Judex Okoro, Calabar
It was like a tragic re-enactment of John Milton’s poem, Paradise Lost. Right now, Calabar, the capital of Cross River State, popularly known as Canaan City, or People’s Paradise, has become a lost paradise.
Recently, protesting youths in the state unleashed anarchy upon Calabar City. In what seemed a coordinated plot, the youths, who disguised as #EndSARS protesters, went berserk and murdered the peace and well-known tranquillity of Canaan City.
Thousands of angry youths simultaneously moved from Calabar South to 8-Miles, visiting hell and carnage on public and private facilities. By the time their angst was assuaged, virtually all public institutions had been brought down. Investigations showed that about 100 houses and shops were devastated.
One of the victims of the violence, Senator Ndoma Egba, whose private residence was also vandalised, regretted the attacks. He said: “Calabar has been historically famous for her allure, peace, security, restfulness, greenery, cleanliness, hospitality and culinary skills.
“People from far and wide have retired here after a life of toil and sweat elsewhere, to find quiet and harmony. Our Carnival Calabar and Obudu Mountain Race have become items on the global events’ calendar, attracting multitudes of people from all over the world as did the Obudu Cattle Ranch.”
Indeed, the destruction was massive. Places like the Calabar International Conference Centre (CICC) and Tinapa Resort meant for business, leisure and entertainment were, among others, destroyed.
Days of rage
Friday, October 23, and Saturday, October 24, 2020, were two days that would not be forgotten in a hurry. The first day started with the continuation of the #EndSARS protest but, later, some warehouses were broken into. The following day, a Saturday, was when Armageddon was literally visited on the People’s Paradise by hoodlums who pillaged virtually every public institution and private property that caught their fancy. Almost all the places they visited were reduced to rubble.
After 48 hours of rampage, nearly all government institutions in four local government areas (LGAs), Calabar Municipality, Calabar South, Akpabuyo and Bakassi, as well some private houses and business worth trillions of naira were affected.
Government institutions vandalised and looted include the state-owned newspapers, Chronicle; office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) along Marian Road; office of the Cross River State Transport Regulatory Agency (CRTRA); Ministry of Agriculture; Cross River Basin Development Authority; office of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC); Federal Psychiatric Hospital; NLC House and National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) office; Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS) Zonal Office; Cross River Agric Development Project (CRADP); Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH); Industrial Training Fund (ITF); NTA 9, Calabar; UNICAL Hotels; Cross River State Property Investment Limited (CROSPIL); Cross River Garment Factory and Carnival Calabar Treasury House; the multibillion-naira Tinapa Leisure and Business Resort and many other government facilities.
Members of the political class also suffered considerable losses. Senators Gershom Bassey, Victor Ndoma and Bassey Ewa Henshaw as well as Hon. Eta Mbora had their houses and guest houses burnt.
Corporate and private businesses vandalised include Valuemat Supermarket, Boulevard Events Centre, Ibedmore Phone Shops, Cold Stone Store and Domino Pizza, Dezenithxtra Telecoms, Communications, UDEC Phone Shop and Spark Shop Calabar, among others.
NLC chairman in the state, Com. Ben Ukpebi, said it would be difficult for the state to recover from the devastating destruction.
Speaking shortly after conducting journalists round the vandalised and looted NLC House, Ukpebi said: “The destruction is devastating and beyond human comprehension and it would be very difficult for Cross River to come out of this.”
Chairman of Bakassi LGA, Iyadim Amboni Iyadim, said the act had taken Bakassi 10 years backward, noting that it would take humongous resources to rebuild the damaged institutions across the LGA.
Some of the property and projects completely vandalised, he said, include a fully furnished 52-unit housing project and all amenities recently inaugurated by Governor Ben Ayade to ease accommodation problems of Bakassi returnees, the council secretariat that was upgraded to a smart office, all health facilities in the area, the only standard secondary school with well-equipped computers, physics and biology laboratories and a divisional police office.
Sen. Bassey Ewa Henshaw, who was in the Senate from 2003 to 2011, said over 1,000 youths invaded his residence at Ete Agbor Layout on Saturday, October 24.
The state chairman of Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, said: “It was a miracle that my family and I walked through the chaos into safety unharmed. Some of those who came to loot turned out to be our rescuers. We left the house in night clothes and barefooted. It was a horrifying experience.”
Describing the vandalism on the university facilities as preposterous and counter-productive, the vice-chancellor, Prof. Zana Akpagu, said the carnage was worrisome.
“If there was a protest against various perceived injustices in the country and state, the aggrieved protesters shouldn’t have vented their spleen on the Ivory Tower that is supposed to be the last hope of the masses,” he said.
Chinasa Chukwu Inya, 29, a dealer in phones and accessories, said she lost about N8 million to the protesters. The native of Afikpo in Ebonyi State, whose business is located at No. 113, 8-Miles Junction, lamented that all her investments over the years went down the drain.
She said she started running the shop on October 19 before the hoodlums invaded the place about 8.30pm on October 23 after she had closed. “They broke into the shop and looted all the stock and cash valued at N8,360,070.
“On Saturday, October 24, when I went there with four of my staff, it was completely vandalised and looted with all the glasses shattered, protector-doors broken, the vault, goods, cash and office equipment all carted away by the hoodlums who claimed to be #EndSARS protesters.
“Now I am confused and frustrated because I don’t know how to pay the loan from the bank and the debt from the major dealers whom I obtained credit facilities from before opening,” she lamented, even as she appealed for help from federal and state governments as well as from Nigerians.
As a result of the massive destruction, it was gathered that some government establishments and privates businesses are planning to relocate to a more friendly state.
For instance, WAEC Nigeria has announced its decision to temporarily relocate its office in Calabar to the WAEC Zonal office, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, till further notice.
Demianus G. Ojijeogu, acting head, public affairs, WAEC, Nigeria, said the planned relocation was an interim measure to continue to carrying out operations and render services. He promised that the organisation would be back in Calabar once the situation becomes calmer.
The FIRS and NIMC are also planning to relocate to Akwa Ibom, it was learnt.
A staff of the NIMC, who identified himself as Emmanuel Nfon, said the looting and burning of the NIMC office in Calabar was heart-breaking and unforgiveable. He wondered why the youths, who were mostly in need of the identity cards, would go all out to destroy an institution meant for them.
A senior director with the ITF who pleaded anonymity said: “It is unfortunate that youths can embark on the destruction of our office that is responsible for training them in various skills and even guaranteeing them on some facilities. They have already destroyed all our facilities and we have no option than to relocate to a more friendly state.
“Besides, Cross River would lose out in many ways because most of these federal agencies also employ their people and absorb NYSC members, if they move out of the state. So, heads or tails, the state would lose out.’
Speaking after assessing the extent of the damage at the Calabar International Conference Centre, Governor Ben Ayade said it would cost about N5 billion to rebuild the centre.
Bakassi council chairman, Amboni Iyadim, said the resources needed to rebuild the damaged facilities would be humongous. The NLC chairman, Ben Ukpebi, said over N200 million would be needed to fix the NLC secretariat.
An estate expert and quantity surveyor, Ntufam Emmanuel Agbor, said: “It would cost over a trillion naira to rebuild Calabar and it is only with the intervention of the Federal Government. Else, the once noted Paradise City is gone for good.”
Civil society activists and development workers have called on state government to investigate and address the causes of events leading to the collapse of the security architecture of the state that resulted in the total breakdown of law and order.
The collation of civil society organisations (CSOs), led by Ben Usang (convener/chairman) and Jonah Okpa (secretary), called on citizens of the state to defend the city of Calabar. He demanded that all those involved be apprehended and made to face justice for their roles in the looting and vandalism of public and private assets in the state.