By Percy Dabang and Angela Ukomadu
YOLA/LAGOS (Reuters) – Looters have been targeting state warehouses across Nigeria stocked with COVID-19 relief supplies which they say should already have gone to the poor and hungry.
Authorities denied accusations of food hoarding or plans to sell the supplies. The National Governors Forum (NGF), which brings together the heads of Nigeria’s 36 states, said some of the looted items were a “strategic reserve ahead of a projected second wave of COVID-19.”
But stores of so-called “palliatives”, some rotting, months after COVID-19 lockdowns ended, provoked outrage in a nation reeling from spiralling food prices, high unemployment and anti-police brutality protests that turned violent in October, eroding trust in government.
James, 29, in Yola, the capital of Adamawa state in northeastern Nigeria, said he was tired of unfulfilled government promises to help.
“I was really shocked when I got to the warehouse and I saw the quantity of stuff,” he said. “Most of the stuff were out of date and I was like…why are we not getting it?”
He took seven cartons of noodles, two bags of sugar and a bag of rice.
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Videos showing dozens of similar raids, from northern Kaduna state to western Kwara and Lagos in the south, have filled social media since late October.
At some warehouses, guard were overrun by looters, while state or local officials sent armed men to others to chase the looters away.
Many of the raids happened in the chaotic days following the shooting of protesters in Lagos on Oct. 20, when some areas in Nigeria, mostly in southern states such as Lagos and Cross River became engulfed by lawlessness and there was widespread looting.
Minister of Humanitarian Affairs Sadiya Umar Farouk’s office said distributing palliatives was the responsibility of state governors, not the federal government. The NGF did not return a request for comment.
With Nigerians spending 60% of income on food, according to analysts SBM Intelligence, and trust in government low, some support the looters.
“That is not stealing,” Opeyemi Elegbede, a payment recovery officer for food vendors in Lagos, told Reuters. “They went for their rights.”
Senior SBM analyst Glory Etim said few believe official explanations.
“If these things were not distributed at that time, it means there were other motives behind it,” she said. “It’s this motive that they’ve been trying to explain, and it doesn’t really make sense.”
Nigeria has had 63,790 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,154 deaths.
(Additional reporting by Seun Sanni and Libby George in Lagos; Writing by Libby George; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Raissa Kasolowsky)