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Food Crisis: OPS Warns Of Shutdown As Hoodlums Loot More Trucks

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The organised private sector has expressed concern about the spate of looting of trucks conveying food and raw materials by suspected hoodlums, warning that it can lead to a shutdown of industries across the country.

Members of the OPS, gave the warning on Monday in separate interviews with The NewsBand just as miscreants attacked trucks conveying building materials and spaghetti in Ogun and Kaduna states.

Also on Monday, the Federal Government said it would start the distribution of free grains to states this week.

Several trucks and warehouses, mostly owned by manufacturers and other members of the OPS, have come under attacks from hoodlums as the food inflation and the cost of living crisis worsened across the country.

Last week, some youths stole food items from trucks stuck in traffic along the Kaduna Road in the Suleja area of Niger State.

On Sunday, hoodlums attacked a warehouse belonging to the Agricultural and Rural Development Secretariat of the Federal Capital Territory Administration located in the Dei-Dei area of the capital city where they looted rice, grains, and other relief items.

An attempt by another group to loot a private warehouse in the Idu Industrial Estate, Jabi, Abuja, was rebuffed by soldiers guarding the facility.

The President of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Gabriel Idahosa, said the current economic hardship was ushering in anarchy.

According to him, the attacks can worsen the problems of companies and lead to their shutdown.

Idahosa said, “The chickens are coming home to roost. The government has asked the people to be patient, but the stomach cannot be patient even if the head wants to be patient. In a state of anomy, it will lead to a state of anarchy.

Anarchy looms
“There is no distinction between public and private in a state of anarchy. When the government allows chaos to happen, chaos does not know whether it is government or private property. When it rains, it doesn’t rain only on government or private property.

“The looters are not concerned whether it is government or private property. They just want food, anything that looks like food, they will go after it. This is why concerned observers have asked the government to look for concrete measures to reduce the state of hunger in the land.’’

The LCCI president further said a concerted effort is required to stop the criminality.

“We have gone beyond the phase of speculation; we are now in the phase of reality. In the last two or three days, these kinds of events have been escalating. It will require concerted efforts to stop the trend,’’ he advised.

Speaking further, Idahosa, noted that many of the major manufacturing firms in the country recorded significant losses in the 2023 financial year and might choose to shut down their businesses and lay off workers in light of the looting of their wares.

He added, “All of them are reporting losses in billions. The smaller companies are also having their own losses. It just doesn’t make it to the front pages of the newspapers.

‘’Last week, we went to meet the CEO (chief executive officer) of one of the largest food and beverage companies in Nigeria and he said that some of his colleagues, who are foreigners, said they were totally confused that they did not know what to do; that they were frustrated. He was just sharing their frustration with us.

“With the present situation, we are not just looking at price hikes alone. They may decide to close down the business and fire all the people.”

On his part, the Chairman of Kwara/Kogi Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, Alhaji AbdulRahman Bioku, in an interview with The NewsBand attributed the looting of food items and other goods to the situation in the country.

Bioku who is the Chief Executive of Bioraj Group of companies, said “People are hungry and angry. Manufacturers have laid off many workers because their companies have closed down. The few workers on the job are on half salary.

“The palliative the government gives out cannot solve their problems and that is what caused the looting.

“The government should solve the problem of transportation by providing hundreds of long buses for each state while it should give priority to the issue of provision of raw materials to the manufacturers. It should also ensure security to the people that want to farm.’’

‘Looters are criminals’

But the Executive Secretary of Abeokuta Chambers of Commerce, Alhaji AbdulRhaman Maku, condemned people looting trucks carrying food items belonging to companies. He urged the police to treat such people as criminals.

Maku urged the state governors who promised to distribute one form of food palliatives or the other to quickly do so.

He said reports of people looting trucks carrying foodstuffs were condemnable, adding that the actions were criminal and that the police should deal decisively with the suspects.

“We are all together in whatever is happening and no one should be hiding under this situation to destroy the businesses of others. It is totally unacceptable and the law enforcement agencies should waste no time to treat such people as criminals

“It will also be good for state governments that have promised one form of food palliatives or the other to make good their promises so that the unnecessary delay won’t give room to needless suspicion where people will take every warehouse as a place where the palliatives are kept and then go and loot the place or be eyeing any trucks that are carrying food items”.

Advising the Federal Government, the Publicity Secretary of the Anambra Chamber of Commerce, Chief Dennis Iberim, said, “They (the government) should look at policies that are currently impoverishing the people and review them in such a way that they would positively impact on the people. Many manufacturers have closed shop due to the high cost of production occasioned by power challenges.’’

On his part, the Head of Corporate Affairs of the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria, Moshood Lawal said the Director-General, and Chief Executive Officer of SMEDAN, Charles Odii, recently met with the Inspector General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun to address the security of small and medium enterprises’ properties.

Also, the Chief Executive Officer of the Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise, Muda Yusuf, expressed worry that the recent trend would significantly damage investors’ confidence.

Yusuf, who described the indiscriminate looting of private businesses as a function of a society that had descended into anarchy, called on the government to quickly address the issue before it gains currency on a national scale.

He said, “This kind of situation weakens investors’ confidence. This is degenerating into anarchy. Yes, there are challenges, but if criminal activity is seen as a normal response, then that is a major problem.

“We need to take some drastic steps to address these social issues, especially this high cost of living, whatever low-hanging fruits we can find will definitely help.’’

As the OPS advised the government, The NewsBand on Monday learnt that hoodlums attacked a truck conveying raw materials from the Dangote Cement Plant in Ibese along the Ofada-Owode area of Ogun State, at about 6pm on Sunday.

A police source said the hoodlums, who were armed with guns and machetes, allegedly attacked the truck which was en route to Obajana in Kogi State.

It was further learnt that the three occupants of the truck with registration number LSR 670 AS, including the driver, sustained varying degrees of injuries as a result of the attack.

Confirming the incident on Monday, the state Police Public Relations Officer, Omolola Odutola, said the police in Owode Division had begun an investigation into the incident.

She said, “Today (Sunday) at about 6:00 pm, Tijani Sunday, attached to the Eleweran in Abeokuta on checkpoint duty at Nestle company in Sagamu, reported that the three victims, including a motor boy, a driver, and one other driver of a Dangote truck with registration number LSR 670 AS, were attacked by some hoodlums.

“The truck was fully loaded with raw materials en route to Kogi State. The hoodlums were believed to be fully armed with guns and machetes.

“After the attack, they made away with the truck along with all the consignments that were inside. The three victims were rushed to Live Well Hospital Ajaka in Sagamu for medical attention.

“A team of policemen was sent to the scene, where they discovered that the place is within the Owode Egba divisional police headquarters. The divisional police officer has been contacted for an investigation.”

All efforts made to contact the Dangote Group for its reaction proved abortive, as calls to the mobile phone number of its spokesperson, Mr Tony Chiejina, were not responded to on Monday night. Also, he had yet to respond to a text message sent to his mobile phone as of the time this report was filed at 10.20pm on Monday.

Also, the Kaduna State police command on Monday confirmed the looting of a food truck in Zaria on Saturday.

It said no arrest had been made in connection with the incident.

The food truck was hijacked and looted by suspected hoodlums at Dogarawa in the Zaria area of Kaduna State.

The driver had parked at Dogarawa, on the Zaria-Kano expressway, to observe his prayers when the vehicle was looted.

In a video circulated on social media, a group of people were seen carting away cartons of spaghetti from the truck.

A team of police officers was later deployed to the scene of the incident.

Speaking to The NewsBand on Monday, the state Police Public Relations Officer, Mansir Hassan, explained that the command had deployed its operatives to protect road users in the area.

He said the force was committed to ensuring the safety of lives and property of citizens.

“There was no arrest yet but we have deployed our men to safeguard the lives and property of the vehicle and other motorists plying the road,” he said

Meanwhile, the Minister of State of the FCT, Dr Mariya Mahmoud has said that the looting of the FCT agric secretariat on Sunday was not motivated by hunger.

Speaking during an assessment of the looted warehouse on Monday, she said the FCT administration would reinforce security across all government-owned warehouses in the nation’s capital.

This was contained in a statement by the Special Adviser Media to the FCT Minister of State, Austin Elemue, on Monday.

15 suspects

The development came as the police in Abuja said they had arrested 15 suspects in connection with the attack on the warehouse.

The spokesperson for the FCT police command, Josephine Adeh, in a statement Sunday night said, 15 persons, including two local security guards employed by the warehouse management, were in custody.

Mahmoud, during her visit to the vandalised warehouse, expressed disappointment over the incident, describing it as a criminal act.

The minister lamented the looting of food items, stating that the youth in the area, had reportedly instigated the attack and also carted away machinery in the warehouse.

“This is really a bad situation. And it is not something that the Administration will take lightly. All those that are involved must be brought to book. We have to do something.

“And also, this is a sign that we need to reinforce the security situation around all our warehouses because you just have to keep food.

“But the way this thing happened actually is beyond hunger. This is a criminal act. Somebody hungry cannot move out to remove all the roofing, all the doors, windows, and also the gates.’’

Following the food crisis and activities of hoodlums who recently attacked food trucks in some parts of the country, Alhaji Ahmad Sufaye, the proprietor of the popular Sufaye Stores in Kano, has said that he has evacuated the wares in his warehouses located on the outskirts of Kano city.

Sufaye said this in a telephone interview with The NewsBand on Monday.

He said the measure was necessary to prevent the warehouses from possible attacks by hoodlums.

“We resolved to evacuate all the wares in our warehouses located outside the city to safer places because of the recent happenings in the state.’’

Commenting on the looting of the Abuja warehouses, a member of the United Nations Independent International Fact-Finding Mission for Sudan, Prof. Joy Ezeilo, warned that severe hunger and extreme poverty faced by many poor and vulnerable Nigerians are pushing people to criminal activities.

Ezeilo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and a law professor at the University of Nigeria, in a statement on Monday, described the development as “a bad omen.’’

She reminded Nigerians that despite the current economic challenges and desperate times, stealing is still a crime, warning that anyone caught would be held accountable.

According to her, the lesson for Nigerians in these challenging and desperate times is that stealing is a crime, and if caught, you will be held accountable according to our penal laws.

“Unfortunately, the poor have limited choices and often must choose between a rock and a hard place. Notwithstanding, stealing and converting goods and food shouldn’t be an option.

“Now is the time for the government, at all levels, to work in partnership with non-profit organizations and the private sector to consider implementing food banks, food stamps, and other social security and safety net options to provide food for the poor and most vulnerable Nigerians.’’

In a move to address the food crisis, the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Abubakar Kyari, on Monday, declared that the free distribution of the 42,000 metric tonnes of grains approved by President Bola Tinubu would be rolled out across the 36 states this week.

The Niger State Governor, Mohammed Bago, announced on Thursday that the Federal Government would commence the free distribution of the 42,000MT of grains across the country beginning with Niger State from this week.

Bago, who spoke at the Abuja headquarters of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security after a meeting with the agric minister, stated that Niger would be used as a pilot state before other states would join.

“The distribution will commence by next week; what we are saying is that Niger State has provided itself as a pilot state in terms of giving the dividends of democracy concerning agriculture and as such our sister states are coming on board,” Bago told journalists in Abuja last week.

But in a post on its verified X handle on Monday, the agriculture minister stated that the programme would be rolled out across the 36 states this week.

He also revealed that 58,500 metric tonnes of rice would be released into the market.

Kyari said, “In these trying times, I extend my sincere compassion to those affected by the hardship in the country. I understand the gravity of the situation, especially with the unfortunate event of foodstuff warehouse looting.

“Amidst these challenges, I want to assure you that our commitment to your well-being remains resolute. We shall commence the distribution of 42,000 metric tonnes of grains, as approved by Mr President, across the 36 states of the federation as one of the programmes to be rolled out this week.

“We are working hand in hand with NEMA and the DSS to ensure that the grains get to the right people in the right packages and quantities. Furthermore, 58,500 metric tonnes of milled rice from mega rice millers will also be released into the market for stabilisation.”

The minister stressed that the government was committed to tackling the food crisis currently confronting the country, adding that normalcy would return in due course.’’

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