Xenophobia: Sorrow, anguish as shop owners in Nigeria count losses
If anyone had any hint or premonition that they would be dealt a heavy blow by an event that happened six hours away in South Africa, they would not have believed.
Even though word went round that businesses owned by South Africans would be targeted in reprisal actions after Nigerians suffered xenophobic attacks in some parts of South Africa, nobody ever imagined the aftermath would be devastating.
After the attack and looting that took place on Tuesday, September 3, attackers left behind broken pieces of glasses, the debris of expensive goods strewn across the floor and damaged items they could not take with them.
It was supposed to be a peaceful protest to send signals to South Africa that Nigeria will no longer stand by and watch her citizens maimed or businesses destroyed.
But the anger was misplaced on the day of the protest and it has now left shop owners and staff at the Shoprite Mall, Surulere, Circle Mall, Jakande, Lekki and Novare Mall, Sangotedo in sorrow, tears and anguish.
Three days after the attack, management of the Novare Mall, store owners and hundreds of workers, who depend on the mall as their sources of livelihood, are still living with the shock of the incident on Tuesday.
On Friday, September 6, when The Guardian visited the sprawling Novare Mall, the once bubbly place was like a ghost town even with the large presence of armed security personnel and workers who were trying to make their way into the mall under strict security.
Some store owners have also been trickling in to assess the damage and determine their losses.
In front of the entrance to the mall, workers sat in clusters looking forlorn and waiting for their bosses to come around and give them further instructions.
“I am waiting for my manager, she has to be here before the security men can let us go in. We don’t know what is going to happen yet.” Ruth (surname withheld) told The Guardian.
“From what I have been told, my shop was ransacked, and they didn’t leave anything behind. I sell clothing items.” Elizabeth, a store manager said.
Some witnesses described the scenes of Tuesday’s incident as shocking and barbaric. Innocent shoppers who had come to the mall for different things were said to have scampered for safety immediately the mob entered the made their way in and started breaking into shops. It was total chaos according to the witnesses.
Screams and shouts of panicked adults, frightened children and shocked store attendants morphed into sounds of heavy feet slapping the floor as the looters descended on different outlets in their hundreds.
From sports to apparel to groceries and luxury goods outlets, the looters didn’t spare any shop that had any item that caught their fancy.
The looters picked and packed anything they could lay their hands on. The ones their hands could not contain, they resorted to shopping carts to ferry them.
Witnesses said they saw some looters making away with looted items on tricycles and motorcycles waiting outside the mall in what must have been a coordinated action.
Another female store attendant who was also waiting outside the gate of the mall for her boss to arrive so she could get security clearance to go in also told The Guardian under anonymity that they lost everything in their store.
“Perfumes, watches and other expensive items were stolen after they broke into the shop. We locked the glass door, but they still broke in and there was nothing we could do at that point other than escape,” she said.
Respite later came after security officers reinforced and managed to scare the looters away. But by the time normalcy and sanity returned, the havoc had been wreaked. Goods and property worth millions of Naira had been stolen and vandalised.
What happens next?
On Thursday, September 5, the Lagos State Police Command arraigned 83 persons who allegedly participated in the attack and looting of malls in Surulere, Lekki and Sangotedo.
The defendants are being accused of damaging property and stealing goods worth N500m.
The Guardian learnt some store owners are now turning to their insurers to indemnify them against the losses while some who didn’t insure their goods or services may be in for a hard time.
To be badly affected are the staff of some outlets who are likely to be asked to go home, for now, pending when owners of their stores recover from the unfortunate loss.
Nigeria’s unemployment rate currently stands at 23 per cent, the recent incident may just have increased the figure.
Nigerians living in South Africa have been suffering attacks by South Africans for over four years but the latest crisis snowballed after the business locations of Nigerians were allegedly set on fire by some disgruntled South Africans.
The South African Police Service (SAPS) disclosed on Tuesday that five people were killed in the recent spate of violence in the country, although their nationalities were not revealed. But South African president Cyril Ramaphosa said on Thursday that the death toll has increased to 10.
A total of 189 arrests have also been made since Sunday for criminal acts including public violence, malicious damage to property, and theft.
As at the time of filing this report, no Nigerian government official has visited the mall’s attacked across Lagos to assess the damage done to the private entities.
Even though the government of Nigeria has taken major steps against South Africa, the victims of Tuesday’s incident also require some form of support to be able to cope with their losses.
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