RESTRICTIONS ON INTER-STATE MOVEMENT

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The Covid-19 pandemic has further exposed the gross indiscipline in the law enforcement system

One of the drastic steps taken by the federal government in containing the COVID-19 pandemic was the lockdown of Lagos and Ogun States as well as the Federal Capital Territory, which were the epicentres of the pandemic. For five weeks, socio-economic activities were grounded as residents of these states and Abuja were forced to stay at home. Sadly, the gradual relaxation did not signify an abatement of the scourge in any way. In fact, the lockdown was relaxed amidst spiking figures, and in a clear response to socio-economic pressures, as Nigerians were getting restive due to what many christened “hunger virus”. Even President Muhammadu Buhari acknowledged this “very heavy economic cost” of the lockdown, in his speech to ease the lockdown.

However, with the prevailing potency of COVID-19 in mind, the president has also ordered a nationwide overnight curfew from 8pm to 6am and a ban on non-essential interstate passenger travels until further notice. This was predicated on the fact that cessation of movement, physical distancing measures as well as prohibition of mass gatherings remained the most efficient and effective way of reducing the transmission of the virus. It is therefore worrisome that these measures are not yielding the desired results. Apart from exposing the underbelly of our cratered economy, broken health system, and yawning social welfare gaps, the COVID-19 pandemic has also exposed our weak law enforcement and the gross indiscipline within the system. Not only have there been poor compliance with government ordered lockdowns and precautionary measures, the security agencies have been accused of aiding and abetting the breaches.

Nigerians are daily inundated with reports and trending videos of truckloads of people, mostly teenagers and youth, moving in droves from one part of the country to the other. For instance, a truck full of people from Kano State, the epicenter of Coronavirus in the north, was recently intercepted at Ojodu-Berger in Lagos State. The same has been witnessed in Kaduna State where they were personally apprehended by Governor Nasir el-Rufai as well as in Enugu State where another batch of human cargoes were intercepted during a monitoring and enforcement drive by Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi on the Enugu-Benue and Enugu-Kogi borders. For these breaches, accusing fingers are pointing in the direction of the security agencies whose personnel have adopted a ‘pay-as-you-go’ policy for non-essential travellers who ordinarily should not be on the road.

It is indeed instructive that apart from the two index COVID-19 cases that came into Enugu State from the United Kingdom before the initial lockdown, the rest eight cases were people who found their way into the state from Lagos, Plateau, and Bauchi States despite a subsisting shutdown ordered by the state. In fact, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 has raised the alarm over what it described as “increased level of interstate movement, worsened by the dubious concealment of people in food-carrying vehicles”, while the Nigeria Governors’ Forum has equally raised serious concerns over the same palpable breaches.

Apart from worsening the spread of COVID-19, this free flow of people across states could be exploited by sundry cartels of criminals, misguided zealots and predatory bandits to penetrate other parts of the country and build new cells for their nefarious activities. We therefore enjoin President Buhari to call the Inspector-General of Police, Commandant-General of the NSCDC, and all heads of the security agencies whose personnel are responsible for the enforcement of the ban on non-essential interstate travels to order. Importantly, we call on Nigerians to comply with the presidential directives on interstate travels and other advised protocols for their own good. This is one war which could consume the nation if poorly handled. It is one war we cannot afford to lose.