MASKING THE UNMASKED

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Last week I did a piece I titled,’’ Policing the Unpoliceable’’, in which I tried to x-ray the daily mannerisms of the average Nigerian motorists in the face of the challenges and consequences of COVID-19. After the piece last week, I was planning to focus on a different topic when I saw the news on developments in France and some other climes aimed at ensuring full compliance with the protocols of COVID-19. I have therefore chosen to focus on the deployment across the globes as a plank for confirming the workability of protocols in Nigeria to deter and compel the populace, especially motorists to comply with these protocols and stay safe.

When I wrote on my worry on interstate travel a couple of weeks ago, I did express similar concern on the willingness of motorists to play by the rules of the protocols of COVID 19. My worry was borne out of the fear that besides the possible spike in COVID-19 cases, there might also be a spike in road traffic crashes occasioned by the commencement of interstate movement as announced by the Presidential Task Force effective July I, 2020. To promote safety, the PTF put in place protocols such as compulsory face mask wearing which even before the reopening, were rarely obeyed by Nigerians. Compliance with this protocol is the focus for this week.

Within the three weeks I spent in Jos, the Plateau State capital, I daily took the pains to observe the level of compliance among both drivers, tricycle operators, commuters as well as pedestrians. I must confess that while a handful daily strive to obey these protocols, a substantial number still move about as if nothing has really changed regarding the survival of humanity in the face of COVID-19 pandemic.

I left Jos, on July 13,202 following my deployment to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja as Zonal Commanding Officer in charge of the FCT and Niger State. I have spent just two weeks in Abuja and I must confess that what I have seen among some road users including commuters who still toy with the reality of COVID-19, speaks volume. The question I have asked over and over again is, if these same people failed to comply with these protocols within their environment before the commencement of interstate movement, 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?

The story my friend and former colleague, Martins, told me captures the scary scenarios among some drivers and commuters. Narrating his recent experience in my office on Tuesday, he expressed concern over what he saw and experienced on his way from Benin to Abuja last week in one of the unorganized transporters’ who despite series of meetings between the FRSC and stakeholders, played deaf to pleas for strict compliance. First the vehicle, according to him carried seven passengers instead of five as spelt out by the PTF and re-echoed by a joint FRSC /stakeholders’ resolution. Secondly, out of the seven passengers, none except Martins complied with the protocols of wearing face mask. Thirdly, the vehicle drove for the number of hours from Benin to Abuja with the air conditioner working. All please by him to the driver to turn the air conditioner off was rebuffed by other passengers who insisted they paid for an air conditioner vehicle.

What about the Unions? Will they demonstrate commitment to government expectations? How would enforcement agencies cope with the burden of policing these transporters and commuters in the face of their strength compared to the spate of motorization? Will drivers shun overloading which has been the bane of commercial transportation? Martin’s experience shows a handful of drivers are not ready to shun overloading despite our nationwide clampdown on offenders. Will drivers shun excessive speeding which is the number one causative factor behind road traffic crashes? Lastly, will passengers stand to be counted by resisting overloading? Again, the experience of Martins which I just shared shows that some passengers are not willing to stand for their safety.

Besides compulsory wearing of face mask, the protocols insist that movement across state borders are only allowed outside curfew times, from 1st July, 2020. It also clearly states that the provisions of sanitizers and appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) to all workers such as (face mask, gloves etc.) are key. In addition, occupancy up to half capacity for buses (50% of usual occupancy) and 2 passengers for taxis is now the rule in addition to the compulsory use of non-medical facemask for drivers, staff and passengers. There must be boldly displayed; ‘no mask no entering’, while temperature checks at point of entering and departure where necessary must be enforced. These are in addition to availability of hand washing facilities at bus parks. Critical also is compliance with physical distancing among other protocols that must be obeyed. My other worries included compliance with other traffic rules including ensuring that vehicles are mechanically fit to convey goods and passengers as well obeying speed regulations

I have chosen this week to x-ray some countries outside our shores to see what they are doing differently to compel people to mask themselves starting with the United Kingdom where government declared that from June 15, face masks becomes mandatory. The new rule applies on trains, buses, ferries, trains and planes. It however notes that people will not wear face mask inside train stations or bus terminals. The new rules stipulate punishment for flouting the rules such as on the spot fines of £100. Defaulters, it also states would be refused travel while deviants would pay this much for being deviants. The mandate for enforcing this rules rests on British Transport Police. Although the rule is an England-only rule, it expected that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to follow suit. To drive home awareness, nationwide campaigns are on.

The rationale for this move is based on the evidence from experts that face coverings can stop you passing coronavirus on to others, if you are asymptomatic or have yet to develop symptoms. The rules for breaking lockdown is 60pounds while breaking mandatory 14-day quarantines when coming into the UK will face a fine of up to 1000pounds.