Florence Nwokoro’s dream for 2020 was to expand her business. She was making headway until October 19 when everything went up in flames. That day, her shop and many others at the Apo-Kabusa market in Abuja were torched by arsonists during the ENDSARS protests that shook Nigeria for weeks that month. The market was one of the worst scenes of violence as hoodlums attacked protesters, looted shops and destroyed properties estimated at hundreds of millions of naira.
Mrs Nwokoro said she had a foreboding of the mayhem. Her husband had had a dream the night before of her shop being vandalised. But they were helpless to stop it.
“We stay around here but we dared not come when they put fire on my shop. I was inside with my husband and our children when we heard about it,” the 45-year old mother of four told PREMIUM TIMES as she shared with the reporter a video of her burning shop as recorded on her phone.
Ms Nwokoro sells mattresses, paint and other household materials. Her shop is located beside a busy two-lane highway in the Gudu district of Abuja. So, it was easy to access for the hoodlums who had taken it upon themselves to disrupt what had begun as a peaceful protest and use the opportunity to loot, destroy and kill.
With tears in her eyes, Ms Nwokoro recalled how she had gone through the Igbo apprenticeship system before becoming a proud owner of the shop stocked with wares she estimated at N21 million. But because she had no insurance cover, she has no way of recovering her loss and is now limited to whatever stocks she can get on credits to keep the shop open.
PREMIUM TIMES’ initial reports on the EndSARS protests in Abuja captured the heart-rending stories of victims of the violence. When he visited some scenes of the mayhem, the FCT minister, Muhammed Bello, promised to ensure payment of compensation to affected businesses and those who lost properties.
“We have seen the level of damage and I must admit that it is unfortunate. However, a committee has been set up to look at all the issues. Those who lost anything should approach the committee.
“Compensations will be paid to those who have genuine cases. All the issues will be resolved as soon as possible. We call on everyone to live together and avoid anything that will lead to any disturbance,” Mr Bello promised residents and business owners on October 22, 2020, three days after the incident.
The EndSARS Protest
The EndSARS protest, which started as a peaceful protest against the notorious police unit, SARS, across Nigeria in October 2020 turned violent as hoodlums and politically sponsored thugs clashed with the protesting youths in some states amidst widespread looting of warehouses and businesses.
The Apo District in Abuja had its share of such attacks on October 19 when hoodlums, armed with assorted weapons, attacked protesters in Asokoro and later, at the Apo roundabout. The protesters withdrew into the district which houses many small and medium-scale businesses.
PREMIUM TIMES witnessed the protest and how the protesters were attacked.
Seven months after, however, the affected business owners have not heard a word from the Abuja authorities on the process that the minister put in place towards helping them back to their feet.
Worst affected are business owners like Mrs Nwokoro who had no insurance cover.
But the shop owner described herself as lucky compared to her counterparts in shopping complexes who have not been able to reopen their shops due to lack of financial support.
“As you see this shop, I set it up on credit. I collect from the company. When I sell, I return the money to them, I keep my profit and they give me another one. This is how I now make my daily bread,” Mrs Nwokoro said.
“It has not been easy, many people left the line (shops). There are new people in those shops.”
Patrick Okora falls in the category of those referred to by Mrs Nwokoro. A motor mechanic workshop owner, he could no longer stand on his own since the incident. He now shares a half plot space with three other friends in the innermost part of the Apo Mechanic village.
With a family to care for, Mr Okora said the months since the hoodlums burnt down his workshop, strategically located on a hilltop in the bustling business district, have been some of the worst in his life.
“I lost not only vehicles; my toolboxes were also stolen by the “boola boys” (scavengers),” he said as he took the reporter round what remained of his burnt workshop.
The place was littered with the carcasses of vehicles. Most of the burnt vehicles were exotic cars he had worked on and was waiting for their owners to pick up and pay him for his services.
He estimated the material loss at over N50 million but said the emotional loss is unquantifiable.
“I have relocated because nobody wants to fix a car where almost 20 cars were burnt. Before I left this place, the owners of the burnt cars came to ask what I was going to do about their losses. It started sounding like threats.”
Not far from Mr Okora’s abandoned hilltop workshop is the home of Attahiru Muhammad, an Islamic cleric who was killed during the attack. After two days of searching for his widow, this reporter eventually located the 66-year-old woman at an abandoned mass housing estate in the area.
On that day in October, Mr Muhammad had received a call that the mosque where he was a Quranic teacher had been vandalized. He was rushing to the mosque at the Apo Market when he ran into the hoodlums who killed him instantly.
Finishing touches were being put to the renovation of the burnt mosque in April when this reporter visited for this report. It was confirmed that the renovation was funded by an unnamed man in Jos.
During a visit to her house, this reporter was accompanied by someone Mrs Muhammad was familiar with, which allowed her to freely speak on her current situation. She allowed this reporter in and narrated her loneliness and helplessness since the death of her husband, the family’s breadwinner.
Mrs Muhammad said no government official had visited or called her, six months since the FCT administration said it had set up a committee to investigate the death of her husband and other victims.
“Other than family and friends who drop in within the first month after the death of my husband, you are the only person that is visiting to speak on this matter in months,” she told this reporter in Hausa.
The FCT police said seven persons were killed in the riot but Mrs Muhammad said she doubted whether her husband was identified among them “because we have not seen anyone from there since the incident.”
And this is despite submitting his name as directed by the FCT authorities to the “Ministerial Committee set up to Assess Losses and Damages occasioned by the #EndSARS Protests in Abuja.”
Help delayed or withheld?
Ms Nwokoro, Mr Okora and other affected business owners had also followed the FCT minister’s instruction to register their losses with the committee. Some of the victims said they met its officials at the Investment House in Area 11, Garki where the committee had a temporary office.
But in April when this reporter visited the place, a receptionist at the place said the “project has long been concluded” and directed him to “check with the FCDA.”
However, the chairman of the committee, Abass Idris, said it submitted its report in December 2020. He refused to discuss its recommendations.
Mr Idris, who is also the Director-General of the FCT Emergency Management Agency, said the committee did not only consider Apo in its assessment but also those affected in Idu Industrial Layout and all the area councils.
“That is where our work stopped, we are not to follow up on the implementation which is now for the administration to do the needful. We were able to get submissions from all those areas you mentioned, we had grey areas and we called them to clarify and then admit them into the report,” Mr Idris said.
“I’m sure the FCT administration is doing something about it. But you know when it comes to money… As I am talking to you, the FCT budget has not been released by the National Assembly. It might be one of such delays that is affecting the implementation or they await a special grant in case it is not in the 2021 budget for FCT. All these are possibilities.
“The FCT has assured us at the submission of our report that there will be consolidation for the victims,” the committee chair told PREMIUM TIMES.
The FCT minister, Mr Bello, did not answer calls from this reporter for this report.
Mr Bello’s spokesperson, Anthony Ogunleye, in a phone interview with this reporter, said he did not have answers yet but pleaded to reach out a day after. He has yet to do so.
Some states already compensating
While the Abuja authorities delay in assisting the victims of the #EndSARS violence, the Lagos State government says it has already supported a total of 1,835 businesses affected by the violence that occurred during the EndSARS protest with N939.98 million.
This is separate from those who will be awarded compensation based on the ruling of the panel set up by the Lagos government to investigate police brutality.
The panel, which is still sitting, has been awarding compensation to some of the victims. Some local governments in the state have also been supporting people who lost properties during the EndSARS protest.
However, for Mrs Nwokoro and other Abuja victims, the promise by the Abuja minister is appearing more like a mirage.
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