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Churches, shops burglars on rampage

By Babatunde Ayedoju

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It is no longer news that Nigerians have witnessed tremendous hardship in the last few years, which is seen in the exorbitant and unaffordable prices of food and other items in the market. This has, no doubt, led to a series of unimaginable acts among Nigerians.

For example, still fresh in the memory is the story of the looting and vandalisation of a warehouse in Abuja about, four months ago, by some individuals who made away with several foodstuffs, doors of the warehouse, and roofing sheets. According to media reports, the Police later arrested at least 15 suspects in connection with the incident and recovered some of the stolen items from them.

Last month, an apprentice, Etah Oyara, was arrested by the Ondo State Security Network, Amotekun Corps, for allegedly stealing a generator valued at N272,000 from his church in Akure. Oyara later pleaded guilty to a three-count charge of burglary and stealing when he was charged before an Akure Magistrate Court. 

While there is no justification for criminality of any kind, it must be noted that such stories of looting are no longer uncommon in the country. For instance, in December 2023, police operatives in Delta State arrested suspected members of an armed gang that specialised in burgling churches at night and carting away musical instruments.

According to the Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Bright Edafe, the police embarked upon the operation after receiving several complaints of burgling of churches in Orerokpe, Okpe Local Government Area.

“The Orerokpe Divisional Police Headquarters of the Delta State Police Command arrested two suspects for their infamous strings of church break-ins in Delta State. Police received information about a break-in at Redeemed Christian Church of God, Dominion Mega Parish, where several musical instruments were carted away.

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“Sequel to the report, the DPO, Orerokpe Division, CSP Paul Obaware, swiftly mobilized and led his operatives to assess the scene of the crime. Afterward, an operation was planned and executed on the strength of the items that were carted away,” he said.

Edafe explained that one of the suspects, named Patrick, posted one of the stolen amplifiers for sale on his Facebook page, then detectives offered to buy the said item, lured and trailed him to where he was apprehended on the same day. According to Edafe, the confession of the 36-year-old Patrick led to the arrest of one of his associates, 45-year-old Alex.

According to the Police, preliminary investigation revealed that those suspects were notorious for burgling churches, shops, and homes, as the suspects confessed to burgling another church where the pastor reported that the place of worship was invaded by burglars.

No wonder, members were thrilled about two months ago when a Lagos-based pastor announced the suspension of collection of offerings in his church, due to economic hardship in the country. In the video that went viral then, the cleric was heard telling his congregation that due to the current state of the country, offerings would no longer be collected for the time being, and he even urged his fellow pastors all over the world to follow suit.

Professor Adediran Ikuomola, a criminologist, opined that nobody can rule out the link between the current economic hardship in Nigeria and cases of looting being witnessed. He pointed out that though looting had been going on in the country for long, the current economic realities have exacerbated it.

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He said, “In times of hardship, crimes are most likely to increase. Going by statistics, there’s a high rate of job loss, especially in the private sector. Companies are leaving the country and new jobs are not being created. People have families to feed. Those who should assist are not able to do that; so people who need help can’t get it.”

Professor Ikuomola, who said that the trend may continue to increase until things begin to get better, added that the Police now have more work to do than before.

Similarly, Dr Chris Ofonyelu, an economist, attributed the current trend of looting to increasing frustration among the masses which has assumed a wider dimension over time. While pointing out that a hungry man is a frustrated man, and a frustrated man can go to any extent to express his grievance, Dr. Ofonyelu said that in this part of the country, people who have been used to comfort are suddenly beginning to experience a negative change in their lifestyle, such that it is now difficult to survive.

“Whenever a tanker falls anywhere, people just go there to loot. The morality that ‘this is someone else’s good’ is gone. It becomes worse when it’s a government truck.

That’s why during the last strike, there was scarcity. No food company wanted to release its vehicle to ply the road. They simply preferred to park their trucks in a safe place,” he added.

Dr Ofonyelu noted that the government is not giving hope, that an average Nigerian does not see light at the end of the tunnel, and the frustration is not reducing. He added that the government may have to do so much to nip the situation in the bud.

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Dr. Salman Adisa, a psychologist, also attributed the spate of looting to hunger and the poverty level in the country, adding that the situation has led to the emergence of ‘professional beggars’ who would approach others on the road to ask for help, claiming that they have no food to eat.

While noting that there is no justification for stealing, Dr Adisa added that no matter the measure that is taken against looters, the trend would continue, unless the root of the problem, which is hunger, is addressed, adding that a hungry man is an angry man.

However, on the other hand, Dr Bayo Fasunwon, a political economist, said that the recent cases of looting witnessed in the country have nothing to do with the current hardship, as looting had been taking place before the hardship started.

His words: “It is like people to steal. Those items being looted, such as keyboards, microphones, and others are luxury items. Who has money to buy them now? What people are looking for is food to eat. The demand for luxury goods has reduced.”

Dr Fasunwon said that to solve the problem, religious leaders and the society at large have a crucial role to play. While pointing out that people should not have been bold enough to steal from places of worship, he added that members of the society should desist from buying stolen items, because, “if there are no buyers there will be no thieves.

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