How Inter-state Travels Aid COVID-19 Spread in Nigeria

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Despite the ban on inter- state movement of vehicles and humans by the federal and state governments, travelers are working out new means to sneak to restricted states, thus aiding the spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria, Omolabake Fasogbon reports

Following federal and different state governments directive banning or restricting inter-state movement of vehicles and human to curtail the spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria, border security in the country has since doubled-up in order to ensure compliance. This has however not stopped inter-state movement of non-essential workers or services, not because enforcement agents are not doing their work or underperforming (even though some are compromising).

Travelers are on a daily basis upgrading their tactics to gain entry into another state, that is asides hiding in a laden or unladen truck, thus outmaneuvering security checks and aiding the spread of the virus in the country.

It would be recalled that on March 29, 2020 when COVID-19 cases in the country was yet 97, President Muhammadu Buhari announced a lockdown in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun States to curb the spread of the virus while some states like Osun also followed suit. Despite this step, the number of cases in the country has continued to surge and spread to other states hitherto with no cases.

This unfortunate development has prompted federal government to opt for more stringent measures. As at April 27,2020, Nigeria had 1273 cases across 32 states including the FCT, which also included 40 deaths. As a result of this, the president in his national broadcast of April 27, put an outright ban on all inter-state movement except for vehicles conveying essential goods and essential workers.

The president in his broadcast said, “In line with the recommendations of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, the various federal government committees that have reviewed socio-economic matters and the Nigeria Governors Forum, I have approved a phased and gradual easing of lockdown measures in FCT, Lagos and Ogun States effective from Monday, 4th May, 2020.

“Furthermore, new nationwide measures are to be introduced as follows: There will be an overnight curfew from 8pm to 6am. This means all movements will be prohibited during this period except for essential services; there will be a ban on non-essential inter-state passenger travel until further notice; partial and controlled interstate movement of goods and services will be allowed for the movement of goods and services from producers to consumers”.

Strengthening border security has been one of the measures adopted by central and state authority to combat COVID-19, in addition to other health care, fiscal and monetary policies. Inspite of FG directive and boundary closure, desperate Nigerians have in defiance of the president’s order, still sneaking into choice states via their created and irregular routes with a lot of them escaping security checks.

Essential workers have also taken advantage of their job to move freely and even transport people across the nation. A case in point was the late Deputy Commissioner of Police, Francis Bisong who shuttled Edo and Ondo States not knowing he had contracted the virus and unintentionally exposed a lot of people to it. Another case as reported by Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, was a police officer who tested positive in Lagos but found his way to Ondo State for treatment, thus increasing the figure of cases in the state.

At the initial stage of the lockdown, most travellers use to smuggle themselves to another state by hiding in a container or van conveying essential items like livestock or food items. This method was soon known to security operatives who became more conscious and stricter at borders. Upon this discovery, defaulters came up with new antics to execute their mission.

Consequent to this, the federal government ordered vehicles conveying essential goods not to accommodate more than five people including driver and those to unload the goods. Not too long after, reports on how travellers hide underneath goods loaded inside trucks flooded the media space and therefore compelled enforcement operatives to tighten noose on non-complying travellers. In Lagos recently, police intercepted a truck-load of cattle with 42 passengers hidden in it. The truck was said to be coming from Zamfara State.

Also in Rivers state, police were reported to have arrested 14 persons who hid inside two trailers conveying cattle from Adamawa State to Port Harcourt. Given this discovery, defaulters have graduated their tactics to finding a route to another state through bushes. This was the picture at Ogunmakin, the boundary between Oyo and Ogun States when this reporter embarked on a monitoring trip from Oyo to Lagos to check the level of compliance to the president’s directive banning inter-state movement.

At the Oyo State boundary inward Ogun was a thick gridlock towards the border. This was as a result of a scrupulous checks carried out by enforcement agents to prevent smart drivers. The gridlock was also a blessing in disguise for daring travellers who seized the opportunity to carry out their plan. In the midst of the gridlock, this reporter sighted trucks in their numbers loaded with human beings that are closely and tightly seated as against the social distance rule. Just as the gridlock maintained a standstill, drivers were spotted offloading human beings like goods, while the travelers quickly found their way to a nearby bush and came out at the main express road to connect back to their vehicle that had been cleared at the entry point and crossed border to Ogun State.

Hearing them speak as they rushed at one of the trucks, one of the travellers said, “They think they are smart”. Another passenger cried out to the driver thus, “Driver please drive fast before they catch us”.

A lot of people have also taken advantage of the movement permitted by the eased lockdown to trek into neigbouring state. Hinting THISDAY, a roadside orange seller who identified herself as Iya Ajoke at Berger, the boundary between Ogun and Lagos state, disclosed that travellers have devised a means of crossing the border on foot. This they do by taking intra state vehicle to the border and cross on foot.

She said that this is common with people living in Ibafo area of Ogun State and working or needed to carry out an activity in Lagos.

True to Iya Ajoke , this reporter contacted a friend living in Mowe, Ogun state and working in Ogba, Lagos to find out how she has been managing to get to office, her response was not different from the revelation of Iya Ajoke.

Already, there have been much talks on how people living close to the entry point of another state can access neighboring state especially if there business is resident there. While this situation was not addressed in the president’s directive, this set of people have devised convenient means.

A top police officer in Ogun state who chose to be anonymous told THISDAY that the governor of Ogun was aware of the plight of residents living close to or working in Lagos but could not help the situation.
“The governor gave a clear and stern order that such people should be denied exit or entry to the state. He said such people should choose to stay in either Ogun or Lagos”, the police officer told THISDAY.

In the wake of this anomaly, security agents have been looked up to pull out all the stops and continuously up their game to prevent cunny defaulters from maintaining the status quo.

Director General of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu claimed that the upsurge in the number of cases recorded in the last few weeks was due to unauthorised inter-state travels. He advised defaulting travellers to desist from their antics in the interest of themselves and Nigerians.

He said, “The last few weeks have recorded an upsurge in cases of people travelling from one state to another and testing positive to COVID-19. This has further led to the spread of the virus in states that had previously recorded no case or few cases. By travelling from one state to another, there is an increasing pressure on an overstretched health system .New contacts have been identified and traced in difficult circumstances, more people are put at risk and limited resources are spent confirming and responding to more cases that could have been avoided.”

He added, “these are difficult times for countries across the world and in the absence of solutions such as a vaccine, we have to adhere to non-pharmaceutical interventions. Interventions such as movement restriction and ban on inter-state travel for non-essential activities may seem difficult but are critical for us to fight this virus”.

He further urged voluntary compliance to guidelines and regulations which he maintained that it will be central for the success of COVID-19 response.

“Notwithstanding, the Presidential Task Force for COVID-19 is also working with relevant agencies to ensure compliance by citizens. To contain the virus and not risk exacerbating societal conflict, our security actors have been advised to adopt measures and non-violent approaches that respect the rights of individuals”, he assured.

When contacted for comment , the Force Public Relations Officer, DCP Frank Mba explained that the police are already aware of irregular routes like bush that defaulters are exploring to sneak into another state. He added the days ahead will be tougher for irregular travelers.

“The IG has ordered the deployment of police mounted troop (police horses) to patrol identified bush and footpaths and other irregular routes being used by some travellers to evade law enforcement agents”.