the process for teg kick off exercise is gradually in place, whereas the remaining six states had 68 percent of delivery reached.
“Since the relief effort began with CA-COVID and the state governments in early August, official hand over of the palliatives have taken place in 28 states and the FCT and these states have been distributing at various times based on needs.
“It is also important to clarify that some of these state governments had actually bought their own palliatives that they are distributing. As of October 25, several states had confirmed the completion of their distribution.
“It is, therefore, quiet concerning that we continue to see images of looting in the social media, given all the work that has been going on and the goodwill of the private sector to support the COVID-19 response.
“We do understand the underlying issues, but we continue to plead with the general public to exercise restraint and allow this process to conclude.”