Nigerians are assailed daily with troubling images and videos of people travelling across different states in the country in a clear violation of an interstate travel ban.
The ban is to help halt the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Nigeria is 4,971 as of May 13. Lagos State has the highest number of infections – 2,401, followed by Kano’s 707.
Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, is third on the table, with 370 cases and then followed accordingly by four northern states of Katsina, 224; Bauchi, 206; Borno, 118; and Jigawa, 141.
Ogun State, in the South-West, is eighth on the table with 127 cases, Gombe is ninth with 119 cases, while Kaduna is 10th with 116 cases.
Anambra and Abia, in the South-East, are two states with the least number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus – each has two cases as of May 13.
Two states – Cross River and Kogi – are yet to have any confirmed case of the coronavirus.
The massive movement of travellers across the states, mostly smuggled in trucks carrying food items or livestock, is a drawback to the COVID-19 containment effort. One of the sure things about the pandemic is that as long as people keep moving the coronavirus keeps spreading.
The interstate movement of Nigerians despite the ban could also be said to be an indictment on the integrity of the nation’s security system.
The Senate, worried by the development, passed a resolution on Tuesday calling on the police and the Nigeria Security and CivilDefence Corps to investigate the alleged complicity of their officers.
“The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 has raised alarm over what it described as increased level of interstate movement, worsened by the dubious concealment of people in food-carrying vehicles,” Ike Ekweremadu (PDP, Enugu), the sponsor of the motion, said on the floor of the Senate.
“The Nigeria Governors’ Forum has equally raised serious concerns over the way Nigerians crisscross the country in their numbers despite the subsisting order to the contrary.
“Conscious of the very grave implications of the brazen breach of the presidential order restricting interstate movements and equally conscious of the fact that the nation’s security agencies, particularly the police, have the responsibility to enforce law and order, including the presidential ban on interstate movement.
“We are worried about reports of alleged complicity in the said breaches by those who are supposed to enforce compliance with the directives of the president.”
Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Abia, Ondo, Bayelsa and other states have turned back people hiding in trucks which carried cattle, goats, rams, yams, or bags of rice.
There is also a massive movement of commuters to Abuja from the neighbouring states.
Recently, 70 young Nigerians from the northern part of the country were apprehended at Ogbomosho, Oyo state, by the operatives of the civil defence corps when they tried to sneak into the South-West state.
They had travelled some hundreds of kilometres from Kano, Katsina, Zamfara and Kaduna.
Governor Seyi Makinde, miffed by what is going on, has threatened to arrest Nigerians who travel from other states into Oyo, in violation of the ban.
Since the ban on interstate travel in April, it appears no day passes by without a report of one Nigerian state or the other ‘intercepting’ people trying to enter their state from other states.
Akwa Ibom State government intercepted corpses brought into the state all the way from Lagos, at least twice, in the past three weeks.
There has been tension over the continuous movement of a large number of almajirai (Islamic school pupils) from the north to other parts of Nigeria.
The Almajiri system practised in northern Nigeria has left many children roaming the streets as beggars. The governors of the region said recently they are determined to end the system.
States in the region have exchanged almajirai recently as they work to trace their places of origin and parents. Jigawa received 1,114almajiris from Kano, Kaduna, Gombe, and Nasarawa states as of last week.
16 of the almajirai sent to Jigawa from Kano tested positive for coronavirus.
The leaders of Nigeria’s southern region and the middle Belt jointly issued a statement recently describing the movement of the almajiri to the southern region as “ominous”. They called on the federal government to direct security agencies to “flush them out” of the region.
“This development has brought about very strong suspicions among our people regarding the aim of the deployment of these young men. Their capacity to escape all border security checks until they reach many states in the South and Middle Belt points to a strong collaboration,” Edwin Clark, Olu Adebanjo, John Nwodo, and Bitrus Porgu, said in the statement on behalf of the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, and the Middle Belt Congress, respectively.
Zamfara State recently warned the Osun State government against its plan to “deport” northern youth who sneaked into the South-West state.
“Nigeria and the world at large is facing a serious and challenging pandemic. All civilised societies are joining hands together to fight the spread of this pandemic and even extending helping hands to others,” Zailani Bappa, a media aide to the Zamfara State governor was quoted to have said. “It is, therefore, disheartening that Osun state will take the path of isolating assumed outsiders and segregating what should be a common fight by all Nigerians.”
In one of the many videos posted on YouTube, police officers and other security officials in Lagos who intercepted some almajirai hiding in a truck belonging to Dangote were confused about what to do with them.
“And they carry this tarpaulin cover them,” one of the officials who had gathered near the truck said in the video.
He was narrating how the almajirai were found, concealed by a large tarpaulin inside the truck.
“And when we approached them (the truck) the driver said they were carrying salt.”
“Come down!” Another man is heard in the video yelling at the almajiris who were still inside the back of the blue-colour truck.
“Come down? Come do wetin?” Queried another official in Pidgin English, apparently feeling it was too risky, health wise, to bring them out from the truck.
“I think say we suppose arrest them?”
“Arrest them? Carry them go where?”
The above conversation shows how problematic it could sometimes be for officials who intercept people trying to sneak into a state at this time.
An official with the Abia State government who led a team to prevent some northern youth from entering the state about two weeks ago told PREMIUM TIMES the youth and the driver of the truck which they were found hiding could not speak any language other than Hausa, making it difficult for them to be interrogated.
The official said Abia did not have a quarantine facility nearby that could accommodate such a large number of people.
Drivers of commercial vehicles who take the risk of carrying passengers – non-essential workers – across different states are encouraged to do so by security officials who extort from them to allow them passage. The drivers, in turn, would charge the passengers higher fare for the journey.
Sometimes, security officials directly extort passengers.
A report published by Humangle newspaper on May 13, for instance, said officials of the Nigeria Immigration Service on a highway leading to Niger state demanded between N500 to N1000 bribe from passengers who did not have identification card – they were asked to part with their money or risk being thrown into detention.
A report by The Guardian published on May 10 detailed how security officials in Rivers extort from motorists and allow for their free entry and exit from the state, thereby sabotaging the Rivers State government fight against the coronavirus.
“Inquiries from truck drivers at Mbiama, a border town that connects the state to Bayelsa State, as well as at another location that links Rivers and Abia states, revealed that security operatives collect between N50, 000 to N80, 000 from each truck driver to enable them to gain entrance into, or exit the state,” The Guardian said in the report.
“Most of the trucks sighted at these borders were loaded with foodstuffs and other basic consumer goods.”
The paper said, “Other border posts, where criminal activities are being perpetrated by security agents are Aba-Ndele border, Ogoni/Akwa Ibom border, and Owerri/Port Harcourt border.
“Apart from being extorted, the truck drivers spend between two to three days queuing at the border before they are cleared by the security operatives after rigorous negotiations. This delay exposes perishable items like tomatoes, pepper, watermelon, onions, potatoes among others to damage.”
Not wanting to rely on security agencies, states like Rivers and Abia have set up a task force to police various routes into their states.
“Don’t join the security agencies to extort money from people. If that happens, the essence of this Task Force is defeated,” the governor, Nyesom Wike cautioned the officials of the Rivers task force on “border closure” when he inaugurated it late last month.
The Akwa Ibom government on its part opted to ban cattle, goats, and rams from being transported into the state from other Nigerian states, apparently to prevent people from sneaking into the state through trucks conveying such goods.
The Akwa Ibom government also announced the shutting down of all livestock markets in the state throughout the month of May.
The force’ spokesperson, Frank Mbah, told PREMIUM TIMES, Wednesday, that it is unfair to criticise the police over the violation of the ban on interstate travel.
He said preventing Nigerian citizens from moving across different Nigerian states is a bit cumbersome compared with preventing foreign nationals from entering Nigeria.
“Sometimes these interstate boundaries are very fluid in nature, communities straddled between one state and the other, making it sometimes very difficult for law enforcement agents to effectively monitor the movement of persons from one state to the other.
“If you compare, for example, the scenario that happened when Customs, supported by other agencies, locked down our external boundaries, you can’t equate that with what is obtainable now,” said Mr Mbah, a deputy commissioner of police.
“A lot of these people that are moving sometimes move on foot across the borders. So, you find people that board vehicles from state A and get to a town or a community proximate to the border of the next state, disembark, use the footpath and cross to the next state and then board another vehicle.
“It is not as simple as people who are not in the security sector are talking about it.”
The police spokesperson said some people go as far as impersonating journalists, health workers, or even security officials just to travel from one state to another.
He said besides arresting several violators of the ban, police officers have continued to take the risk to be on the frontline of the COVID-19 fight in the country and, therefore, should be appreciated by Nigerians.
“All the arrests that have been made in Kwara, Osun, Ekiti, Enugu, they are not made by ghosts, they are made by police officers from Nigeria. All the arrests being made essentially means we are living up to our task,” Mr Mbah said.