COVID-19: My Fear For 2020 Yuletide

I am excited yet very sad and very worried. I am excited because the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on December 1, 2020 announced new regulations for 2020 Christmas and New Year celebrations. I am however worried that this new regulations might end up as the initial COVID-19 protocol announced at the height of the outbreak in the country. When the initial regulations was announced, compliance was problematic across the states based on the erroneous belief that COVID-19 was not real. As directed, the Federal Road Safety Corps rolled out its arsenals to checkmate overloading and ensure compulsory use of face mask and social distancing. State Government set up mobile courts to prosecute defaulters. But While the Corps is still battling the inherent abuses and vises such as overloading, non- use of passenger manifest among others to track travelers, structures such as state taskforces and mobile courts initially put in place have since taken the backstage.

I remember sharing similar concern in a piece I titled, My worry on interstate movement. More than ten months after the initial regulations, most Nigerians according to my good friend David are still living in a world of their own. Most still believe that the pandemic is government’s creation to cage their freedom. At social gatherings, the few obedient citizens look like visitors from mars. The story is the same at barbing saloons and even branded taxis whose operators rarely comply because of same erroneous belief. I have therefore chosen to again share my personal experience and findings when the initial regulations were announced because it is still applicable today. At the time of my findings, there was a measure of fear but today that fear has eased off as people feel we have already overcome the pandemic.

So what is the new regulations? The first is the plea by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) to Nigerians not to conduct usual Christmas festivities such as carol services this year. In the words of the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control(NCDC) Chikwe Ihekweazu, Christmas carols, travels and other gatherings during the festive season, could turn out to be “super spreaders” of the coronavirus. “This is really to re-emphasize the call by the PTF that many of the traditional meetings that we engage in at this time of the year, whether they are Christmas carols or festivals, trips, family gatherings, each of those could end up being a super spreader event.“ So, we must take this into consideration as we make our choices, “he concluded. I have chosen to highlight these which unlike the initial regulations which were rarely comply with seem to be pleas and therefore not enforceable. So, if Nigerians who love travelling and socials failed to comply with the enforceable regulations, will they really blink at these pleas which are for the good of all of us? Will the total number of cases in the country which stands at about 67,557 compel compliance? Will the global picture which stands at nearly 69million with over a million five hundred deaths persuade the doubting public? Will the euphoria of the much awaited vaccines be the elixir? Will we ponder on these, please read my initial concern published over five months ago.

When the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 announced the lifting of the lockdown on inter- state movement on Monday, 29, June, 2020, I lept with joy like one testifying on the goodness of God. In fact, I was elated as if my survival depended on the reopening of state borders and the commencement of interstate travels. For starters, I am not a transporter; neither am I a commercial driver whose daily survival depends on transportation. Before COVID-19 changed our lives for good, I was a road safety officer and still remain one.

However, since March when the nationwide lockdown begun, I have had a measure of relative rest because of the restriction on movement which reduced motorization in the country. My four months stay at the Federal Road Safety Commission Academy at Udi, in Enugu State between the last week of January and June, 2020 amplified my relief as I was totally cut off from all the stress and hustle of policing Nigerian drivers with penchant for flouting every possible traffic regulation at will. My business at the Academy was training and retraining as well as molding officers to become committed and dedicated in keeping with the dreams of our founding fathers.

But Just when I was savoring the fun of being called a Vice -Chancellor in the making or a Principal as my colleagues joked when they heard my deployment to the Academy, God Almighty through my boss redeployed me to Jos, the Plateau State capital as Zonal Commanding Officer, overseeing the Plateau, Benue and Nasarawa States. It was fun when I assumed duty a couple of weeks ago in Jos as my burden was restricted to keeping watch over motorization within the metropolis and the local government areas.

Now the borders have been thrown wide open and the wahala of begging Nigerian transporters and commuters to stay safe and drive safely while traveling and transporting has commenced. 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. Before the lockdown, Nigerian transporters were impatient, speed freaks and deviants to say the least. After three months of compulsorily staying at home without engaging in the daily business of transporting humans and goods without recourse for the rules guiding safety of lives and property as enshrined in our traffic books, will these same operators become born again transporters? I allow you to be the judge.

Like I said, I am worried about the renewed interstate travels for several reasons including the likely increase in the spate of crashes. My fear since July I, 2020 has been on how the face of travelling across the states will look like. I know the Federal Government have put in place protocols that must be obeyed; these protocols include compulsory face mask wearing which even before the reopening were rarely obeyed by Nigerians. Since I arrived Jos, the Plateau State capital, I have daily taken 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. If these same people 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?

For reminders, 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, no hawking or begging as well as designated areas and procedures to isolate passengers with suspected COVID-19 infection. Instilling queuing discipline and the conduct of COVID-19 training for staff are other protocols while there must be open windows for short distance trips.

It also requires State Government through the Commissioners for Transportation, to undertake the facilities and confirm compliance as pre-condition to resumption of operations. The conditions are; ensure provision of sanitizers and appropriate PPEs to all park workers, where possible carry out temperature checks at point of entering and departure, provide hand washing facilities at bus parks along with physical distancing, where possible, and restrict movement in high burden LGAs to essential travel only

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. While you are pondering on these posers, let me inform you that on the first day of the commencement of interstate travels, a reported road traffic crash occurred in Ibadan, the Oyo state capital due to a trailer which break failed along the Aleshinloye junction. The trailer according to reports, ran into four micra taxis with passengers in addition to motorcycles carrying passengers. It dragged some of the motorcycles into the ditch where it landed. A total of five people lost their lives, including five serious injuries. The begging question for me, is what speed the vehicle was doing as at the time of the crash? Who was driving; a motor boy or the assigned driver? What state was he when he was driving among other questions which will interest the accident investigators?

It would amaze you to know that even while COVID-19 lockdown order was on, the Corps was worried over the increasing cases of speed related fatalities when in actual fact the crash trend was expected to trend down. These, sum up some of my worries.

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