Cosmas Omegoh, Omodele Adigun (Lagos), Judex Okoro (Calabar), Sola Ojo (Kaduna), Layi Olarnewaju (Ilorin), Seye Ojo (Ibadan), Gyan Bere (Jos), and Sylvanus Viashima (Jalingo)
Stakeholders involved in the management and distribution of food palliatives donated by the Coalition against COVID-19 (CACOVID) across the country have said that food and other items looted nationwide from various warehouses by hoodlums and the masses were not hoarded.
This is coming as some state governments have vowed to mete out tough actions against the looters, with some assuring that they would not allow the sad drama, which played out in their areas to put them down.
Wide-spread looting triggered by days of #ENDSARS protests beginning from October 20, had fueled speculations that CACOVID and Federal Government food palliatives were hoarded by various state governments.
For days, fire and fury reigned in the land. From Lagos to Calabar, Osun to Ilorin to Kaduna through Jos to Taraba, an orgy of looting of government and private warehouses raged across the states as angry and hungry Nigerians, both old and young, descended like a swan of locust on every facility they suspected to be housing food, and forcefully stripping all of them bare.
In some instances, they did the unimaginable – stealing tractors like they did in Yola, Adamawa State and personal protective equipment, as well as other medical consumables as was reported in Lokoja, Kogi State and Benin City, Edo State.
The CACOVID palliatives initiative
The palliative materials which the looters carted away were largely provided by a coalition of corporate Nigeria as part of its COVID-19 intervention.
The coalition, which was led by the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, had set sight on supporting effort against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tagged Coalition Against COVID (CACOVID), the group was able to raise N27.1 billion out of the N120 billion it targeted. And with that, it set aside N23 billion for the purchase of food materials for an estimated 1.67 million households, especially the vulnerable in all the 774 local government areas of the country.
The Federal Government was also dishing out some palliatives through the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development to help the citizens cushion the effect of COVID-19.
When palliatives began to arrive in states
According to Sunday Sun investigation, some of the palliatives had started arriving in the various states during the lockdown period. But some states claimed that they started receiving theirs as late as two months ago.
For instance, the Lagos State government through its acting Commissioner for Agriculture, Abisola Olusanya, said: “The state governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, had on September 22, 2020 formally took receipt of the food palliatives from the CACOVID team meant for distribution to the indigent.”
In Kaduna, Sunday Sun gathered that the exact date when the palliative was offloaded in various local governments was not clear. But CACOVID’s report showed that it might have been between June and August, 2020. But the first palliative was shared in nine local government areas of the state between May and June.
Acting governor of Kaduna State, Hadiza Sabuwa Balarabe said that “Kaduna State received the last delivery of CACOVID items after lifting the lockdown, at a time when the state’s COVID-19 figures were rising. The government considered the real possibility that a second lockdown might be required. Therefore, it weighed the prospect of using these donations to mitigate the lockdown were such to happen.
“However, the government subsequently decided to distribute the CACOVID items to vulnerable citizens, using the lessons from the distribution of the items purchased by the state government during the lockdown.”
Similarly, CACOVID has explained why the distribution of palliatives was delayed.
The coalition through the acting Director of Corporate Communications of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Osita Nwanisobi, said that the distribution was delayed due to the magnitude of the number of food items to be distributed.
He stated that though CACOVID embarked on the palliatives effort in April, the first deliveries could not start until last June to the state governments.
Nwanisobi added that “unfortunately, the very large size of the order and the production cycle required to meet the demand caused delays in delivering the food items to states. The first set of deliveries did not start until June and the delivery has been staggered which in turn led to different distribution timelines for states.
“As of October 2020, a sizeable portion of the items had been delivered, but yet to be distributed by governors. Although various states and the FCT had commenced flag-off of the distribution of the food items since early August, some could not conclude the distribution as they were yet to receive complete deliveries of the items delivered to them.
“As of October 26, 2020, some states had confirmed completion of their distribution while others were in the process of proceeding with the distribution before these looting took place.”
He explained that CACOVID had been working with governors, the FCT minister, and the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) to procure, deliver, and distribute food relief items to almost two million most vulnerable families (over 10 million Nigerians) across the 774 local government areas of the country.
Governors deny hoarding
Meanwhile, the state governors under their umbrella, the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), have debunked claims that they hoarded palliatives from CACOVID after crowds raided warehouses storing the items.
In a statement issued by NGF’s head of the media and public affairs unit, Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, the governors dismissed allegations that they delayed the distribution of CACOVID palliatives on purpose.
“The NGF re-emphasises and corrects the impression that palliatives found in warehouses that were broken into in Lagos and some other states were kept in storage for members of the society especially our vulnerable citizens.
“The erroneous impression in the public domain that these palliatives were hoarded is not just inaccurate, entirely erroneous and untrue, but also mischievous, to say the least.
“Until mid-October, when the NGF had its last meeting, up to 10 states had not participated in the flag-off ceremonies for the distribution of palliatives in their states. This was because the items meant for distribution in these states had not been completely received from CACOVID.
“Some other states that still had palliatives in their warehouses chose to keep a strategic reserve ahead of a projected second wave of COVID-19.
“Furthermore, as of a couple of weeks ago, some states were still receiving palliatives from the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.
“The NGF wishes to state categorically that no state has been involved in or has hoarded any palliatives.”
In Ibadan, it was speculated that the looted items belonged to Oyo State government. But this has been refuted by the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Matters, and Chairman of the Food Security and Palliative Committee of the Oyo State COVID-19 Task Force, Chief Bayo Lawal.
He told our reporter that “the state government could not hoard what it did not have. CACOVID only supported the state with cash, medical items and food items, including noodles and spaghetti.”
He made it known that none of the state’s food items was stored outside the state secretariat at Agodi, Ibadan.
Our reporter gathered that in the early hours of Friday, October 23, hoodlums stormed a private warehouse located in Akobo area of Ibadan, Lagelu Local Government, Oyo State, and looted many bags of rice, which the CACOVID wanted to distribute as palliatives to four states in Nigeria.
The owner of the warehouse, Mr Alabi Adeoye, who introduced himself as a vendor for CACOVID, decried the untoward situation, stating that the looted rice at the warehouse were meant to be supplied to Abia, Cross-River, Plateau and Taraba states.
Similarly, Kaduna acting governor denied that “the CACOVID donations were hoarded by the government or any of its officials. Rather, the government was ready to commence distribution in all the local government areas, after taking pains to arrange a fair and efficient system,” she explained.
Taraba State governor, Darius Ishaku, explained that contrary to prevailing impression, the state government did not hide the palliatives that were looted from the state’s warehouses, adding that the state was already distributing the items before the hoodlums struck.
The governor’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr Bala Dan Abu said: “The state government was already distributing these items before they were looted. Some of the items that came in from the Federal Government, were from the North East Development Commission and those purchased by the state government for distribution to displaced persons from the various crisis in the state. And the government has been distributing these items for quite some time now. Some of the items are not even palliatives at all, but items purchased for distribution to beneficiaries of skill acquisition programmes in the state.
“These items were brought in and offloaded by labourers who are from around here and we’re among those that committed the looting, so getting information was not a challenge at all”.
Who kept palliatives in warehouses
In Lagos, the state government admitted that the relief materials which were looted from a warehouse at Mazamaza area were donations from CACOVID.
The state acting Commissioner for Agriculture, Olusanya lamented the vandalisation of the warehouse at Mazamaza housing the food palliative packages donated to the state government by the CACOVID group.
She added that “the warehouse in question is not state-owned and its usage was made available to the CACOVID group,” adding that the state government had been allowed to commence rebagging of food items allotted to it from the quantities meant for Southwest states.
In Ilorin, the Kwara State government admitted that the looted food items in two warehouses in the state capital belonged to it.
Commissioner for Communications, Harriet Afolabi-Oshatimehin, noted that items at Cargo Terminal were part of the state’s portion of donation by CACOVID. They were handed over to the state by Aliko Dangote Foundation sometime in August 2020, but the flag off for distribution could not start until September 23, 2020.”
She noted that the state government kept the goods in the two available warehouses at Cargo Terminal and another at Agro Mall in Ilorin.
She recalled that the looted palliatives were handed over to the state by the Federal Government on October 13, 2020 and were meant for victims of the recent rainstorm and flood in at least eight local government areas of the state.
The government said the distribution, which was being done by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), had been carried out in Asa, Ilorin South, Ilorin East, and parts of Ilorin West before the hoodlums looted the warehouse in Ilorin.
It said the remaining palliatives that were looted were meant for the victims in Edu, Moro, Patigi and Ifelodun local governments, insisting that no palliatives were diverted or hoarded.
Plateau State Commissioner for Information and Communication, Mr. Dan Manjang, said that much of the palliatives meant for COVID-19 were shared before the looting and that the looted food relief were delivered to the state by Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq few days before the EndSARS protests began in the state.
How hoodlums knew about palliative presence
One of the looters, who is currently undergoing trial with 355 suspects arrested in connection with the looting in Jos and Bukuru areas, disclosed that one of them who had knowledge of where the palliatives were kept was directing the hoodlums.
At Mazamaza in Lagos, the looters carted away food items like bags of rice, cartons of noodles, garri, pasta, tomatoes, sugar and salt with “CACOVID NOT FOR SALE” boldly inscribed on them.
According to reports, the locals forced their way into the warehouse after some officials refused to hand over some of the food items to them after much begging.
Video report showed the ensuing ruckus as residents rushed into the warehouse to cart away items. Some of the residents who made videos of the incident described it as taking what is theirs as the government was hoarding it.
A resident who pleaded anonymity said that the looters knew about the stockpile of palliatives because the state government officials were regular visitors to the facility.
“For months these things were stocked there. Some of them we learnt had started expiring, meaning that they had been there for long.
“It was wicked for the state government to keep materials meant for the citizenry, waiting to play politics with them.
“During first phase they distributed, about 50 people got a bag of rice. Imagine the quantity each individual got.
“To make matters worse, some state governments said they were waiting for the second wave of COVID-19 before they start sharing the items. Isn’t that wicked? Does that argument add up?
“People are dying of hunger, yet they were hoarding items donated to the people?
“I condemn looting of individuals’ businesses and property, but as for the state governments, they got what they deserved,” the source angrily said.
In Kaduna, an eyewitness who spoke in confidence narrated how the hoodlums operated unhindered for five hours at Barbara, Kaduna, before a 24-hour curfew was imposed on the area by the state government.
“They came around 1:00 p.m and were here till around 6:00p.m without anyone challenging them. When they were done looting the warehouse, they stormed my house and carted away my personal belongings.
“They vandalised my house from roof to the ground. Later, a vehicle came, four boys alighted from the bus, entered my house again and went with my daughter’s mobile phone in addition to other items,” he lamented.
On how the hoodlums got wind of the items looted in Taraba, Dan Abu recalled that “these items were brought in and offloaded by labourers who are from around here and we’re among those that committed the looting, so getting information was not a challenge at all.”
In Calabar, it was gathered that one of the protesters was said to have told his colleagues that there is an Ayade Food Bank at the state Housing Estate.
Then, a few of them numbering about seven, headed straight for COVID-19 palliative warehouse located within the premises of the Cross River State Property Investment Limited (CROSPIL) at State Housing Estate. They broke into the facility and discovered a large quantity of food stuff and without waiting time, called others to the looting spree.
How palliatives were distributed in the past
While alluding that previous palliatives in the state were distributed, Lagos State agric commissioner, Olusanyan, noted that “for effective distribution of the food palliatives, groups such as transport unions, ethnic groups, religious associations, artisans and tradesmen association, market men and women association, people living with disabilities, orphanages and old people’s homes, among others, were being used as distribution channels to their members.”
She noted that the distribution was on-going, but had to be halted due to protests, before the invasion of the warehouse.
Reacting to the non-distribution of COVID-19 palliative, the Commissioner for Humanitarian Services, Mrs Blessing Egbara, said Cross River distributes its share in sequence.
She said: “Contrary to the mis-information being peddled, Cross River State has been distributing foodstuff palliatives to the most vulnerable ones in the state in sequence.
“The distribution began with the release of the palliatives to those who needed it most through churches, followed by release through traditional rulers.
“This was followed by distribution of the palliatives in the Northern senatorial district. It was followed by distribution in the Central senatorial district.”
Kwara State information commissioner Afolabi-Oshatimehin noted that “the CACOVID and the state government had since September 23, flagged off the distribution of the palliatives.
“But it was meant for specific households, as dictated by CACOVID, and so names had to be properly generated to allow for transparent and orderly distribution.”
The government said that CACOVID and the state government had since distributed the majority of the palliatives to the identified vulnerable households in 15 of the 16 local government areas of the state.
“The remaining palliatives in the terminal, which the hoodlums preyed on until chased away by security agencies were meant for special vulnerable groups and just one local government specifically (Offa Local Government Area) where names of the beneficiaries have just been delivered and officials have started distributing when the street urchins breached the wall of the facility.”
Equally, Kaduna State acting governor, Balarabe informed that “Kaduna State received the last delivery of CACOVID items after lifting the lockdown, at a time when the state’s COVID-19 figures were rising. The government considered the real possibility that a second lockdown might be required. Therefore, it weighed the prospect of using these donations to mitigate the lockdown were such to happen.
“However, the government subsequently decided to distribute the CACOVID items to vulnerable citizens, using the lessons from the distribution of the items purchased by the state government during the lockdown.
Plans to distribute looted palliatives
In Kaduna, the chairperson, Kaduna Social Protection Accountability Coalition (KADSPAC), Ms Jessica Bartholomew, said that “contrary to claims that the palliatives were hoarded by politicians for private use, we want to confirm that we are privy to information on the planned distribution of the CACOVID palliatives across the state by the government.
“Arrangement for the distribution of the palliatives to the poor and vulnerable households in Chikun and other LGAs had reached an advanced stage before the unfortunate incident.
“What many did not know is that the building in Barnawa, where the palliatives were looted was the same used to distribute palliatives to poor and vulnerable households in Chikun local government in the pilot phase across nine local government areas in April during the lockdown.
“As a coalition made up of civil society and media, we tracked the distribution from the same location to the various benefiting communities and reported our findings to the state-level committee and through the media.”
Kwara State government on it part, acknowledged the looting incident at Agro Mall, revealing that the item taken away were the recent food palliatives donated by the Federal Government on October 13. The item it was learnt were meant for eight councils in the state which were affected by recent flood and rainstorm. It noted that out of the number, the palliatives for Ilorin South, East, Asa and West had been distributed. What were left – which was looted were – the palliatives meant for Edu, Patigi, Moro and Ifelodun.
CACOVID representative in Kwara State, Taoheed Adewale Fasasi equally debunked claims that the state government diverted or hoarded the palliatives meant for the vulnerable households as no less than 15 of the 16 local governments had benefited before the store was looted.
He noted that the palliatives, which were majorly foodstuffs, were donated across the state.
He said the distribution was flagged off by Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq on August 11, following the handover of the goods by the private sector-led body.
“In terms of distribution of the palliatives, it’s been an excellent performance for Kwara State especially in terms of three key things. We’ve always feared that this could be where there will be problem because we don’t want it to get to the wrong hands. But they (state government) have been able to come up with lists that come directly from the grassroots. And, with this, we know how many families that were given. We have recordings of how many families that were given.”
Fasasi said that the monitoring and evaluation team of CACOVID was on the field to ensure that the palliatives got to the right persons across the state, asserting that its reports did not support the claims that the government hoarded the palliatives.
“It is not just about handing over to the state, but ensuring that it gets to where it is supposed to get to. We always have a monitoring team. Apart from being a member, I have a monitoring team that’s also checking me at every point in time. It is CACOVID’s way of doing things. As the state committee was getting it out, we were interacting with the beneficiaries. We have the videos. We went there based on those identified,” he added.
Mr Kale Belgore, an assistant to Kwara State Governor and state government focal person on the palliatives, explained that beneficiaries cutting across 15 of the 16 local governments collected the items as of Friday, October 23, when the hoodlums attacked the Cargo Terminal where the palliatives were warehoused.
“We were loading the one for Offa (the 16th and last local government on Friday when the hoodlums attacked the place.”
What state governments‘ll do next
Plateau State governor, Simon Lalong Lalong insisted that the unhealthy development would not deter him from delivering the fruits of democracy to the people of the state, vowing that he would not allow hoodlums and criminals to overrun and destroy Plateau.
He said that government had commenced the trial of over 350 suspects arrested in connection to the looting to serve as deterrent to others.
Dan Manjang said that the state government has set up a committee to assess the level of damage and recommend what government needed to do urgently to remedy the situation now that the dry season farming is approaching.
Meanwhile, in Cross River, Adamawa, and Osun, the governors have lunched house-to-house manhunt for the looters in order to recover some of the looted items.
Special Adviser, Media and Publicity to Governor Ben Ayade, Mr Christain Ita, said: «The governor has invited all critical stakeholders to an assessment tour of all the public institutions and private property vandalised and looted by #EndSARS protesters and after that, decisions would be taken on the next step to take, including whether to replenish the warehouses.
“He said the looted palliatives come from CACOVID and so we are equally waiting to hear from them.”
A senior Kwara State government official who pleaded anonymity said that the government was yet to make its position known on the looted palliatives as the major concern was how to rehabilitate the owners of private shops and malls looted in order to stem unemployment in the state.
He expressed hope that a definite step would be taken to ensure the people do not suffer.