By Lawrence Enyoghasu
After the rain comes the sunshine, so goes the saying.
But Saturday Sun findings show that it is not yet sunshine for those whose property and means of livelihood were destroyed during the #ENDSARS protest that rocked the nation to its foundation this time last year. As the nation marks the first anniversary of what has been tagged Nigeria’s version of the 1989 Beijing Tiananmen Square Massacre, hundreds of those who lost lives, property and means of livelihoods during the protest are still counting their losses. You will probably never be able to capture all their stories.
This time last year, Nigerian youths took to the streets of Lagos and other states to protest against the alleged atrocious activities and inhumane treatment of a notorious crime-fighting police unit dubbed Special Anti-Robbery Squad. Simply known as SARS, it has since been proscribed following the riot. In the beginning, the protest, held in different places in Lagos, including Lekki Tollgate, was peaceful until the early hours of October 20, 2020.
As it turned out, on that day, nobody knew what was in the offing, what the day was going to bring forth until it unfurled its wings of anger, and destruction of lives and property and attendant pains that lasted for hours and days. Many are still reeling from the aftermath, and are yet to heal from it one year later. In any case, virtually everyone, especially in Lagos, was affected, one way or the other. Roads were blocked; cars and buses burnt; shops looted, families robbed, and police stations razed.
Tales from lawmaker and seller of phone accessories
According to Hon. Jude Chukwuemeka Idimogu, Chairman of Lagos State House of Assembly, Wealth Creation Committee, it will take years for the state and its people to recover from their losses. “It was like a watershed in the history of Lagos State,” he confessed. “It was a calamity to the economy. There was destruction everywhere. The process started very well until it was hijacked. It has taken us back and must be avoided. It has affected the creation of wealth in the state. When I remember it, I feel for the victims.”
One of those victims is Andy Uche, a phone accessories retailer at Mushin. On that fateful day, someone called him up at about 5 am. He jumped up from the bed, half-dressed, to attend to the call. He never imagined the shock that awaited him till he got to his shop located at Olu Aina Street to find the doors wide open. He looked but there were no goods inside. Curious, he asked if there was any fire outbreak within that area that necessitated some good Samaritans moving his goods to a safer place. But he was shocked beyond words to learn that there was nothing like that.
“I was pained when I was told that I was part of the people whose shops were broken into and their goods carried away,” he said. “I stood speechless for hours, opening and closing my eyes and praying for it to be a bad dream. I later burst into tears and wept till I could cry no more. I lost goods were worth N5 million. To make matters worse, I was planning to get married when the incident happened. But I thank God that my wife stood by me.”
Other affected phone-related companies include SLOT System Ltd, Piatek, and Mac Centre. Oghenerukewe Oghenetega, a sales representative for Mac Centre, told the story of how the firm’s Surulere store was looted and left bare. There was no item left, not even a pin. He informed: “We have two stores: one here and another on the Lagos Island. A lot of things wouldn’t have been stolen if there had not been the protest and negligence from some of our staff. The hoodlums stole everything without leaving any stone unturned.” Asked to quantify their losses, he said: “Sincerely, it has not been easy for us.
The protest, attacks, and looting were a big setback.” He added that some of his former co-workers left the job due to the incident. Moreover, it opened his eyes to some insurance gimmicks.
He remarked: “Some of them (his co-workers) stopped by themselves since they were not working. It took about four months before we could resume. The looting opened our eyes to a lot of insurance measures. It has made us work on our security system. Now, everybody is alert. Everybody now checks on everything like the locks before leaving.”
He warned that any fresh protests in commemoration of the incident must be allowed to degenerate into looting.
“If it is about the protests and why they’re protesting, I support them. But the looting, I don’t support because there are better ways one can do this thing without causing some pain to others. Even myself, I would have loved to join them but not everybody has the time,” he said.
Looting of pharmacy and gift shop
The looters were after not only what they could get and use but also what they didn’t need. For instance, they attacked pharmacies not because they were sick and needed some drugs to cure themselves with. Neither did they even know what many of the drugs were meant for. They only attacked out of simple greed and the passion to destroy. One of the pharmacies was Health Plus, a sister company to Casa Bella.
A check by Saturday Sun shows that it took the firm a long time to open after the protest that took place in Surulere resulted in the mindless looting of the place. Even so, its sister company has continued to remain closed. Till this day, the memory of what happened that day is still fresh in the mind of Destiny, one of Health Plus workers. He said that it took the company three months to reopen.
The experience was really traumatic, he admitted. “We never expected such. The looting was beyond imagination. Imagine people taking drugs they don’t know anything about. They didn’t just take the drugs; they broke into our safe.”
Though some companies and business outfits laid off workers following the development, Destiny said his firm did no such thing. “We didn’t sack any staff,” he explained. “Though our sister company closed down because of the looting, its staff were sent to other branches. That’s how they are still able to get their pay cheques at the end of the month. The sister company is still closed down. We have to move all the products in Casa Bella to this place. It took us three months to come back, to open the shop because we have to put one or two things in place.”
Cards Place, a gift shop located in Surulere, was also looted. In fact, it was torn apart. According to Omotayo Yetunde, the General Manager of the company, the looting came to them as a big shock because they took what they considered a precautionary measure by closing earlier to allow the management to lock down the complex. This followed a directive to that effect, given by the management of Leisure Mall, its parent company. Yet the looters found their way into the semi-fortress.
One year later, her recollection of the incident is as vividly drawn as the stripes of the African Zebra. She said: “On the October 19, everybody was at work. Not quite long, they brought a memo that we should close early and we left the place around 12pm. The following day, which was October 20, we were at home and saw people protesting on TV the killings at Lekki Tollgate. We never knew that we were going to be affected in a bad way. Then on the 21st, we heard that they looted our shops at midnight, carting away our money and goods. I can’t give you an estimate of what we lost because I’m just a manager here. What I can say is that it was a very bad experience. It is not easy to forget. It was not easy to pick up our pieces from where the ugly experience left us. Though we eventually resumed service in the first week of December, last year, things have not been the same. Some customers are still afraid to patronize us; some won’t come because they fear for their safety. What the management has now done is to mount a big iron roller shutter at the main gate.”
Eatery workers and others tell stories of horror
The experience of workers at a branch of Chicken Republic, a popular eatery, is in no way different. Accounts show that the looters were deliberate and methodical with what they did. Among them must have been first-rate criminals because they did not only make away with their sweet-smelling and tantalizing packaged meals, but also disconnected their CCTV cables, obviously, to avoid being caught in the act.
“At the time it happened, we lost almost everything,” a source who did not want his name in print said. “The glass was broken. Two different machines were taken. We lost all the computers in the office. We lost three air conditioners. They even came through the roof to disconnect all the electrical and electronic cables. It was as if they had some personal scores to settle with us. What they could not take, they destroyed. About six bags of chicken were taken from our freezer room. The amount runs into millions of naira because we had nothing less than 60 bags. It took some months before we could come back. The office was first shut down for renovation. We opened this place in January. Because of the widespread looting and destruction that took place here, we didn’t have any sales during last Christmas.”
Chicken Republic is not the only company whose losses run into millions. Organizations like the Lekki Concession Company, the concessionaire of the Lekki Tollgate in Lagos, is said to have recorded the loss of over N2.5bn in revenue collections since the end of the #EndSARS protest in October 2020. Yomi Omomuwasan, the Managing Director of the company, disclosed this fact at a recent press briefing.
The Lagos State government also lost 23 of its long Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) vehicles said to cost $200,000 each, in the Oyingbo and Ojodu Berger areas of the state, and 57 medium-size of them costing $100,000 each, all totalling about N3.9 billion. It lost it to the wild orgies of arson and destruction that followed the killings at Lekki Tollgate. Primero Transport Services Ltd (PRT), owners of BRT buses lost over N100 million in six days due to the #EndSARS protests.
The State’s Commissioner for Information, Mr. Gbenga Omotosho, who disclosed these facts, said that a total of 80 buses were destroyed. “However, the cumulative losses incurred by the state are not ready yet. But it will be mind-boggling. It came on a scale beyond belief,” he stated.