As I watched scores of videos of breaking and entry into government storage facilities to steal food items, I cheered and laughed with glee.
I rejoiced at the victory of our youths who are hungry and simply tired. Afterall, things are hard and the prices of food items are just prohibitive for many. I was particularly happy because these stolen food items were meant to be distributed to the same people that are now forced to steal them. Lots of people went hungry during the Covid-19 Lockdown order from April -Sept 2020. Many who rely on day to day economic activities daily to survive, faced the brunt of the hardship that followed the lockdown.
In true philanthropic fashion, monies were raised to cushion the effect. The government, organizations and private individuals rallied round to mobilize money and buy food items to be disbursed. To our shock, however, we saw pictures of miserable looking food items being distributed as “palliative!”. 2 packs of indomie, 1 sachet of salt and a measure of rice. ‘To feed who? How many families and for how many days?’, many wondered.
Sadiya Umar Farouk the minister of humanitarian affairs, disaster management and social development came under intense fire for mentioning the amount that was spent on palliative. Many simply found it hard to believe such funds were spent on food items that were not seen.
Not until recently, when warehouses were broken into and a huge number of hoarded food items were found.
3 weeks ago, a taxi driver, who I struck up a conversation with, told me that there were about 3 big storage facilities filled with food items in Jos. He told me how they had called them, as elders, to share some to their communities but a lot more is being saved for 2023 elections. I took what he said with a pinch of salt but as I watched events unfolding, I cannot help but remember all he told me. I shudder at the sheer wickedness; people are starving while food meant for them is stored away for selfish and personal gains.
But, my inner sense of morality and good judgment tells me, the looting is still stealing. Taking food unlawfully from the government is still stealing, despite the good reasons for doing so. I teach criminal law and just last week, my students wrote an exam on the offence of theft, robbery, breaking and entry (burglary and housebreaking). Two wrongs cannot make a right.
That the government stole from the people does not give the people the right to steal from the government (well, stealing away from other citizens). It only shows that everyone is capable of stealing if given the chance. It serves to make the people as bad as the government and in turn, creates anarchy in society. It entrenches a circle of corruption, theft, robbery and greed, the same traits and acts that led us to this point in the first place. It does not make things right and certainly defeats the agitation of the past few days, aka #endsars and #endbadgovernace.
So, while I rejoice that the people are taking back what actually belongs to them, I am caught in a dilemma of the wrong means of doing so.
After the storehouses have been cleared what next? Private businesses? Crime is like a drug, it gets addictive. We have seen hard-working, law-abiding citizens fall victims to this looting that is catching fire and gaining more momentum.
If you truly mean well for the future of this country, you will condemn the act and call for an end to this looting. After all, the food will finish, but the effect on society may last longer.
Dr Jennifer H Mike.
Assistant Professor of Law with the American University of Nigeria and a Lawyer