Commercial vehicle operators and other commuters are still travelling across the states despite the restriction placed on interstate movement as part of efforts to mitigate further spread of coronavirus in the country, Daily Trust investigation has revealed.
While some drivers have doubled the cost of transport fare in order to use the additional income to “buy their way” at checkpoints and roadblocks mounted by security operatives, others have created alternative routes through the bush paths to ferry their passengers.
This development is heightening fears over increased community transmission of the virus at the state level.
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As of May 4, the day the interstate travel took effect, Nigeria had recorded 2,802 confirmed cases of COVID-19, but by Tuesday the number of confirmed cases had risen to 4, 641 cases.
This translates to a 60% increase within eight days.
Besides the directive of the federal government banning interstate travels, governors of the 36 states of the federation equally agreed to enforce interstate travel for two weeks.
Motor parks ‘locked’ but commuters move
Daily Trust in Kano has discovered a new trend of inter-state movement in defiance of the government order as travellers disembark at boundary communities and have their way into the state capital through unofficial routes on motorcycles.
Some of these travelers including nationals of Niger Republic disguise as ordinary residents on motorcycles, beating security check-points on the highways to any part of the state for their businesses.
Our reporter learnt that travellers from Zaria axis disembark at Kwanar Dangora and take bikes to Kura from where they take another one to the state capital.
From Katsina axis, they disembark at Yankamai community in Tsanyawa Local Government Area from where they illegally enter into the state capital for their businesses.
Briefing the press at the commencement of the presidential lockdown at the Kano State Government House, the state Commissioner of Police, Habu A. Sani, said all borderlines in nine local government areas have been identified for enforcement of inter-state travel ban.
Though the spokesman of the police command, DSP Abdullahi Haruna Kiyawa could not ascertain the exact number of people so far arrested for violating inter-state travel ban, he said many have been arrested.
The level of violation of the interstate ban is high in Niger state as the task force on COVID-19 continues to arrest and prosecute defaulters.
The violation is evident in the recent confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in the state as all of them were travellers from places like Kano and Lagos.
The governor said traders and others traveling to Kano will henceforth be quarantined for 14 days after their return.
Our correspondent who visited the Jos-Bauchi border at Sabon Gari Narabi, observed that many vehicles were stranded at the security checkpoint, while alternative routes were provided and manned by youths from the host communities in collaboration with some members of joint task force extorting money from drivers.
The youths were the ones directing the vehicles to the remote roads through the bush after paying N200, while another group of young men were also stationed inside the bush at broken bridges and culverts assisting the drivers and collecting N100 each.
Responding to the issues at a media briefing, Bauchi State Commissioner of Police, CP Phillip Maku, said that the command had discovered 12 illegal routes used by commuters violating the interstate ban, adding that they had been blocked.
“I go to Kano almost every day from Jos,” a driver who identified himself as Malam, said.
“We charge passengers more money in order to settle the custodian of the highways. Of course, there are some uncompromising operatives and what we normally do is to veer off the road before getting close to them,” he said.
Another driver who conveys passengers to Kaduna or Kano said they spend long hours before getting to their destination.
“We no longer take passengers from the motor parks; what we have now is like smuggling, but we charge more money because of the risk involved,” he said.
Despite the closure of motor parks, some roadside parks still operate discretely and the drivers have mastered certain routes with the cooperation of security agents.
Ibrahim Aliyu, who commutes from Jos to Kaduna, told our correspondent that there is increased surveillance by government officials including Governor Nasir El-Rufai and his deputy, Dr. Hadiza Balarabe who often make unannounced visits to major entry points and therefore keep security agents on their toes.
However, Ahmed Isah, who commutes between the FCT and Kaduna, said the last time he travelled was with the aid of a security agent who sat on the passenger’s seat beside him and escorted him outside the Kaduna toll-gate.
“We usually pay the security agents to sit on the passenger’s seat and once they wave their ID cards to their colleagues, we would be allowed to pass.
“I usually pay between N3, 000 to N5, 000 depending on my relationship with the police officer,” he said.
However, the Police in Kaduna told Daily Trust that there has been a decline in illegal travels in and out of Kaduna.
The Police Command Public Relations Officer, Mohammed Jalige said the police have taken action on drivers who illegally convey people in and out of the state.
The state government also said some motorists had been arrested and quarantined, while nearly N2m had been collected in fines.
It was observed that there are still inbound and outbound commercial and private vehicles whose drivers tip security personnel to allow them passage.
Most commercial and private vehicle owners spoken with said that they “tip security personnel” to have their way.
“Sometimes we follow remote areas to avoid the highways,” one of them said.
The state commander of Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Ismaila Maiwada Kugu, said: “We observe the temperature of motorists and passengers and advise them to drive with caution.
“But we have liaised with the state government to set up a mobile court to prosecute offenders who overload, violate the interstate ban among other traffic violations.”
Nasarawa State Police Command said they have arrested 400 people for violating the ban on interstate movement.
The state Commissioner of Police, Bola Longe, said: “The police have arrested over 400 persons and will arrest more, especially with the banning of interstate movement by the federal government.”
The motor park of the state government-owned transport company, Benue Links, located at Wurukum in Makurdi has remained under lock and key since the imposition of ban on inter-state movement but our findings revealed that some commercial vehicles are coming in or going out of the state with passengers.
Some respondents alleged that security personnel expected to enforce the interstate travel ban were extorting money from commuters to allow them “free passage.”
Commercial drivers who are still traveling in and out of Benue State confided that there were no security operatives in some routes through which they ply often to get their passengers to their destinations.
One such driver, who preferred anonymity, told our correspondent that he conveys passengers to and from Abuja on a regular basis.
“Most times, after Lafia, I do have a jolly ride to Makurdi because there are no security checks to interrupt the trip on the way.
“Other times, I part with a little amount for the security operatives to buy pure water and I continue my journey,” he said.
Another respondent, who also did not want his name in print, said he plies the Ankpa-Adoka-Makurdi route to convey passengers to either Lokoja in Kogi State or Makurdi in Benue State.
“Nobody disturbs our journey. I travel freely on the route without any security stopping me,” the driver said.
But the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), DSP Catherine Anene, said they were enforcing the ban on interstate travels in all the border localities of the state.
Daily Trust gathered that motorists are allowed into the state mostly at night after payment of “fees” to security agents manning the border points.
At Mayo-Lope and Wukari areas, many vehicles loaded with passengers were allowed access into the state from Kano and other parts of the country.
A source at Wukari alleged that drivers at Taraba point of the border pay between N5000 and N10, 000 to pass.
Drivers bringing vegetables and fruits from Bauchi, Gombe and Benue into Taraba state were also alleged to be compelled to pay amount of money to security agents.
The police spokesperson, DSP David Misal, said “Some people have a bad perception about police and they always accuse them of wrongdoing; so the allegation is a mere fabrication of lies against the police,” Misal said.
Traveling to and from Maiduguri has continued unabated although security personnel have been deployed to all entry points.
The development has created a brisk business for the security personnel who, allegedly, extort the drivers.
At the Njimtillo checkpoint, the main entry point into Maiduguri from Yobe State and other parts of the country, security operatives deployed there have mounted roadblocks to enforce the ban and ensure that only those on essential services are allowed in and out of Borno state.
Daily Trust learnt that about 500 personnel of the Rapid Response Squad, comprising men of the Nigerian Police, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, Civilian JTF and the Directorate of State Security, as well as the vigilantes were deployed at the venue to screen entrants in and out of the state.
However, despite measures taken by the state government to enforce the interstate lockdown, travels into and out of the state have continued.
It was gathered that commercial vehicle operators are charging triple of the usual fare, while the security personnel manning entry points allegedly extort N2000 or more depending on the vehicle.
Interstate motor parks in Osun State are not operating as the state’s borders remained closed but some desperate passengers are being sneaked in by trucks carrying foodstuff.
It was gathered that such passengers pay a huge amount to the lorry drivers and hide under food stuff to beat the security.
One such passenger managed to sneak into Osun from Kano and arrived at Iwo where the community raised alarm and the returnee was apprehended and eventually tested positive for COVID-19.
Though there were allegations that some of the security men enforcing the ban were collecting money and allowing some travellers to move in and out of the state, the security operatives at checkpoints declined to comment, saying that they were not authorised to speak.
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