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Bags and boxes were loaded onto motorcycles, hastily stacked in the backs of cars, or hoisted precariously on top of skulls. Behind a checkpoint manned by helpless soldiers, a long procession of vehicles and pedestrians stretches out to the horizon.
The rumor – probably spread by one of the guards in charge of monitoring the premises or by a knowledgeable neighbor – ran from 5.30 a.m. on Monday, October 26: a shed filled with food had just been “Discovered” in Gwagwalada, a town of over 150,000 inhabitants, located about forty kilometers south of Abuja, the federal capital of Nigeria. One more, after those already forced and methodically emptied in recent days, in Lagos, Port-Harcourt, Kaduna, in the state of Osun or in the city of Jos.
Everyone in Gwagwalada soon knew there was “Enough food for the whole city”, and the population rushed in the hope of seizing a bag of rice, sugar, semolina, or even a box of instant noodles, all stamped “Cacovid”, a private fund to fight against the Covid-19, which funds a food bank.
In the crowd, an exhausted old man hugs a bundle of spaghetti against him, sitting on the floor, while children argue over the contents of a white bag lying in the dust. Timi and her best friend – both 19 – run to the side of the road, hugging their meager booty wrapped in a scarf.
An inaudible public speech
“We saw the crowd and we followed! “ launches young Timi in an excited voice. “There were people everywhere! It’s huge in there, there’s a lot of food. Look ! That’s all we were able to take, because people were fighting. Some have not managed to get out alive ”, she assures.
According to the local press, at least two women would have lost their lives on Monday in Gwagwalada, trampled by the crowd who came to “recover what belonged to him”. Prosper pulls on his threadbare ankara tunic when he explains that this food, “Stored there during confinement” according to him, should have been distributed a long time ago. “It didn’t, so people decided to take matters into their own hands and no longer wait for the government. Now we also want to know why these reserves were locked up and hidden here ”, he specifies.
The authorities assure that the provisions looted in recent days across Nigeria had started to be distributed gradually or that they were kept in case of emergency, or even in anticipation of a second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But public speech is increasingly inaudible in a country plagued by a vast popular protest movement for two weeks and faced with inflation approaching 14% in October, according to figures from the National Bureau of Statistics. “I was convinced that it would end like this, because we have too much trouble feeding ourselves”says Emeka, a graduate of Abuja University who, at 30, has never been able to find a real job. “Gasoline and electricity are also more and more expensive. And even health! Here, everything is money, money, money. Without it, you just have to die! ” he squeaks, watching the crowd flow around him.
For “better governance”
At the beginning of September, the Nigerian presidency effectively announced the end of state subsidies on petroleum at the pump, the prices of which are still partly controlled. The measure seemed inevitable in view of the drastic drop in state revenues, which must withstand the vertiginous drop in the price of a barrel and the collapse of crude production. This decision is no less unbearable for many Nigerians, who saw this historic step as one of their rare privileges as citizens of Africa’s largest crude producer and sixth globally.
The general strike announced at the end of September by the Nigerian Labor Congress (NLC), the main trade union center in the country, was finally suspended at the very last minute after an agreement on the freezing of electricity prices, whose tariffs had also doubled in early September.
Two weeks later, Nigerian youth took to the streets after a spontaneous mobilization on social networks to demonstrate this time against police violence and for “Better governance” in Africa’s most populous country.
This unprecedented protest movement, and ultimately bloodshed by the security forces who opened fire on the crowd in Lagos on October 20, led to a wave of riots, looting and arson, targeting in particular symbols of power and public buildings. And now the hangars filled with food aid from floor to ceiling.
One of the most corrupt countries in the world
“It’s unbearable to think that during the lockdown, when we were all locked in our homes without even being able to share food with our neighbors, the government was sitting on all these reserves”, summarizes David, a resident of the town of Jos (center), where a huge shed containing food aid was completely looted and boned on Saturday 24 October.
“Many people believed that the coronavirus was above all a pretext to control them and prevent them from living”, says the 30-year-old, stressing that the police have sometimes had a heavy hand to enforce traffic restrictions during confinement.
In one of the most corrupt countries in the world, the lack of transparency in the management of funds allocated to food aid, coupled with the hesitant communication of the authorities on the subject, has “Widened the very real lack of confidence of the population towards its leaders”, abounds Idayat Hassan, director of the Center for Democracy and Development in Abuja. The discovery of these sheds filled to the brim with food, just a few steps from the houses, comes from “To reinforce the Nigerians in the idea that their leaders behave as if they are not accountable to anyone”.