Sunday Magazine

Bus drivers, others ask, ‘Is COVID-19 gone?’

Sequel to the noncompliance with the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) protocols to control the spread of COVID-19 in the country, commercial drivers and some other concerned Nigerians are wondering if the country has won the battle over the virus. CHIJIOKE IREMEKA reports

 

It seems many Nigerians and governments at all levels have let down their guards on the COVID-19 pandemic, which second wave spreads fast and kills quickly.

 

People now go about their normal businesses wearing no face masks or maintaining social distancing, wash their hands with soap and water, apply hand sanitizer as non pharmaceutical measures required to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

 

It is worse when the government verbally expresses the seriousness of COVID-19, but in the real sense, does nothing to enforce the protocols among its agencies and the masses even as the government flouts its own orders in many ways.

 

Recently, the law enforcement agencies in Lagos have been arresting some offenders in the state and throwing them inside a congested ‘Black Maria’. This action, no doubt, says a lot about the government’s seriousness in fighting COVID-19. In a most worrisome situation, all the protocols that were put in place and observed during the first wave of the pandemic last year, might have collapsed due to non – enforcement on the side of the government.

 

Sunday Telegraph’s check revealed that commercial buses plying Oshodi-Mile 2 route, carry four passengers on a row of a seat instead of three, yet charge the same high fare meant for three passengers, thereby making extra N200. Passengers on board are now packed together as in the case of the pre-COVID-19 era, which have forced many passengers to ask whether the pandemic has ended.

 

In most cases, passengers sit shoulder to shoulder sweating and touching one another due to lack of space. Of course, physical contact on board is the hallmark of commuting through public transport.

 

To make the matter worse, wearing of face masks is now by personal discretion even when non adherence attracts a fine or term in prison. A popular route Oshodi-Ikeja Along- Agege, where drivers used to insist on all passengers wearing face masks before they would roll out is no longer so.

 

However, like a bolt out the blue, a commercial bus driver of an Agege-bond bus, who loaded at Charity, Oshodi Park, Judas Omenka, while on motion observed that none of the 14 passengers onboard his bus was wearing the face mask and inquired to know if the pandemic is no more. He asked rhetoricaly: “Has COVID-19 gone out of Nigeria? Why is there no one wearing his or her face mask?”

 

He said: “I am asking because none of the passengers I carried today (Monday) was wearing face masks and the police that used to tell us not to carry people without facemasks are also no longer harassing anybody again.

 

“If COVID-19 has gone, let us know so that we can stop suffocating ourselves with facemasks and be free from the wearing facemasks for disease that we have not seen its victim for one day.”

 

The driver, like many other Nigerians, is wondering the rate at which the government, its agencies and the entire citizenry violate the COVID-19 protocols when he asks, ‘has Coro (COVID-19) gone?’ That question triggered a heated argument in the bus that COVID-19, which affected a few number of people, who said the virus had gone, saying that the government knows, but uses it to make money across the country.

 

One Mr. Clement said the government doesn’t know how to tell the masses that pandemic is no longer serious in the country and that is the reason that there is less talk about COVID-19 within the government.

 

“What we hear today is how the House will pass a bill to regulate the use of bleaching cream in the country and a bill to ensure that all journalists must have a degree in journalism or related courses before being allowed to practice as journalists in the country.

“But they didn’t present a bill that will say that all politicians must have a degree in political science or that lawmakers must hold degrees in law before they can vie for the office is.

 

These are where attention are diverted, because they do not want journalists to report their evils. “This regime has always sought a way to muzzle the press so that their atrocities will not be made known to the public. There may be some COVID-19 cases in the country but not at the rate the government wants to make the people believe.”

 

Again, there is no place for social distancing in day-to-day dealings of Nigerians, not even the government or its agents seemed to be complying with the protocols.

 

Just last Saturday, the young protesters, who defied threats and warning from the Nigerian government, security operatives and Lekki Concession Company (LCC), went on with their #OccupyLekkiTollgate# protest against reopening Lekki Toll Gate for toll collection when the Lagos Judicial Panel of Inquiry to look into police brutalities is yet to conclude it’s assignment, were arrested and put in a congested Black Maria in flagrant violation of the social distance policy.

 

Such action elicited a number of condemnations by the public who said that locking all the protesters in one vehicle is not healthy for the fight against the spread of the pandemic through aerosol.

 

A medical practitioner, Dr. Ben Olaiya said that the government and its agents have not been good ambassadors of the campaign against COVID-19 as they have not led by example, making people to believe that there is no Corona virus and worsening case in the country.

 

He said: “It is very wrong of the police. Despite all the noise about this pandemic, the government still flouts its own orders. And this is not good enough.

 

The police go on and arrest and park people in their vehicles without thinking of infection from a possible infected person(s).”

 

More so, based on a trending video of the arrest of some #EndSARS protesters by officials of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF), a physician criticised the police for putting all those arrested in one van without ensuring that the social/physical distancing protocol, meant to curb the spread of COVID-19 was observed.”

 

He noted that the manner of arrests and crowding of those arrested without observing basic distancing protocols could have dire consequences for the spread of COVID- 19, which is currently in its second wave in the country.

“Already, the number of new COVID – 19 cases being recorded in the country is high and mortality rates too heading to the north; that is part of the reasons the Police action is eliciting criticisms,” he said.

 

Also weighing in, the Lagos State Chairman, Guild of Medical Directors, Dr. Dapo Morawo, said: “The governments of Nigeria, the federal, states and the NPF do not believe there is COVID-19 in town; that is all.”

 

Recently, doctors in Nigeria criticised a mass registration for National Identification Number (NIN) policy, involving millions of citizens, as COVID-19 was on the rampage. Despite the ongoing health crisis, the National Communications Commission (NCC) ordered telecom operators in the country to block SIM cards not linked to a National Identity Number (NIN), used to bundle together biometric records such as fingerprints and headshots.

 

The policy was initially launched in February 2020 and the government has been issuing National Identification numbers since 2012. But in December 2020, it threatened to cut off the phone lines of tens of millions of Nigerians who did not register for an identity number and link it to their SIM card.

 

“It is a vital and important program, but, unfortunately, the government has started this exercise as the pandemic gets worse and the cases continue to rise,” Muhammad Isa said.

 

The policy, which the government says is necessary for security reasons, caused confusion and chaos as Nigerians, desperate not to  lose phone lines, waited in line for hours at registration centers across the country. According to Dr. Tunde-Oni Ibukun that rolling out the identity number policy should not be a priority during the pandemic.

 

“There is no sense in it,” he said. “It shouldn’t be a priority for the government right now. The centers are a breeding ground for the virus.” As the pandemic reaches its peak, there have been calls to postpone the registration drive until the virus is brought under control.

 

The Minister for Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Ali Pantami, urged Nigerians to meet the deadline, but the NCC had been forced to rethink its approach and extended the deadline three times, at short notice. The target date is now fixed for April 6 and around 200 new registration centers were recently opened to keep the numbers down. Meanwhile, the Lagos State Police Command on Tuesday disclosed that it raided some night clubs and arrested no fewer than 71 suspects for violating COVID-19 orders at Lekki and Surulere areas of the state, respectively. A statement by the Lagos Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), CSP Olumuyiwa Adejobi said the “state promised on its vow to enforce COVID-19 orders, pounced on some night clubs on 3rd January, 2021, at about 3am and arrested 71 suspects for violating COVID-19 orders.” The statement said the Lagos State Police Commissioner, Hakeem Odumosu, had already instructed the Taskforce, DPOs and other operational units in the command “to go after the recalcitrant and deviant individuals who might want to violate the orders and bring them to book.”

 

The clubs raided by the task force included Folix Club, Lekki and Bench Bar, Adeniran Ogunsanya, Surulere, Lagos State. In addition, the task force impounded 11 vehicles for violating the 12 midnight to 4am curfew and two vehicles for driving against the traffic (one way) on the same date.

 

The statement further said Odumosu has ordered for immediate trial of the suspects and necessary sanctions for the owners of the impounded vehicles.

 

He also directed that officers and men of the command must intensify efforts on total compliance with the COVID-19 guidelines and protocols as rolled out by the Presidential task force and the Lagos State Government.

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