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‘We got a glimpse what society without police would look like’
For business owners on Bode Thomas and Adeniran Ogunsanya streets in Surulere, Lagos, it was reality check, as looting and vandalisation on a scale they never imagined could happen, happened before their very eyes, causing them to lose goods in billions of naira. Gboyega Alaka, who visited the high streets, following the looting that trailed the #EndSARS protests, reports.
IT was a night of terror. Real terror! They were in their thousands, armed with all sorts of weapons, with which they pulled down all our burglary barriers. Have you seen a situation where people came to loot and came with trucks, buses and even Marwa (tricycles) to cart away their loots? It was unthinkable.”
Those were the opening words of Adenike Oni, proprietor of Felgron Furniture on 60 Bode Thomas Street Surulere, Lagos, one of the shops vandalised and looted clean by hoodlums in the wake of the recent #EndSARS protests.
Seen supervising repairs on her vandalised shop this Wednesday afternoon, Oni recalled that it was a scene beyond words. “It happened Tuesday night around 11pm and lasted through the night, till 7am. They broke down all barriers, pulled out all security and anti burglary installations and made away with everything. I live in the back flat and even though I couldn’t see them, I could literally hear them and the sounds, as they banged and hammered at the doors.”
Asked if they were able to muster any form of resistance, Oni looked up sharply and said in a rather stern voice: “You dare not. Even residents, and I’m not talking of business owners, jumped the fence into the estate behind on Eric Moore Road. They were attacking every shop and apartment. They were coming into flats, pulling down air-conditioners, flat screen televisions, everything. There is no shop that didn’t have ‘adequate’ burglary proof installations, but they were breaking them down without hindrance. They tried to enter my own apartment too, though unsuccessfully. They also tried to enter the Eric Moore Towers behind but they were repelled by the security personnel.”
On how much she lost in the looting, Oni said, “Lagos State government officials have been here. They were asking for an estimation of what we lost; I made an estimate of five million naira. My neighbour made an estimate of 25million naira. She sells expensive fabrics, but they took away everything. I had beddings, duvets, bed sheets, we had some machinery that we use in working/production; they made away with all of them. They took furniture; some they dropped on the way, probably because they were too heavy for them. I didn’t have electronics here; otherwise they wouldn’t have spared them.”
Asked how traumatised the experience has been, her reaction became dramatic: “Did I hear you say trauma? If there is any word beyond ‘trauma’, it probably should be that word. It was worse. It was like a war zone. We had an experience of what a war situation would look like.”
Talking of the police, which station was just a few meters away, Oni said matter-of-factly, “There was no Police. Everybody, including the police, was concerned about their lives. In spite of their excesses, what we experienced gave us a vivid idea of what society would become if there were no police.”
Next door to Oni was Ify Onodugo. Like Oni, she was also busy piecing what remained of her Blossom Designs shop together and generally supervising repairs.
A visibly wearied Onodugo corroborated Oni’s statement that she lost goods worth 25million naira, stressing that the looters took everything valuable, save the fan, which proved too difficult to remove.
“Honestly, if I had an inkling the demonstration was going to take such ugly turn, I wouldn’t have brought my latest consignment from America into the shop. The george materials they took away was worth N7million; lace was worth N5million; not to talk of other materials. They even took away my AC, TV; if you go inside, you would see that they even attempted to take the fan, but I guess it proved too difficult for them to remove. Every other thing you see there are pieces, which are not useful. But they left their shoes, their leftover drinks and some of the tools they used in breaking down the door.”
Asked how much this has set her back, Onodugo, who said this is her only business, sighed heavily and said, “No word to describe it. In fact I’ve not slept since that day. I lost everything I’ve laboured for in the last six years in just one day.”
Surprisingly both neighbours, though with their business located on a high street, said they do not nave insurance cover for their business.
Said Oni, “You know, you can think of a burglar but you could never think of something of this nature. You could never think of looting of this magnitude. You need to go see how they cleaned out Samsung or look at the video recordings online. Even further down at Simba, they stole everything, including high-powered bicycles, which prices range from N500,000 to N800,000.”
It is perhaps for this reason that Onodugo said, her only words to the government are, “Please, just tell them to help us recover some of the things we lost. They should make good their promise to help us get back on our feet.”
Both attested to the visits of Lagos State government, the Surulere Local Council Development Area, even Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila.
I was so sure no one could break open my shop
For Ubaka of Ubaka boutique, a couple of blocks away, it was reality check. For hours, he said he argued with friends who called to alert him that shops on Bode Thomas were being looted, that no one could break open his shop.
“I got a call in Alagomeji, Yaba, where I reside that shops were being looted but I never believed it could affect my shop because of the kind of security installations I had in place. I had double metal doors, so I didn’t believe they could be able to break it down. So when my landlady called to tell me they had broken into my shop, I dismissed it initially, insisting they could never penetrate my shop. It was after 6 o’clock in the morning when a neighbour called to tell me she was right in front of my shop, that it was wide open and looted clean that I knew I was in trouble.”
Asked how he felt when he saw the wreck on his shop, Ubaka said, “I literally broke down. I couldn’t hold myself, but what could I do? As you can see for yourself, it was looted clean, save for the shelves. I had closed early at about 3pm on Tuesday owing to the curfew announced by the Lagos State government. I never thought the protest could turn out this way. I lost stuffs worth six million naira, and the truth is, I don’t know where to start from. I don’t have insurance; I never believed in it, but this has taught me a lesson.”
Like his neighbours, Ubaka is hoping on whatever the government would be able to muster to set him up again. He has also reported to the police and visited the station to see if his were among any of the recovered stuff.
Two plots from Ubaka Boutique is what used to be a glamorous MTN franchise store. Not sure it could pass for that anymore though, as all that is left are broken furniture, litres and refuse. Like the other stores visited, it has been looted clean.
According to the gentleman on ground when The Nation visited, Wilfred Agbator, it was 24 hours of unbridled looting.
‘I stay upstairs and literally overheard the activities of the looters as they went about their unbridled looting. I was helpless, nobody to call, not even the police, who at that time were also scampering for safety. We are into phones, phone accessories, MTN VTU, data, welcome back….”
Agbator however said it would be difficult to enumerate the stolen items in the store in one fell swoop. “As you can see, they broke the safe, they basically vandalised everything. They made away with our AC, our computers, TV, DSTV decoder and other gadgets. In short, all our office equipment and valuable. In monetary terms, we should be looking at 13 million naira.”
Is there a chance MTN could support in bringing the outlet back to life?
Agbator said, “I wouldn’t know.” He also could not comment categorically on the insurance status of the outlet, but attested to Lagos State’s visit and pledge of support.
Church not spared
Opposite the MTN franchise is 43 Bode Thomas, which houses Redeemed Christian Church of God (Christ The Light Chapel) on the ground floor and ISFRUVGUD Bathrooms an Home decor outfit upstairs.
Though not on ground on the day of visit, Prince Olanrewaju Adeniyi, who owns the building and runs the bathrooms decor outfit spoke to The Nation on phone.
He said, “They took away everything they could lay their hands on. They broke into the church, stole away all the chairs, music equipment, air conditioners, they even removed the altar, and carted away two generators.
“Upstairs, where I run my business, nothing was spared either. Personally, I lost almost 26 million naira in total. We have a section for COVID-19 equipment, where we had 700 PPEs; as we speak, we have just 36 left. Each PPE cost N5,500. What bothers me is where they hoped to sell them. Who will buy PPEs from them? I tell you it was crazy. Even the Jacuzzi that they couldn’t take away, they vandalised.
“It is not something I want to be talking about. People have been coming; even Lagos State has been here. I learnt some people have even been trying to scam victims of the looting. But I want to express my appreciation to Governor Sanwo-Olu; I keep saying he is the best governor Lagos has had; and I’m not saying this because I’m expecting any favours but because I have known him to be a man of his words even before he became governor. As a matter of fact, I’m not expecting anything from the government because if you know the level of damage done to businesses, you will know that it will be tough for the government to sort us out.”
Already, Adeniyi said the protocol being spelt out by the government officials is already pissing him off. “They are asking for LASSRA, pin; they are even asking if I had a photo of my shop before it was looted- as if I was expecting it to be looted.”
Asked how he planned to recover from this incident, Adeniyi said, “There is nothing I can do. As I speak with you, my insurance person is in front of me; I’ve decided to insure the building.”
When asked why it wasn’t insured before now, Adeniyi replied: “Because Nigeria’s insurance is also scam. It is when things like this happen that they’d be telling you, ‘It does not cover riot.’ Who prays for a riot.
“Look at my neighbour, the guy who runs the Samsung outlet opposite; he lost nothing less than 600million naira. Where does he start from? He had 25 staff; let’s assume those 25 staff also support a minimum of one person each; that is how many persons have been affected by the looting. It’s so bad.”
On how bad he feels about the whole looting, Adeniyi said, “Well, I’m a Muslim, so I just have to say it is God. He alone will pull me through. In fact, I thank God for his mercy. They almost killed the guard you met the day you visited. They came fully armed with guns and everything.”
Looted out of business
Indeed, what remained of the Samsung outlet looked more like a relic. Shut down, doors blocked with planks and junk, as if it’s been out of business for months or years. A passerby noticing this reporter’s interest in the desolate building captured it succinctly, when he sniggered, “They totally sacked Samsung. I doubt if they’ll ever be back at this spot.”
The story is not different with Konga Offline Retail Store by Adeniran Ogunsanya junction and Simba outlets on Bode Thomas and Eric Moore Road; even Printing Solutions Ltd on 47, Bode Thomas, which was under lock and of which the security personnel on ground said: “They looted everything.”
While there were semblances of activities at the Simba offices, it was zero activities at Konga, which was reputed for its buoyancy in phones, quality kitchenware, home appliances and electronics.
A staff, who opted to be anonymous at the Konga outlet, said, “They looted everything and spared nothing.”
An admin staff at the Simba head office on Eric Moore, who said the company deals in inverter batteries, bicycles and stuff admitted that both outlets were looted bare but insisted the officer who could adequately speak on the looted items was not on seat.
CCTV, the solution
While recommending solutions to forestall such occurrences in the future, Adenike Oni of Felgron Furniture, said, “You people should tell the government to mount CCTV cameras. It’s a simple thing and I can’t understand why that has been so difficult. In a situation as we had had that night, when the police had been temporarily sacked, CCTV cameras would have recorded everything and you may not even need to be speaking with me like we’re doing now.
When asked if the shop opposite, Arabel, was also invaded, Oni said, “No. In fact, if they had looted that shop, it would have been really devastating for that woman. Just last December, her shop got burnt and I think she’s only just recovering.”
Would it be for that reason that the hoodlums bypassed her shop?
To this Oni said reflected, ” I think it was providence. I don’t think they are aware that her shop got burnt. Maybe they also overlooked it because she deals in Islamic wares, which they didn’t think would amount to much in market demand.”
On the #EndSARS protests that gave birth to the whole anarchy, Oni said, “I told my husband when this EndSARS protests started that it is a good course being prosecuted in a wrong way. Some people have argued that the youth have voices and must heard, and I said, ‘Fine, you want the government to do something right and you that is agitating, are going about it the wrong way. How do you block the whole highways? How come their education didn’t make them realise that hoodlums would hijack it if it dragged for too long? Did the road they were blocking stop Buhari or Sanwo-Olu from going anywhere? So who did they succeed in inconveniencing in the end? Whose shops and offices were looted or who is paying for the entire looting?
Further down the road, near the Bode Thomas Police Station, life was gradually returning, though cautiously, to the abode of the men in black.
Barricades were placed at about 50 meters distance as one approached the station on both ends of the road, effectively slowing down traffic and enabling the officers on the road have proper assessment of vehicle and persons on foot as they approach the vicinity.
In the meantime, the atmosphere remained tense and at the same time, sober.
‘We got a glimpse what society without police would look like’