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Nigeria looting hits capital

Lines of residents could be seen carrying away sacks of supplies meant for distribution during coronavirus lockdowns as authorities struggled to halt the pillaging.

People run from tear gas shot by Nigerian police officers during a mass looting of a warehouse that had COVID-19 food palliatives that were not given during lockdown to relieve people of hunger, in Abuja, Nigeria, on 26 October 2020. Picture: AFP

ABUJA - Huge crowds ransacked food warehouses in Nigeria's capital Abuja on Monday in the latest looting to hit the country during a wave of unrest.

Lines of residents could be seen carrying away sacks of supplies meant for distribution during coronavirus lockdowns as authorities struggled to halt the pillaging.

"We are hungry, you understand," a man with a package of noodles in his hand told AFP.

"There is plenty of food in this country but people are suffering. The government is cheating us by parking away this food."

"We are not stealing, it's our food and our right."

The minister for the federal capital, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello, told local media that a number of government and private warehouses were vandalised.

The looting comes after days of violent rioting in Nigeria following the shooting of unarmed protesters in largest city Lagos on Tuesday.

The situation has calmed in Lagos and elsewhere but widespread pillaging of government supplies has been reported across the country.

Authorities have slapped round-the-clock curfews on a string of regions and the police chief has ordered the mobilisation of all forces.

Fuelling the anger are accusations officials have horded much-needed food supposed to have been handed out to the poor during lockdowns earlier this year.

A coalition of state governors has denied allegations of graft and said the supplies were held back as a "strategic reserve" in case of a second wave of the virus.

But activists said that authorities needed to be more transparent.

"It's now vital that the federal and state government clarify why the palliatives had not been disbursed, investigate and prosecute anyone implicated in corruption," said Anietie Ewang of Human Rights Watch.

Peaceful protests against police brutality erupted on October 8 and quickly turned into one of the biggest challenges to Nigeria's ruling elite in years.

Chaos spiralled after peaceful protesters were gunned down in central Lagos on Tuesday, sparking international outrage and violent rioting.

Amnesty International said the army and police killed 12 protesters in that incident, and 56 people have died overall since the demonstrations started.

The chief of army staff on Monday insisted soldiers have "continued to exercise restraint" and blamed a "smokescreen of falsehood and deliberate misrepresentation of facts being orchestrated by enemies of Nigeria".

"We will not allow any force, elements or destabilising agents in or outside our country to set our beloved country on fire," General Tukur Yusufu Buratai said in a statement.

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