COVID-19 INTERSTATE MOVEMENT PROTOCOL

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Last week, I wrote a piece titled,” My worry on interstate movement”. In that piece, I expressed my worry and fear over the interstate movement announced by the Presidential Task Force last week. To sum up the piece, I expressed concern over how little value the average Nigerian traveler and transporter places on life. As I said in that piece, ”I must confess that I daily marvel at why a man would choose to kill himself and kill others even when you do all through persuasion and most times even lifting God’s words in both the Holy Bible and Koran to justify the need to stay alive without success.’’ I equally expressed worry over the unwillingness of Nigerian transporters to comply with traffic rules as well as the unwillingness of commutes to play their complimentary roles in the face of the protocols spelt out by the Task Force.

Since there is a penchant for flouting traffic rules and all known rules as enshrined in our traffic books by road users, I wondered if these road users will detour and comply with rules for their safety and the safety of others including their loved ones. Will these same operators in the face of rising cases of COVID-19, be remorseful for once, I asked? I went on to observe that,if transporters and commuters failed to comply with these protocols within their environment, what would be their level of compliance when traveling outside their State borders and sometimes across more than one State? Will drivers whose preoccupation has always been profit rather than safety of lives really obey these protocols? Will the Union demonstrate commitment to government expectations? How would enforcement agencies cope with the burden of policing these transporters and commuters? Will drivers shun overloading which has been the bane of commercial transportation? Will they shun excessive speeding which is the number one causative factor behind road traffic crashes? Lastly, will passengers stand to be counted by resisting overloading? My other worry is if they would comply with other traffic rules including ensuring that their vehicles are mechanically fit to convey goods and passengers.

I am today excited because of certain developments which gives me reasons to green with smiles even though I still have my reservations as expressed last week. I am excited that my worry and fear aligns with the thinking of the Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Corps,Dr Boboye Oyeyemi. On Monday July, 7, 2020, the Corps Marshal convoked a stakeholders’ platform to discuss and fine-tune strategies to address some of the worries I raised in my piece, including others that my thought did not process. I am glad that Dr Boboye has with his wisdom helped me to process my thought better and eased my tension and the tension of some other well-meaning Nigerians including the concern that the Presidential Task Force has consistently raised and warned against.

I have chosen to share with you the outcome of the one day session held at the National Headquarters of the Corps through virtual participation by a handful of stakeholders across the country. To lay the issues in proper perspectives, the forum acknowledged that the road transport sub-sector has been one of the national fronts at the receiving of the tremendous impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also acknowledged the significant reduction in its contribution to national economic growth and development due to staggered lockdown and restriction of movement which it noted is worrisome. The players who attended the session, included transport unions, fleet operators among others. The session strictly complied with the protocols and guidelines of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) 0n COVID-19 as well as other related road safety matters; for their buy-in and compliance.

After hours of deliberations that shared the same concern on the need to guard against the spread of COVID-19 through road transportation, the meeting re-echoed the presidential guidelines and resolved that all Public Transport Operators should sanitize their parks/terminals regularly (at least before and after each trips) with emphasis on areas that people frequently come in contact with such as rails, grab handles and seats. They also resolved that there should be provision at the entrance to the parks/terminals, sanitizing points or hand wash equipment with detergent and running water which shall be used before and after disembarking from the vehicles.

It also resolved that notices should be placed at conspicuous places in the terminals/parks to guide passengers and other park users on all the safety protocols. They should also ensure that they provide alcohol-based sanitizers for use at terminal and in-vehicles and the provision of temperature readers to checks on all persons gaining access to their premises as well as uphold the mandatory use of the face masks by all.

All interstate and intercity travels, it also resolved should be initiated from registered or organized operating terminals/motor parks to enable effective passenger screening. Sanitizing and dedicated queues and signage should be used to distinguish passenger flow with 2-metre social distance markers. Passengers it re-echoed should maintain reasonable physical distancing in the seating arrangement both for waiting passengers at the parks/terminals as well as in-vehicle. Any person, including passengers who refuses to adhere to the hand sanitizing protocol or the wearing of face marks should be denied entry into the park or/ and the vehicle, as the case may be.

The session further held that there should be protective barriers in designated areas around the operating terminals such as the ticketing stand or control areas and that there should be no hawking or begging in or around shall the parks or terminals. Electronic payment of fares, it reasoned should be adopted as the use of cash encourages breaching of the social distancing measures. All passengers’ luggage should equally be disinfected before entry into the vehicles.

Big buses should designate entry and exit doors for passengers while it held that there should be no standing, especially in all Mass Transit buses. Buses should also be parked at least 5 meters away from each other and all items such as tables and benches that could aid or cause crowding in the motor parks or terminals should be removed.

All vehicles should turn off their air conditions and rather, should have windows open for proper ventilation. All transport operators who serve food/water to departing passengers should ensure that they are packages/sealed while there should also be continuous provision of Protective Personal Equipment (PPE) for drivers, and alcohol-based hand sanitizers which must be enforced. All traveler buses should be equally be disinfected after completion of every trip.

Further, it resolved that all transport operators should adhere to the following passenger spacing arrangement which the FRSC personnel on patrol duties on the relaxed lockdown on COVID-19 shall enforce: It resolved that 13-seater Hiace bus should carry nine persons,10-seater Hiace short bus should carry seven persons,7-seater bus/vehicle should carry five persons,4-seater salon vehicle would now carry 3perons, while luxury buses that before COVID-19 carried four persons per role would now carry two persons per row.

To curry passenger involvement, it resolved that Passengers are also expected to report any public transport operator who fails to comply with any of these guideline to the Federal Road Safety Corps Command nearest to them or call 0800CALLFRSC or 122 Toll-free line, clearly stating the name of the Operator, location of Park/terminal, vehicle registration number (as applicable), date and time. It equally resolved that there should be mobile courts to assist in the enforcement of compliance to the protocol as agreed by all stakeholders.

It concluded by stating that the resolutions are in tandem with the PTF guidelines on COVID-19 and enjoined all Nigerians to support the Federal Government’s at ridding our nation of the corona virus pandemic.