Sylvanus Viashima, Makurdi
On Sunday morning, residents of Jalingo, Taraba State, woke up to the shocking news of yet another curfew imposed on the state. They did not see it coming because to a great extent, Taraba had remained peaceful and calm as the rage of protests against police brutality spread across the country.
Their adventure was swift. By Saturday, a matrix of events and happenings robbed the state of its peaceful disposition and set the pace for the 24-hour restriction of movement ordered by government.
Sad. Six people had died on that Saturday night. Their lifeless bodies lay unclaimed through the night. One of them was Chukwu Osinachi, a young man from the South East, who had just completed his NYSC programme and was awaiting a job offer. Others were unknown but were taken away by the authorities at the break of dawn.
They were part of the population of residents, including criminal elements that broke into a government warehouse of COVID-19 palliative items located on the Federal Government Girls College Road, Jalingo, that evening.
The surging crowd had scrambled and scampered for any item in the warehouse. In the process, some were overwhelmed and unable to rise up until they gave up. Many others managed to stand back on their feet after sustaining injuries of different nature.
To their amazement, they found a huge reserve of food items and other relief materials warehoused there. Tens of thousands of cartons of noodles, spaghetti, macaroni, fertilizer, maize, soya beans and other items were carted away. In fact, by the time others arrived a few hours after, everything was gone and they were left with no choice but to pilfer from the leftovers.
In this condition, the veterinary clinic and other offices on the same compound or adjacent to the warehouse automatically fell prey and became their next points of call. Even private farmlands on the vast compound were not spared. They plundered with similar hate and haste. A guard at the compound, who pleaded anonymity, narrated his experience to Daily Sun:
“I was sitting under the tree by the gate, when they came. Then, they started beating me shouting, raining curses on me. They said they wanted to come and carry their food. I asked them, ‘why are they beating me?’ I was not stopping them. So they left me and went and started breaking the doors.”
One of the farm owners, Mr Atoga Abraham, said: “I came in and saw that some of the people were harvesting my yam farm and I asked them to stop. I told them that this was not palliative, but my sweat. Besides, I am also just an ordinary citizen like them but they pushed me away and almost killed me. I had to run away and stood from far watching as they plundered my farm.”
Emboldened by their victory and fuelled by a new anger at the government for hoarding such a huge quantity of foodstuffs in the midst of serious hunger in the state, the youth went on rampage, proceeding to the warehouse at the Taraba State Transport Company Park.
They broke into it and carted away food items, tricycles and others.
By that night, many things happened. While the looters had succeeded in their exploits and were busy moving their spoils to various places, government felt that something must be done to safeguard the people. It imposed a 24-hour curfew to forestall further breakdown of law and order. The curfew ran from 11:00pm on Saturday to 8am on Monday.
However, the curfew did very little to halt the demonstrations and looting. Rather, it sparked off fresh anger and deviance as the youth proceeded with their attacks as if nothing had been done. They stormed the orientation camp of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), where they carted away anything they could lay their hands on.
At the camp, located at Sebri in the outskirts of the town, they looted various items ranging from mattresses, cooking pots, utensils, furniture to several other facilities used for the orientation exercise.
They told Daily Sun: “We are not doing this because we have problem with NYSC. The government has refused to listen to our needs so we will take anything we can get from here and they will be compelled to replace it. Our grudge is against the government.”
They moved against the Isolation Centre located on the premises of the NYSC camp, plundered and vandalised the structures including doors and windows on the building. They also raided the state radio station, Taraba State Broadcasting Service (TSBS), SUBEB, Hope Afresh Foundation (an NGO owned by the wife of the governor), private warehouses and Red Star Academy.
A businessman, Chief Uche Obi, from South East was attacked and beaten up just like several others who were either at the wrong path of the troubled town or had encountered the wrong set of demonstrators. For many residents, the looting at government warehouse was a welcome development. And so, initially, it was fun for many to behold the anguish of the state government. But they lost it when they resorted to attacking and plundering private businesses and interests.
The state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), David Misal, said 23 suspects were arrested and they equally recovered some of the looted items. He said police would not tolerate further breakdown of law and order: “As part of strategies to prevent further attacks and breakdown of law and order, a joint patrol organised by the Commissioner of Police in collaboration with other sister agencies has been embarked upon.”