In a move to curb the spread of Covid -19 pandemic, President Muhammadu Buhari had, last month, imposed a ban on inter-state movements across the country and also a night curfew from 8pm to 6am.
The presidential directives had followed recommendations by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, as the committee described interstate travel as one of the major causes of community transmission of the disease.
Prior to those directives, the governors of all the 36 states of the federation under the auspices of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, had announced a ban on interstate movement due to the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Only those providing essential services will be permitted to cross state boundaries.
However, no sooner had the ban come into effect, than the Northern governors in a clear violation of the PTF guidelines on Covid -19 started repatriating Almajarai to their supposed states of origin. Rationalising that error of judgement, the Northern governors implied that it was a unanimous decision aimed at ending the age old system and also to curb the spread of the deadly pandemic.
Regrettably, even after several repeated caution from the chairman of the PTF and Secretary to the Government of the federation, Boss Mustapha to the governors that the repatriation of the Almajirai was a clear breach of the ban on interstate movement, they were still shipping the helpless children to their states of origin.
Also, stories dominated the media space of people still traveling from one state to another, no thanks to security operatives who allegedly compromised and colluded with violators of the directive.
According to investigations, with the payment of an amount, security agents were alleged to be willing to allow our stand one travel from Lagos to Abuja despite the directive banning interstate ban. According to the report, drivers shamelessly part with money at every checkpoint to be allowed passage to the next destination.
Sadly, while Covid-19 cases were rising exponentially due to community transmissions and movements between states, the few colluding dirty cops on the checkpoints were smiling to the banks .Even farmers who were transporting agricultural produce from one state to another were constantly being harassed for bribes by those security agencies prompting the SGF to remind local government authorities and security agencies that farmers are essential workers.
He said “this, for the avoidance of doubts, includes farming activities. We recognize the fact that we are in the planting season and the nation cannot afford to prevent our hardworking farmers from going to their farms.
“We therefore use this medium to reemphasize that farmers fall within the list of exemptions and urge State Governors, Local Government Authorities and security agencies to please allow them to carry out their activities. Our food security is critical to our national security. Nevertheless, it also didn’t stop the security officers from harassing journalists, health and other essential workers and interfering with their lawful duties during the curfew.
An outcry from the media forced the police to rescind their own interpretation of the decision on the curfew. There is no denying the fact that the ban on interstate movement has collapsed as people are still traveling from one end of the country to another. Even governors were seen shuttling from one state to another for political reasons in clear breach of the ban on interstate movements and domestic flights. Consequently, we call on the federal government to, as a matter of urgency, lift the ban on inter-state movements as the directive is observed more in the breach.
Not to be misunderstood, we are of the opinion that a few bad eggs within the disciplined services and some corrupt members of the public are those subverting the system for their own pecuniary interest. The majority of the security operatives did their job to the best of their abilities. The nation cannot continue to enrich and line the pockets of these few unscrupulous security agents. Or, for that matter, encourage wilful disregard for law and order by some Nigerians.
This Newspaper strongly suggests that the ban be lifted and the transport unions sensitized adequately to observe social/ physical distancing, wear face masks and check temperatures of passengers before they board the vehicles .We make this suggestion with a deep sense of responsibility bearing mind that the purpose for which the directive was issued though laudable in the face of the outbreak of the pandemic, has been sabotaged by a conniving few.
As it is often said, the government cannot do it alone without the cooperation of the rest of the citizenry. In this case, some Nigerians placed selfish interest over general good. Lifting the ban on interstate travel will be a painful one but it has to be done because, in our view, government will not be seen as closing its eyes to malfeasance.
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