When Hoodlums Turned Their Fury on Wrong Targets

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The dust over the recent protests against the now disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad is yet to settle, as victims of attacks by hoodlums continue to count their losses. Ndubuisi Francis and James Emejo chronicle the ugly sides of a rather peaceful march in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, which turned to fists of fury against harmless residents

It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who described a mob as “man voluntarily descending to the nature of the beast.” Nothing gives practical expression to that description than the recent ugly incidents in parts of Abuja by gangsters who latched on the nationwide #ENDSARS protests to launch unprovoked attacks on defenceless citizens and visit mind-boggling destruction on the assets of innocent residents and corporate bodies.

In the beginning, the protests recorded no violent incidents in the FCT for over a week, except for the well-reported attacks on the protesters in the Berger area, where thugs who confessed to be sponsored descended on the marchers, destroying their cars and physically assaulting some.

In one of the nights, protesters observed a candlelight procession and kept vigil around the headquarters of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in memory of victims of police brutality across the country. Futile attempts were reportedly made to disperse them by the police.

There were also reports that policemen deployed to maintain law and order allegedly pulled the trigger and threw teargas cannisters on the protesters while on a peaceful procession to AYA.

Deployment of Soldiers

On October 19, 2020, the protesters had given notice that they were going to block all entry points into Abuja and exit out of the capital city. Prior to the notice, a heavy deployment of soldiers and police was witnessed across the FCT and its environs.

Apparently to forestal the threat of the protesters, soldiers said to be from the Mogadishu Cantonment (Abacha Barracks) in Asokoro barricaded the service lanes of the Abuja-Keffi highway around the barracks axis.

At the popular AYA section of Asokoro, the soldiers and policemen were seen preventing the protesters from blocking the highway, using whips. Some of the protesters, who wouldn’t budge sustained injuries during a pandemonium after security operatives fired teargas to disperse them.

Also, troops were stationed under the bridge from AYA-Kubwa Expressway to forestall security breach.

Some of the protesters and suspected thugs ran for cover under tree shields by the service lanes to avoid lashes from the battle-ready soldiers.

On the Airport road, troops were seen in trucks driving against traffic, patrolling the full stretch of the road. But the Federal Secretariat axis was free, as the protesters bearing the Nigerian flag as well as placards with #EndSARS, #ENDBadGovernance inscriptions moved unmolested on the Ibrahim Babangida Way, traversing Zone 4 in Wuse and Wuse 2.

They also blocked the Kuje-Airport Road for hours impeding movement and stopping many workers from coming to the city.

Commuters experienced a similar thing along the Dutsen-Alhaji-Bwari Road.Also, soldiers were deployed to some strategic locations across the city including the Presidential Villa gate.

However, police personnel took positions in front of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) headquarters with Armoured Personnel Carrier and water cannons.They also blocked the #EndSARS protesters in Karu, bordering Abuja and Nasarawa State.

The Fury of Hired Thugs, Gangsters in Apo

Between October 19 and 20, things took a turn for the worse as visuals of thugs alleged to be sponsored and ferried to some locations in the the FCT by government officials went viral. Gudu District of Abuja, especially Apo and Dutse were epicentres of vandalism, arson and brutal attacks on innocent citizens and their businesses, imputing ethnic slant to the entire episode in the process.

Counting Losses

While the dust raised by the peaceful protests and violent attacks appears to be settling, many business owners, particularly in Apo and Dutse are still counting their losses. Some of the victims recount their experiences to THISDAY.

Emeka Enwereji from Obingwa Local Government of Abia State told THISDAY that he lost over N50 million as his car sales stand was completely razed by thugs, who appeared to have targeted people from a section of the country. He lamented that had the law enforcement agents acted swiftly, the thugs who appeared from the Lokogoma axis of old Kabusa juction wouldn’t have wrought the kind of damage visited on businesses, including his.

But what still baffles Enwereji was the attitude of his trusted security guard who has worked with him for years. According to him, when the invaders who vandalised and later set his cars ablaze came the first time clutching dangerous weapons, his security guard, a northerner rushed into Enwereji’s bus, grabbed a machete which the guard had obviously been hiding there and joined his kinsmen who were attacking. Since then, he has neither returned to his duty post nor picked his calls.

Enwereji appealed to the government, particularly the FCT Minister, Mallam Mohammed Adamu Bello who has already visited victims of attacks and made promises to assuage their pains and losses.

Yet, another victim of the Apo attacks, Abambe Addo Auwal, also recounted his experience. He said: “I am a mechanic here. On Monday (October 19) when the incident started, I went to Apo Resettlement to fix one car. Already I parked two cars here (new Kabusa junction), working on them before someone whose car broke down called me, and I went to Apo Resettlement.

“It was around afternoon time, after we were through with the other work, and I was coming back with one of my car electricians who worked together with me on the car at Apo Resettlement. Before we could get to old Kabusa junction, we stopped an okada rider (commercial motorcyclist) and told him to take us to this police container post at new Kabusa junction, and he said, “I am not sure of reaching this police container because there is crisis”.

“I said, what kind of crisis will stop us from passing through this place and he said a very serious problem was happening. I now asked him what happened and he began to tell us that they brought about eight motorcyclists down. I asked whether the eight of them were dead, and he said, no. He said they hit them and that they were down and they took away their motorcycles. As we were reaching the new Kabusa junction, we met some policemen standing and the place was crowded, and people were running and motorists were hitting each other.

“Then, a group of people (I don’t know who they were ) began to break, vandalise and set fire on vehicles in one car stand at Kabusa Junction. One motorist was trying to escape from the crisis point with his Highlander car and they pursued the man. As they were pursuing the man, he was running. When the vehicle was coming towards me, I ran for my life and went back to Apo Resettlement and stayed there until Tuesday morning.

“I followed through the bush the next day because of the vehicles I parked here. I had to leave them here at Kabusa Junction and run away the previons day. When I got back to Kabusa Junction on Tuesday morning to see if I could remove two of my cars which I parked at the mechanic workshop before they will burn all of them, I saw a lot of police vehicles (trucks), and a lot of people near the primary school with cutlasses and other dangerous weapons.

“They numbered between 300 and 400 people. Here also, there were a lot of policemen and soldiers. So, the cutlass-weiding people came out, and the police and army were here and watched while those people completed what they started on Monday. There was not even a word from them to stop the arsonists and they started burning the remaining places; they cleared everywhere. After burning everything, they were like, where do we go next? They said let’s go to Waru; there is a ‘pantaker’ there and clear there. I was among them because of this my workshop; I didn’t want them to touch my shop.

“I started following them. As they were moving, a member of the mob used his stick to break the windscreen of a police Hilux that was parked there. Then, that was when the police who were watching while other cars were being burnt started reacting by firing teargas. Everybody started running, and they ran away. So, things started returning to normalcy. I went home myself. After we went home, around past 4pm after I prayed, somebody called me on phone that the hoodlums came back to my workshop and broke the whole windscreen of the cars. I was surprised and I demanded to know what happened. He said another group; that’s the Gwoza people (from Maiduguri) struck and began to break the car glasses (windscreens) that the first group did not touch. They also burnt many shops.”

Auwal said the vandals and arsonists were in two groups, adding that the attacks were from the Gwoza people against the Igbo. He exonerated the Hausa from the attacks, stressing: “The pure Hausa people do not engage in this kind of fight, but people call all of them Hausa.”

Asked to comment on what may have triggered the violence that culminated in the burning of cars and shops, Auwal said the violence, according to the story he heard, erupted after eight okada riders were knocked down with sticks by the rampaging hoodlums.

He, however regretted that the said the violence he witnessed himself in his workshop and nearby places happened while law enforcement agents watched as cars and shops were vandalised and burnt.

He stressed that said the arsonists were said to be breaking some car windscreens in the Garki area before they were chased away, and they moved towards Apo where they unleashed mayhem on cars and workshops.

The biggest loser in the entire madness in Gudu District, specifically, Apo, appears to be one Uche Ndukwe whose car sales stand and auto repair workshop around Malaysian Gardens, new Kabusa junction, is in complete ruin.

He told THISDAY, heart laden with grief, that he lost about N400 million to the massive destruction and arson in his business premises. A visit to the business premises only leaves carcases of scores of exotic cars burnt by the arsonists as sad reminders of the wanton destruction.

Among the cars completely burnt was a bullet-proof BMW series owned by the spokesman of the Conference of United Political Parties (CUPP), Ikenga Ugochinyere whose vehicle was undergoing maintenance checks before the attacks.

Ndukwe also appealed to the federal government and the FCT Minister to assist the victims recover from the huge losses due to no fault of theirs.

Analysts Assess Losses

As businesses continue to count their losses resulting from the crisis that emanated from the #ENDSARS protests across the country, the Director General, Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), Mrs. Victoria Akai said public and business owners lost not less than N900 million within two weeks of the unrest.

She told THISDAY in an interview that in view of the fact that the country is still struggling from the negative impact of several weeks of lockdowns occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic and the downturn in the price of crude oil, coupled with the latest protests, the time line for economic recovery may take several years.

The ACCI DG said:”The economic impact occasioned by COVID-19 pandemic is likely to be more severe if the current unrest and curfews persist beyond this month. At the backdrop of the destruction of both public and private properties and business activities in the country, Abuja has suffered a huge blow, losing nothing less than N900 million to the crisis.

“Three car stands in Apo Mechanic Village, a church and a filing station were burnt down. Also several shops and vehicles were vandalised and destroyed. The loss is massive.”

She said generally, the impact of the unrest on businesses in Abuja was likely to worsen the job crisis and negatively impact government’s efforts to revive the economy.

“The situation has also forced us to postpone the date of the 15th Abuja International Trade Fair from November 24, 2020 to December 4, 2020. The fair was initially scheduled to take place on October 22 to November 2, 2020.

“The country is experiencing an increased number of youth delinquencies because they have so much time on their hands doing nothing.”

The chamber, however, urged the federal government to constructively engage youths in its policies and programmes in order to curb youth delinquency in the country adding that the government should also engage them in skills and empowerment programmes.

The ACCI DG recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari had during his 2021 Budget speech, warned Nigerians to prepare for a recession by December.

She added that economic projections remain gloomy as the ongoing crisis has weighed on investors’ sentiments while activity levels have remained low.

“The crisis will negatively impact in the perception of Nigeria as an investment destination,” the chamber added.

Also speaking with THISDAY on the development, a former DG of ACCI, Dr. Chijioke Ekechukwu, noted that the arson and looting had further worsened the economic activities of the country particularly the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

According to him, businesses have been shut down for fear of attacks while interstate movement of goods has also been disrupted as prices of good and services had skyrocketed, stressing that the development will further increase the inflation rate at the end of the period.

He said: “Even with the opening of international flights, our economy is not benefiting from that as many investors have pulled back. Some foriegn companies that have been looted and destroyed may decide to close down and return to their countries of origin.

However, in his assessment, the President, Capital Market Academics of Nigeria, Prof. Uche Uwaleke, said, “While it may be relatively easy to quantify the explicit costs to government, groups and individuals of properties destroyed in the wake of the end SARS crisis which runs into billions of US dollars, the implicit costs from curfews in several states, movement restrictions, reputational risk and impact on investment cannot be quantified.

“So also is the loss of precious lives many of whom must be family breadwinners,” he added.

Uwaleke said the outcome will manifest in the decline in real GDP deepening the projected economic contraction in the year as well as cause disruptions in supply chain and deepen inflation.

He said the development will further lead to the widening of fiscal deficit as government is bound to incur extra budgetary expenditure to fix damaged infrastructure.

He said:”This will entail further borrowing and worsening the debt burden. Further reduction in foreign investments should be expected which is likely going to affect external reserves and put more pressure in the forex market and the exchange rate.

“The stock market is likely to witness dampening of investors sentiments. Also, the overall level of poverty and unemployment will likely rise. Government should move fast to restore normalcy and confidence in the economy including speedy implementation of socioeconomic reforms in line with the demands of the end SARS protesters.”