Lockdown enforcement - The Nation Nigeria

By Emeka Omeihe

A number of issues arose in the course of the current fight against the corona virus COVID-19 pandemic that raise questions on the capacity of the law enforcement agencies to live up to their statutory mandate.

Not only did such lapses expose the failings of those at the leadership of our security organizations, they added up sabotaging government policies to contain the viral disease spread. But in all these, the nation was worse for it.

In the wake of the rising spread of the viral disease, the federal government banned inter-state movements to stem further escalation. That decision was informed by the reality that whereas some states were recording a fast spread in the disease, some others had no incidence of it at all. And given the manner of its spread, restricting inter-state movements would effectively diminish community transmission, it was reasoned.

No doubt, it was a well thought out regulation whose efficacy depended more on the law enforcement agencies. The state governments went further to give their own peculiar interpretation to the regulation which has worked with varying degrees of success. But this difference in success levels is hinged essentially on what the law enforcement agencies made of the order.

Incidentally, information from across the southern states on compliance with the restriction order on inter-state movements has been quite disappointing. At the centre of the infractions that marred the order, is the transportation of truckloads of almajirai and other able-bodied youths from some state in the north to the south.

From Oyo to Abia, Cross River to Anambra states, we have been inundated with worrying reports of this category of youths and children making their ways into the southern states in circumstances that have remained largely suspicious. The coincidence of such illegal movements with the decision of northern governors to return the almajirai to their home states did not help matters. Kaduna, Jigawa and some other states have been contending with the almajirai who tested positive to the viral disease after their deportation from Kano State.

It is therefore to be expected that the presence of such youths in high numbers, defying interstate lockdown is unlikely to go down well with a lot of people. Matters were not helped by their mode of entry into these states. The fact of their being concealed in truckloads of food items and cows that fall within the essential services exempted from inter-state movements’ restriction further lends their motive suspect.

Many of them have been detected and turned back to their states of take-off while some made a success flouting the restriction order. Eyebrows have been raised by some governors in the south on how the almajirai and the other youths managed to beat the security cordon, in some instances traversing about seven states before they were caught. This has been the source of the suspicion of connivance with security agencies and allegations that the almajirai are on a mission to spread the disease in the southern states.

Expectedly, there have been altercations in some quarters querying the southern states for turning back the youths to states from which they embarked on the journey. Some have even gone to ridiculous lengths pandering to the fault lines of our defective federal order by insinuating some agenda in the entire exercise.

They cite extant laws guaranteeing freedom of movement to all citizens to fault the back-loading of the offending youths to their states of embarkation. But that is where they got it all wrong. The fact remains that those youths (whether of the almajiri hue, suspected bandits, terrorists or even innocent people) were on an illegal voyage. There is a subsisting ban on inter-state movements and anybody caught flouting the law deserves corresponding punishment. It is an emergency period and we are all confined to emergency order. We are in abnormal times where the freedom of the citizenry is being circumscribed for public good.

So it is neither a matter of freedom of movement being assaulted nor that of state governors acting arbitrarily. It has nothing to do with the rights of any and every Nigerian to live in any part of the country of his choice. That right has always been there and all citizens had savored it bountifully.

But we are being guided by a new order. We are confronted by a viral disease that has held the entire world prostrate. With the pandemic are new challenges, new ways of doing old things. And in these unusual times, there must be strict adherence to extant protocols to substantially tame the ravaging virus.

These are the sacrifices we should collectively own as part of our contributions to save humanity. So, it gets somewhat confounding when people for whatever reasons, begin to question the decision of the governors of the south to turn back youths attempting to enter their states in manners that are evidently suspicious. The governors are doing the right thing.

After all, their counterparts in the northern states took the first decision to terminate the age long almajiri order and return inmates to their home states. There are reasons for terminating an order that has been with their establishment for donkey years now. They are entitled to that decision since humanity always contends with change dynamics.

There are also posers as to what business such young persons with no skills have streaming to the south where competition for survival is very keen. From the reports we get, many of them that managed to get into some southern states were offloaded at the food markets or cow sheds with little evidence they have any roof to lay their heads.

Some of them stream aimlessly along the roads and markets while others were seen in other open spaces, raising more concerns about their mission. And with the scaling down of business activities consequent upon the lockdown, how this category of people intend to survive remains largely curious. Their presence no doubt, raises serious security concerns especially given the plethora of security challenges the nation is currently facing. These are some of the issues. They go beyond grandstanding and bandying tendentious allegations.

But the security agencies share much of the blame. These movements could not have been possible without connivance or laxity. It is not a surprise that some governors have accused them of taking bribe in lieu of allowing them free access. It is difficult to fathom how a trailer load of food items carrying a large number of youths could possibly maneuver the security checkpoints on the way from Kano to Oyo or Ebonyi State without being detected. Is that possible? NO!

But as the nation was contending with these security lapses, there arose a confusing order from the Inspector-General of Police IGP, Adamu Mohammed instructing all police formations not to allow the movement of essential services providers during the period of the subsisting curfew. This came as a rude shock to many as the order contradicted all known norms during emergencies. Even at that, during the many weeks we had to contend with the virus spread, essential services providers had always been allowed free movements.

So, how come the IGP woke up one morning to decree that this category of people will not be allowed to do their work as the curfew lasted? How come also the senior police officers he purportedly engaged in a virtual meeting with, never drew his attention to the inherent dangers and incongruity of such a directive? And from where did the IGP get the authority to countermand President Buhari’s order on the issue? We ask these questions because in every emergency situation, essential services providers are usually allowed free movement. The law enforcement agencies fall within this category. It is to be imagined what the situation will be if they are restricted from doing their duties during emergencies.

The IGP has reversed himself. But not before the Lagos State chapter of the Nigerian Medical Association NMA embarked on a sit-at-home strike for being harassed by the police while answering the calls of their duties. Who knows the number of those that suffered fatalities as the counterproductive order lasted? In serious climes, somebody would have lost his job for that irrational and ridiculous order. But not here!