In April, governors of the 36 states of the federation agreed to ban interstate travels to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. The move, which came at a time the Federal Government had locked down Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states, was to help limit the spread of the virus across the states’ borders since it was believed that some states were high risk states.
The governors stated that only essential services would be permitted. As at that time, states such as Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Ebonyi, and Abia had already closed their boundaries, with states in the North insisting that they could not close their borders for economic reasons.
The decision of the governors prompted President Muhammadu Buhari to order the stoppage of interstate movements across the country based on the recommendations of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 in the country.
Since then, the interstate borders have been closed to Nigerians with only those who can brave the odds, making journeys on such roads.
We are however not unaware that thousands of Nigerians still travel across the boundaries in public transport, without necessarily making essential trips. Such travellers pay above premium to enable commercial drivers bribe their ways through the maze of security checks across the major roads and interstate boundaries. We know that such journeys are made with the active connivance of security agencies. We regard such journeys as illegal ones, which indicate the rot in the Nigerian system.
But while the failure of security agencies could be forgiven as part of their lifestyle, can we forgive the criss-cross of the country by the same governors, who put the directive in place in the first instance?
Since the lockdown of interstate boundaries came into effect, it is on record that several governors of different states have breached it by travelling to one part of the country or the other. Whether such cases are those of essential travels or being above the law are left for conjecture.
Not long ago, some eight governors of the All Progressives Congress (APC) were in Lagos to meet with the National Leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, on the fate of the Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki. They left Lagos and flew to Abuja to meet with the National Chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole, on the same issue.
There have been reports of governors leaving their states to different parts of the country for one meeting or the other.
We wonder why such meetings cannot be conducted online in a world where world leaders are meeting via Zoom and other online platforms now.
We expect the governors to toe the line of President Buhari, who since the pandemic started, has stayed put in Abuja without travelling about to endanger the lives of Nigerians. We think that state governors who do not need to move out of their domains in periods like this. A fact is that their jurisdictions are their states, not Abuja, Lagos or any other part of the country they go for one meeting or another.
We note that as at the time the interstate lockdown was imposed by the Federal Government, Nigeria had only about 873 confirmed coronavirus cases and 28 deaths.
But between then and now, the country is coasting home to over 16,000 cases with over 400 deaths.
Can we say therefore that the interstate lockdown has limited the cases? Nobody can say with exactness if the cases would have been lower or higher without the interstate lockdown, but we believe that strict adherence to the protocols would have helped the country put a finger on the spread of the virus. As it stands today, nobody is sure of what the cases would look like in the next few weeks, when it is expected that the lockdown would be eased and movements across the state borders would resume. It is also expected that within the next few days, the airports would be opened, while some states have opened churches, mosques, markets and other businesses within them.
What it means is that the country would be opened fully for business soon. That is with the numbers still climbing.
We wonder what would become of the cases in the country when everybody is let out of the leash imposed by interstate lockdowns.
We are of the view that leaders should lead by example. Had the governors not been travelling all over the country, they would have had a moral standing to challenge security agencies, who allow people to travel across states within the period.
But with those who emplaced the bans be the ones still violating same, it becomes a question of inequality before the law if citizens do not travel across states. In some cases, the citizens even have more serious reasons to travel than the governors.
We are therefore of the view that coronavirus is a national emergency that deserves attention from all, not just citizens. It is not also something the governors can just legislate upon and violate at will. As the country prepares for more opening up in the next coming weeks, discipline is the key word for both the leaders and the led. Anything short of that would mean the country bearing the brunt of indiscipline against the protocols of the virus. Unless, of course, the governors know what other Nigerians do not know about the virus.