EndSARS: Peaceful protests turn national debt
By Josephine Agbonkhese
Although gone, October 2020 will be forever remembered in the history of Nigeria.
For a fragile economy already heavily beaten by the COVID-19 pandemic which has cost thousands of citizens their livelihoods, forced many to commit suicide, and landed millions in untold hardship, the hijack of the peaceful #EndSARS protest last month by hoodlums, and the unprecedented anarchy, destruction and wanton killings that reigned supreme across the country, leave so much to panic about.
In Lagos State, the nation’s economic nerve centre alone, even though the official value of properties destroyed during the October mayhem has not been detailed, it has been estimated that over N1 trillion may be required to rebuild public and private property destroyed during the crisis.
Ironically, the state’s entire annual budget is about that same amount.
Recall that among properties destroyed were the Ajeromi Ifelodun Local Government secretariat; Palace of the Oba of Lagos; Lagos High Court, Igbosere; Oyingbo BRT terminus; Ojodu Berger BRT terminus; Vehicle Inspection Office, Ojodu Berger; Lagos State Public Works Corporation, Ojodu Berger; Lagos City Hall and Circle Mall, Lekki; numerous luxury shops in Surulere, The Nation Newspaper, TVC and Shoprite Lekki. Already, the total cost of the destroyed 87 BRT vehicles have been put at about N3.9 billion.
The second worse hit in the state were police stations. According to the police, 25 stations were burnt by hoodlums. They include; Orile, Amukoko, Layeni, Ilasamaja, Ikotun, Ajah, Igando, Elemoro, Makinde, Onipanu, Ebute Ero, Pen-Cinema, Isokoko, Alade, Cele, Igbo Elerin, Shibiri, Gbagada, Onilekere, Makoko, Daleko, Asahun, Makinyo, Amuwo-Odofin, and Surulere Anti-Kidnapping units. Other police stations that were vandalised but not burnt were Ojo, Ojodu, Mowo, PPL and Morogbo.
Other states are also licking their wounds. In Anambra State, 21 police divisions were allegedly attacked by hoodlums who disguised as protesters, while seven of them were burnt down. Other government properties burnt or destroyed include; High Court Ogidi and Idemili North LG Secretariat, while late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe’s statue was vandalised.
In the heat of the crises, Cross River, Oyo, Osun, Delta, Adamawa, Kwara, Plateau, Kaduna, Ekiti, Edo, Kano, Ogun states and the Federal Capital Territory also suffered series of destruction, deaths, looting, and even jailbreaks. Homes and properties of lawmakers and other public office holders became major targets as hoodlums invaded, looted and burnt them to ashes. Among victims were the former Lagos State Governor, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu; Senator Gershom Bassey and former Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba of Cross River State; Senator Teslim Folarin of Oyo State; and a long list of others. In Osun State alone, four federal lawmakers suffered similar fate.
One thing however was both remarkable and shocking about the invasion and looting—that’s the serial discovery of warehouses loaded with relief materials labeled CACOVID in Taraba, Osun, Kwara, Plateau, Kogi, Ekiti, Kaduna, Adamawa, and Lagos states.
The food items were confirmed to be donations from the Private Sector Coalition Against COVID-19, CACOVID. While some state governments have alleged that the palliatives were brought in October 16, 2020, and that order for distribution was being awaited from CACOVID, Adamawa claimed it had planned distribution for October 26th due to the #EndSARS. Meanwhile though, Bauchi, Borno, and Zamfara, it turned out, were already done with distribution.
Just like in Lagos, in Kano, hoodlums invaded shops and chain stores, carting away valuables and setting some ablaze. Several vehicles were also burnt.
By Day-14 of the protest, the country was estimated by the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, LCCI, to have lost more than N700 billion in economic value. Also, the demand for equities, as revealed by the Nigerian Stock Exchange, NSE, drastically reduced on the trading floor. As at the close of trading on Wednesday, October 21, the NSE had lost N113 billion market capitalization as it went from N14.983 trillion to N14.870 trillion. This was owing to the disposition of most investors, who, rather than investing, showed more concern about the safety of their investments.
Curfews became one of the ways some states tried to curtail the activities of the rampaging hoodlums; but that also wasn’t without its own severe economic implications.
For every single day Lagos observed a curfew, for example, economic experts estimated that the state was losing N54bn. Considering this is a state that contributes approximately 30% to Nigeria’s total Gross Domestic Product (GDP), one can imagine the implications of the totality of curfews observed throughout the crisis on the nation’s overall GDP.
According to projections by experts, the gross implication of these losses is that the government is bound to incur extra budgetary expenditure to fix damaged infrastructure, a situation which automatically means further borrowing and worsening of the nation’s debt burden. The result of this, certainly, is further rise in the overall level of poverty and unemployment, reduction in foreign investments, and more pressure in the foreign exchange market.
Sadly, Nigeria is still largely an oil-dependent economy despite efforts to diversify in recent years; most of which are yet to yield substantial returns. Already, the last four years have been poor, economically, due to dwindling oil prices.
Due to the economic impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the International Monetary Fund, IMF, had projected that economies in sub-Sahara Africa are not expected to return to their 2019 level of output until 2022. For some of the region’s largest economies such as Nigeria, real GDP is not expected to come back to the pre-crisis level until 2023 or 2024.
The implication of this is a much deeper decline in the standard of living; one which will sink even deeper as a result of the October vandalism and looting which has landed government in more expenses. The Lagos State government, for example, due to the huge destruction witnessed during the mayhem, signed an executive order last Wednesday for the establishment of the “Lagos State Rebuild Trust Fund”, as a step towards rebuilding the state. Billions, if not trillions, will definitely be required for this project. In turn, it will impact on the state’s budget even though local and global donors are already offering support.
This is without mentioning the effect on small-scale business that were vandalised and looted; many are currently struggling to get back on their feet while their employees roam the streets in search of new sources of livelihoods.
For long-lasting economic recovery, while the oil market remains gloomy, government will have to expedite action on raising revenues through non-oil resources. Also, because the vandalisation and looting suffered by foreign businesses portend a red flag to foreign investors, ample effort must be put into rebuilding the confidence of foreign investors as, naturally, no one wants to invest in an erratic environment.
Going forward, government must intensify efforts at investing in sectors and infrastructure that will allow people to be more successful both at getting jobs and at creating jobs for themselves. Only then will another youth uprising be averted and pre-existing unrest in various parts of the country be effectively tackled. A holistic overhaul of the nation’s development agenda is, as a matter of fact, and urgency, crucial.