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Why Trump could bring down Sen. Joni Ernst in the Iowa Senate race

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When Joni Ernst was first elected to the US Senate in 2014, it seemed like she had come to Capitol Hill to stay.

She earned a spot in Senate Republican leadership in her first term and even landed on the vice presidential shortlist in 2016. Many thought she’d be the latest in a long tradition of Sens. Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin, powerful senators who outstripped the size of their state.

Ernst, a military veteran, had won her race by 9 percentage points, powered by a Republican wave election year and an unforgettable ad in which she promised to castrate the corrupt “pigs” in Washington. Two years later, Donald Trump won the state by the same margin. Iowa seemed to be getting more solidly Republican.

But now, less than a month from Election Day 2020, something has clearly shifted. Ernst has trailed Democratic candidate Theresa Greenfield by roughly 5 points in recent polls. And Trump is running behind his 2016 numbers, with former Vice President Joe Biden holding a slim advantage in the polls.

Democratic senate candidate Theresa Greenfield in Greenfield, Iowa, on August 11, 2019.
Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

“She’s had six years, and she’s forgotten Iowans,” Greenfield, a business leader who has never held elected office, told Vox of Ernst in a phone interview. “She has sold out Iowans for her big corporate donors.” It’s an argument that has some resonance; polls show most Iowa voters say that Ernst hasn’t done enough to help the state in her first term.

Ernst has a few problems; the state’s suburbs are growing, and like suburbs everywhere, those voters don’t like Trump. She also voted to repeal Obamacare in 2017 (Iowa is a Medicaid expansion state) and has been saddled with the effects of Trump’s ethanol policies on the state’s farmers. And in the past few months, Covid-19 cases have been rising in the state.

Ernst has been emphasizing her work on issues like domestic violence and sexual assault in the military, while leaning on support from Iowa’s senior senator, Chuck Grassley, and her Iowa bona fides. Fundamentally, Ernst needs to pull ahead of Trump, rather than run behind him, and she is running out of time to do it.

Both the presidential and Senate races should be close in Iowa this year. But it is still a stark reversal from 2014 and 2016, a sign of Republicans’ struggles in the Midwest that could doom their Senate majority and Trump in 2020.

Iowa is stubbornly competitive despite recent Republican success

Ernst’s sizable 2014 win seemed to portend a more permanent rightward shift in Iowa, and Trump’s convincing 2016 victory appeared to confirm it. This is a state that’s 91 percent white. The percentage of people with a bachelor’s degree is below the national average, while the share of Iowans who identify as evangelical Christians is higher than it is in the US as a whole. Those are demographics most favorable to Republicans in the Trump era.

The problem for Ernst, and Trump, is that the parts of the state that are more urban and suburban are where the population is growing — and where voters are defecting from the Republicans.

The easiest way to understand Iowa politics is to look at each of its four congressional districts. Because the state has a nonpartisan redistricting commission, the four districts form a pretty neat squared grid.

A map outlining Iowa’s four congressional districts.
Iowa’s four congressional districts offer a road map for winning a statewide Senate race.
Wikipedia

The First District covers the northeastern part of the state, including the cities of Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, and Waterloo. About two-thirds of the population lives in or near the cities; the other third lives in rural communities. The Second District covers the southeastern part of the state, including Iowa’s third-largest city, Davenport. Like the First District, it’s about two-thirds urban and one-third rural.

These are the battlegrounds. Barack Obama won the First District by 13 points over Mitt Romney, but Ernst eked out a victory in 2014, and Trump won it by 3 points against Hillary Clinton. Then in 2018, the district swung back toward Democrats. Abby Finkenauer was elected to the US House, reclaiming the seat for her party after two terms in Republican hands, and the Democratic candidate for governor, Fred Hubbell, also won the First District by a single point, a 4-point swing from the Trump-Clinton race.

The Second District has mirrored the movement in the First, going from a big Obama win in 2012 to small Ernst and Trump triumphs in 2014 and 2016, respectively, and then a rebound for Democrats in 2018.

One Democratic strategist told me that a mixture of Obama-Trump working-class voters who have soured on Trump and suburban voters (especially women) who have abandoned Republicans has boosted the Democrats in these areas. That likely explains Ernst’s struggle to rebuild her 2014 coalition. She won her first race with 52 percent of the vote, but she’s pulling less than 43 percent on average in the 2020 polls.

“Suburban women have said, ‘To hell with this’ and voted up and down the ticket for us,” the strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said. “We’ve also picked up some men outside of suburbia who wanted to see a federal check on Trump. I think that’s part of the trend we’re seeing in the Senate race.”

Sen. Joni Ernst addresses the virtual Republican National Convention on August 26.
Republican National Committee via Getty Images

A Republican operative told me that Ernst has to stanch the bleeding and stay competitive in the First and Second districts in order to have a shot at reelection. If the race is within a few points, as it has been the past few cycles, she will have a chance. But if the Democratic margin grows, it’ll be a struggle.

The Third District, home to Des Moines and the southwestern corner of the state, has flipped toward Democrats under Trump. Obama barely won the Third in 2012, and Ernst saw a commanding 8-point margin in 2014. But then Republican support started to erode: Trump won the district by just 3 points in 2016, and Hubbell beat Kim Reynolds by 3 points in 2018, an 11-point swing toward Democrats since Ernst’s 2014 victory.

Or, to look at it through the lens of its US House races: Republican Rep. David Young won reelection by 13 points in 2016, before losing to Democrat Cindy Axne by 2 points in 2018. This is a serious trouble spot for Ernst and Trump in 2020, according to the GOP strategist, given those recent electoral trends.

“You’ve gotta narrow the window. You’re going to lose, but you want to lose less,” the strategist said. “Joni and the president are down or tied [in the polls] because they haven’t closed the gap enough in the Third.”

The Fourth District, covering the more rural northwestern region of Iowa, is the friendliest territory for Republicans. But the margins still matter: Obama lost the Fourth by “just” 8 points on his way to a win in 2012. But Trump blew Clinton out, with a 27-point victory, and won the state easily.

If Biden and Greenfield can narrow that gap in the Fourth, it would bode well for their chances of flipping the state back to Democrats. A recent Des Moines Register poll found a generic Democrat beating a generic Republican by comfortable margins in the First, Second, and Third districts, while the Republican was running just 5 points ahead in the Fourth.

That translated to a 48-44 lead for Democrats statewide, a good indicator of how a relatively weak performance in the Fourth would be doom for Republicans if they struggle in other parts of the state.

“Gotta run up the margins,” the Republican operative said of the Fourth.

Ernst is trying to recapture her 2014 magic, but Trump is making that hard

Trump dominates the political climate in Iowa, and that’s where Ernst’s struggles begin.

Trump won Iowa with 51 percent of the vote, but he’s lost some support during his first term. A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed the president has a 46 percent approval and 52 percent disapproval rating. Trump’s average support against Biden in the polls is also 46 percent, according to RealClearPolitics.

Timothy Hagle, a political scientist at the University of Iowa, pinned Trump’s troubles on less engaged, less partisan voters. They may not have liked Trump’s style, but they voted for him in 2016 anyway as a political outsider running against Hillary Clinton. But between Trump’s record of trying to roll back the Affordable Care Act and the economy’s downturn during the Covid-19 pandemic, those voters, who are most preoccupied with “pocketbook” issues, may be looking for a change from Trump.

“If the pandemic hadn’t hit, the economy would have been a real selling point,” Hagle told me. “Then, boom, the economy tanked. Not everybody has been helped. A lot of businesses are hurting.”

And because Ernst had only two years in the Senate before Trump took over Washington, her record is largely his. She voted to repeal Obamacare and in favor of the Republican tax bill. She’s been a reliable vote for Trump’s agenda, and that will be a problem for her if Iowa voters don’t like the president.

President Trump greets Sen. Joni Ernst after she introduced him during a visit to a renewable energy ethanol facility in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on June 11, 2019.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Last month’s Des Moines Register poll found that most Iowans, 56 percent, thought Ernst had not done enough for the state in her first term; 33 percent said she had. Voters were evenly divided on whether she was too close to Trump (37 percent), or whether she gets it about right (43 percent). Her overall job approval rating has been middling.

“You’re a young new US senator. You have a majority in the Senate, you have the House. Then the president comes in, and the ability to stand out and be unique is pretty hard,” the GOP operative told me. “It’s difficult to find your voice.”

The incumbent senator might have also been undermined by Trump’s and Reynolds’s handling of Covid-19. Iowa voters say they disapprove of the job both the president and their governor are doing, recent polls found.

Additionally, coronavirus cases are nearing their previous peak from August, and more Iowans are hospitalized with the virus than at any point in the outbreak. Reynolds has pointedly refused to issue a mask mandate and pushed ahead with reopening schools and businesses. Iowa’s college towns have been the site of notable outbreaks among students.

Ernst may not have helped either when she appeared to entertain conspiracy theories about the Covid-19 death count, comments that she tried to walk back at a debate with Greenfield.

“Between President Trump’s unpopularity and the criticisms of Governor Reynolds, that has all led to a pox on all their houses and dragged down Ernst,” Karen Kedrowski, a political science professor at Iowa State University, told me. “Ernst has been a good soldier on the Republican side, and Greenfield has used that against her.”

Sen. Joni Ernst before the start of the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the US Africa Command and US Southern Command on January 30.
Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

The Ernst campaign points to the huge spending by outside Democratic groups — the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Senate Majority PAC have already spent more than $45 million combined — to explain the senator’s apparent weakness in the polls.

They believe a focus on her Iowa bona fides and the issues where she’s distinguished herself from her party (Ernst was ranked as one of the more bipartisan senators of the last 25 years in a Lugar Center analysis) can carry her to a victory.

“As I learned from my time in the Iowa Legislature, not much gets done unless you work with both Democrats and Republicans,” Ernst wrote in a recent Des Moines Register op-ed, which highlighted her opposition to some of the Trump EPA’s policies that she said would hurt Iowa farmers. “From fighting for relief for our farmers to helping our working families, more than 60 percent of my bills have bipartisan support.”

In the final weeks of the campaign, she’s running on her record on domestic violence (seeking more government assistance for victims during the pandemic) and on sexual assault in the military (she has authored bipartisan bills to reform how such crimes are investigated and prosecuted). Ernst is recently divorced from her husband, who she said had been abusive; she has also said she was raped in college.

She’s been appearing at events with Grassley, who has served in the Senate since 1981 and is the most popular politician in the state. The strategy is one reason some experts in Iowa believe Ernst could run ahead of Trump on Election Day, even though she is polling behind the president right now.

Either way, Ernst’s fate will be tied closely to Trump’s — and that could be an advantage for Democrats.

Greenfield is challenging Ernst’s record on health care and agriculture

Reciprocally, Greenfield’s prospects are likely dependent, in large part, on how Joe Biden performs in Iowa because, as a political novice, she is still establishing herself with voters. She has sought to weave her personal story — about growing up on a farm, losing her first husband in her 20s, and later going into business to become a real estate developer— into a message aimed squarely at the voters with whom Republicans are already struggling.

She’s turned that personal story partly into a policy critique of Ernst, by associating the senator with Republican plans to privatize Social Security. The program provided benefits for Greenfield when her husband died in a work-related accident when she was 24.

“I saw what a difference it made,” Greenfield said. “I will carry that with me all my life.”

She’s also focused on some Iowa-centric issues, like biofuel waivers, and tried to undercut Ernst’s image as a born-and-bred Iowan. Her campaign seized on a moment in the candidates’ most recent debate when the senator was asked about the price of soybeans and flubbed the answer.

The Greenfield campaign has accused Ernst of being too close with the oil industry to be a good ally for the ethanol industry, part of her message about the dangers of political corruption. The candidate told me her first priority as senator would be reversing Citizens United.

Like many Democrats in competitive states, Greenfield doesn’t spend as much time talking about Trump. In one recent tweet, she conspicuously named the renewable fuel standards waiver that she said is harmful for ethanol interests, mentioning Ernst and acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler — but not the president.

Just like her opponent is trying to do, Greenfield is striking a more moderate message. She supports a public option, like Joe Biden, but not Medicare-for-all. It appears to be having the desired effect: The Des Moines Register poll found that 42 percent of Iowa voters thought Greenfield’s political views were “about right” for the state; 34 percent said she was too liberal.

Democratic Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield on August 11, 2019.
Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images
Judge Amy Coney Barrett meets with Sen. Joni Ernst at the US Capitol on October 1.
Caroline Brehman/Getty Images

Ernst has attacked Greenfield’s record as a developer, pointing (with questionable legitimacy) to layoffs and evictions at her company. Business interest groups have also tried to tar Greenfield with progressive policies like the Green New Deal.

So far, with big spending on both sides, Greenfield is holding on to a lead in the polling averages. The Senate election is probably going to be close, no matter what, because this is Iowa. But something about the Democrat’s message seems to be working.

“The thing people like about Joni Ernst, she was real and relatable,” the Democratic strategist said. “Greenfield has that in spades. … Voters want to vote for somebody they think understands the life they’re leading.”


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The United States is in the middle of one of the most consequential presidential elections of our lifetimes. It’s essential that all Americans are able to access clear, concise information on what the outcome of the election could mean for their lives, and the lives of their families and communities. That is our mission at Vox. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone understand this presidential election: Contribute today from as little as $3.

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Trump’s closing message is lying about the coronavirus at rallies that spread infection

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With the pandemic getting worse, not better, President Donald Trump tried to turn reality on its head during a series of rallies on Saturday in North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

“We’re rounding the turn. Our numbers are incredible,” Trump claimed in Lumberton, North Carolina, before blasting the media for its alleged fear-mongering.

But the US is not rounding a turn for the better. Friday and Saturday saw new daily coronavirus infections in the US surge past 80,000 for the first time ever. And it’s not just cases — hospitalizations are up more than 33 percent over the last month, and the seven-day average of deaths is now back above 800.

“That’s all I hear about now. Turn on television, ‘Covid, Covid, Covid Covid Covid.’ A plane goes down, 500 people dead, they don’t talk about it. ‘Covid Covid Covid Covid.’ By the way, on November 4, you won’t hear about it anymore,” Trump said. (In case it’s not clear, the plane crash he referred to was made up.)

Trump invoked a nearly identical talking point a couple hours later in Circleville, Ohio, saying, “You know what? On November 4, you’re not gonna hear— the news, CNN, all they talk about, ‘Covid Covid Covid.’ If a plane goes down with 500 people, they don’t talk about … they’re trying to scare everybody.”

Then, on Saturday night in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Trump argued, falsely, that the main reason cases in the US are going up is because the US does so much testing — “if we did half the testing, we’d have half the cases,” he said, as if testing causes cases — and insisted the coronavirus is “going away.” (In recent weeks, new cases have actually grown at a much faster rate than testing has expanded.)

Trump echoed the same theme during his first rally of the day on Sunday in Londonderry, New Hampshire.

Not only is Trump’s rhetoric irresponsible, but the fact is, he’s holding rallies that make a mockery of social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines recommended by his own government. And these rallies appear to be actively making the pandemic worse by spreading the virus.

Perhaps the strongest evidence of this came on Friday, when Erin Mansfield, Josh Salman, and Dinah Voyles Pulver authored a piece for USA Today that examined how coronavirus cases surged in a number of places where Trump recently held rallies.

From the article:

The president has participated in nearly three dozen rallies since mid-August, all but two at airport hangars. A USA TODAY analysis shows COVID-19 cases grew at a faster rate than before after at least five of those rallies in the following counties: Blue Earth, Minnesota; Lackawanna, Pennsylvania; Marathon, Wisconsin; Dauphin, Pennsylvania; and Beltrami, Minnesota.

Together, those counties saw 1,500 more new cases in the two weeks following Trump’s rallies than the two weeks before – 9,647 cases, up from 8,069.

But to the extent that Trump actually engages with this reality, his message is that people have to learn to live with it.

“You have to lead your life, and you have to get out,” he advised his fans on Saturday in Ohio.

The White House has no plan — and they aren’t even trying to hide it

Beyond the mounting human toll — more than 220,000 Americans have now died from the coronavirus — the latest spike in cases comes at a politically inopportune time for the White House, with Election Day now just nine days away.

But at this point, the Trump administration isn’t even pretending to have a plan to slow the spread of the virus. Instead, during a CNN interview on Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said, revealingly, that “we’re not going to control the pandemic.”

Meanwhile, the White House is dealing with yet another cluster of cases — five people close to Vice President Mike Pence have tested positive for the virus in recent days. Pence, the chair of the White House coronavirus task force, was exposed. But instead of following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, which calls for exposed people to self-quarantine for 14 days, he plans to travel to pandemic rallies on Sunday and Monday.

So not only has the White House given up on protecting the American public, but Trump administration officials have failed to protect themselves. And Trump and Pence are actively making things worse by lying to the American public about the state of the pandemic at rallies that fuel further spread.


Will you help keep Vox free for all?

The United States is in the middle of one of the most consequential presidential elections of our lifetimes. It’s essential that all Americans are able to access clear, concise information on what the outcome of the election could mean for their lives, and the lives of their families and communities. That is our mission at Vox. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone understand this presidential election: Contribute today from as little as $3.

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US Senate debates Supreme Court nominee Barrett: What to expect

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In an exercise of raw political power, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has put the Republican-controlled United States Senate on a path to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court just 11 days before United States national elections.

“In about 72 hours I predict we will have a new confirmed associate justice to the US Supreme Court,” McConnell said Friday on the Senate floor.

Barrett’s lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court requires a minimum of 51 votes and Republicans who control the Senate 53-47 say they have the numbers despite two likely Republican defections.

A procedural vote is expected during a rare Sunday session this weekend, setting up a final vote on Barrett on Monday.

The Senate action means Barrett would replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, creating a 6-3 majority of conservative justices.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has enough votes from Republicans to steamroll Democratic opposition to Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court [Ken Cedeno/Reuters]

Democrats focus on health care, rights

Democrats are expected to use the debate over the weekend to make a political case against President Donald Trump and Republican allies in the midst of national elections.

“A vote by any senator – any senator – for Judge Barrett is a vote to strike down the Affordable Care Act,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, said in a teleconference with news media.

The high court will hear arguments on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, known as “Obamacare”, on November 10, just one week after the election.

In addition to healthcare, Democrats will characterise Republican support for Barrett as voting against reproductive freedoms for women and equal rights for people of colour, disadvantaged groups and the LGBTQ community.

“Every single one of our rights will be at stake,” Schumer said.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tried to delay Senate confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court, but lacks enough Democratic votes to block her appointment [Ken Cedeno/Reuters]

Republicans cite Barrett’s qualifications

Barrett, 48, is a conservative jurist who follows the “originalist” school of jurisprudence that interprets the US Constitution on the basis of the nation’s founders’ original intent.

She is a well-regarded professor of constitutional law at Indiana’s University of Notre Dame, where she graduated first in her law school class in 1997.

In 2017, Barrett was appointed by Trump to the US 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, Illinois.

The American Bar Association has rated her “well qualified” for the role of Supreme Court justice and she has support from many of her colleagues in academia and law.

During her confirmation hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Barrett studiously avoided expressing any opinions on Supreme Court precedents or issues pending before the court.

Cries of hypocrisy

Democrats will characteriSe the entire process as destructive of norms in the Senate that have been eroded under McConnell’s leadership.

Senate Republicans had blocked former President Barack Obama’s nomination of a Supreme Court justice 10 months in advance of the 2016 election that Trump won, allowing him to nominate Justice Neil Gorsuch.

At the time, Republicans justified their position as a matter of democratic principles; close to an election, the people should decide who nominates new justices to the top US court.

Now, Republicans have abandoned those claims and instead are arguing that the 2016 election giving them control of the presidency and the Senate gives them a mandate to fill Ginsburg’s vacant seat.

Senator Mazie Hirono, wearing a protective mask printed with images of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is among Democrats who will vote to oppose Judge Barrett’s confirmation [Hannah McKay/Reuters]

“Elections have consequences and the American people elected a Republican president and Senate in 2016,” McConnell said.

With polls suggesting Democrats are in a position to win the White House and Congress, there is talk of passing legislation next year to expand the number of justices on the court.

“Everything is on the table,” Schumer said this week.

That has made the question of “court packing” an issue in the presidential campaign. Democratic candidate Joe Biden has said he would make his views clear after the Senate acts on Barrett, though in a television interview this week, Biden said that if elected, he would form a bipartisan commission to look at judicial reforms.

Two Republicans break ranks

Republican senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski have expressed doubts about rushing Barrett’s confirmation and appear ready to vote against her.

“I’ve shared for a while that I didn’t think we should be taking this up until after the election, and I haven’t changed,” Murkowski told reporters at the US Capitol this week.

Asked whether she would be a “no” vote, Murkowski responded, “That means I haven’t changed my mind on that.”

Civil rights groups have come out in opposition to Barrett’s nomination and the rushed Senate process.

Endangered Republican Senator Susan Collins is one of two likely Republican ‘no’ votes on Barrett [Hannah McKay/Reuters]

Collins, who is in a fight for re-election in Maine, reiterated her opposition to the process in an October 10 political debate with Democratic challenger Sara Gideon.

“It’s a matter of principle. It’s a matter of fairness,” Collins said.

“In a democracy, we should play by the same rules and the fact is that there has not been a confirmation of a Supreme Court justice in a presidential year since 1932,” Collins said.

Collins faces a potential defeat in Maine after being targeted by women’s rights groups for her controversial decision to support Trump nominee Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who is seen as hostile to abortion rights sanctioned by the 1973 Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision.

Rights groups oppose Barrett

Nongovernmental rights groups in the US have aligned against Barrett and are urging senators to vote against her nomination.

“This is reckless, and it is devastating. It is devastating for our communities and our democracy that Senate Republicans are rushing this process,” said Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

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Nigeria seeks to halt looting amid fury over ‘food warehouses’

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Abuja, Nigeria – Nigerian security forces are struggling to contain increasing cases of looting on government-run warehouses across the country, in the latest incident of unrest following widespread, youth-led protests against police brutality.

The storage facilities hold tonnes of relief materials including food meant for distribution during lockdowns previously enforced to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

While the distribution programme had been temporarily halted across several states in the country in recent months, it emerged this week relief items were still stored in some of these facilities, as well as the private homes of politicians.

The news angered many in the country with the biggest number of people living in extreme poverty globally.

“The food items belong to Nigerians. Why are they hiding them? This is wickedness. How do you hide food from hungry people?” asked Ibironke Babalola, a resident of Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos.

“There are many families who are struggling to even get just one meal a day, yet we have food in warehouses that were kept by some politicians,” the 41-year-old told Al Jazeera.

Tens of thousands of peaceful protesters have taken to the streets across Nigeria this month to demand an end to police violence and other sweeping reforms.

Amid rising tensions, criminals this week vandalised public buildings and damaged property while others took advantage of the unrest to attack the warehouses holding food items and other supplies.

On Saturday, police officers in the capital, Abuja, shot sporadically into the air and used tear gas to disperse residents who had approached a warehouse.

It was a different scenario in the southern city of Calabar where security forces were unable to stop the ransacking of homes of local politicians, where some of the COVID-19 relief materials were being kept.

In Ilorin, in central Kwara state, security officers faced difficulties in containing attacks on a government facility in recent days. The state governor has declared a 24-hour curfew to prevent further escalation of violence.

Authorities in Adamawa state, in the country’s northeast, also imposed a round-the-clock curfew on Sunday after looters attacked a large food warehouse.

Home to more than 200 million people, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and the continent’s top oil exporter.

But according to the National Bureau of Statistics, almost 83 million people, or 40 percent of the population, live below its poverty line of 137,430 naira ($381.75) a year, with millions depending on daily income for survival.

Some states which have previously suspended handing out coronavirus relief materials had pledged to resume distribution of the food items to poor residents – but some were unconvinced.

“Big fat lie,” said Effiong Zachariah, an Abuja resident.

“Some of the food items people found in the warehouses had gone bad,” the 35-year-old told Al Jazeera. “It shows you how wicked our people are. What would it cost them to share these rice and other items amongst the poor? People are hungry and they need to eat,” he added.

“The government should ensure that the warehouses still having food in them should be opened and the food distributed to avoid further clashes between security forces and poor Nigerians looking for food.”

Government officials have issued statements urging looters to stay away from warehouses and called on the police to arrest and prosecute those breaking the law.

On Saturday, Muhammed Adamu, inspector general of police, said he had ordered the “immediate mobilisation” of all police resources “to bring an end to the wanton violence, killings, looting and destruction of public and private property, and reclaim the public space from criminal elements masquerading as protesters in some parts of the country”.

Meanwhile, some government agencies warned looters against the consumption of some of the stolen items.

“Some people even made away with pre-fermented corns preserved for planting. All these items are poisonous and not fit for consumption,” Akin Omole, Ekiti state’s commissioner for information and civic orientation, said in a statement.

“We, therefore, appeal to our people not to consume these items because they can kill,” Omole said.

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a civil rights organisation, expressed disappointment at the non-distribution of food items to poor Nigerians and called for an urgent inquiry.

“Unless promptly investigated, the allegations of hoarding and diversion would undermine public trust in any efforts to bring the spread of the pandemic under control, exacerbate the negative impact of the crisis, and deny those most in need access to basic necessities of life,” SERAP stated.

According to SERAP, “the alleged hoarding of COVID-19 palliatives in several states and the apparent failure to timely, effectively, efficiently and transparently distribute the palliatives to the poorest and most vulnerable people have continued to deny many citizens the much-needed support.”

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