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COVID19: Fear grips South west as Northern youths invade the region

South West states have tightened security at their Northern boundaries amidst discoveries that Northern youths are hiding behind bags of foodstuffs and livestock to breach the existing COVID-19 lockdown in the zone.

At all the boundaries, security agents have intensified searches on trucks conveying foodstuffs from the North, especially with Kano emerging as the new epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis in Nigeria.

Some days ago, Ekiti State residents felled trees across roads at boundaries to beat the antics of security agents who were suspected to be compromising the security of the state.

The trees were soon cleared because they blocked access for vehicles on essential travels.

In Lagos State, fear is mounting over the possibility of a second major outbreak of coronavirus as truck drivers moving farm produce from Kano have been accused of smuggling passengers from the Northern state into Lagos, hiding them among huge tomato consignments.

Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous state, is leading in COVID-19 infection, topping the 1,000 mark, while Kano’s number is surging at a rate that has alarmed medical experts and personnel.

Kano State governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, had confirmed COVID-19 patients fleeing the state and threatened to have their names published.

The two states are under presidential lockdown with the North’s most populous state moving into the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis, following a slew of high-profile deaths within weeks, suspected to be COVID-19-related.

The alleged smuggling of passengers from Kano, whose COVID-19 status are unknown, into Lagos is causing panic and uproar in the south-western state.

A similar situation between Osun and Zamfara states which saw indigenes of the latter being packed alongside goods from the North to the south-western state has witnessed a flurry of unpleasant official exchanges between the governments of the two states.

Kaduna and Kano also recently engaged in a brief spat over same issue after a truck from Kano was caught by Kaduna officials at the border trying to smuggle in young boys suspected to be almajirai.

Kaduna is another hotbed of COVID-19 and the governor, Nasir el-Rufai, just sailed through the infection, having spent weeks in isolation.

Trucks doing inter-state movement of essential goods, especially foodstuffs, are cleared by the authorities manning the lockdown regulations and the alleged abuse of the privilege is linked to desire to make a fortune out of the national misfortune.

As the controversy deepens, authorities are talking tough but market leaders from the North trading in Lagos are washing their hands of the illegal movement of humans, which could further hurt official and unofficial efforts at stopping the spread of the deadly virus.

Security agencies in charge of enforcement of the ban on human interstate movements are alleged to be in a compromise, facilitated by bribe monies from the truck drivers and their passengers.

Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has consistently warned security agencies against compromise that could further hurt a populace which has been on a lockdown for close to five weeks.

President of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Alhaji Tajudeen Baruwa, has also joined the fray, warning the union members across the country to desist from mixing passengers with foodstuffs and livestock.

Baruwa, who is a member of the Technical Task Force set up by the Federal Government on free movement of foodstuffs and livestock, gave the warning in a letter sent to all the state councils of the union.

He said in the letter: “This is to bring to your notice that the Federal Government, on April 24, 2020, inaugurated a joint Technical Task Force. The mandate of the team is mainly to facilitate the movement and free flow of food, livestock and agricultural inputs across the country during the lockdown period.

“The purpose of this circular is to inform all our member drivers, particularly drivers of articulated vehicles (trucks) who are involved in conveyance of foodstuffs, livestock and agricultural inputs across the country that carrying of fare-paying passengers on their trips is highly prohibited.

“However, a driver is authorised to go along with his assistant/mate (conductor) who will help the driver in the event of any breakdown or an errand while on their trip.

“However, be informed that the in the state or areas where there are no trucks, buses and cars can also be used to convey food items, provided that such vehicles are not used to carry another passenger(s) except the driver’s assistant or conductor, as the case may be.

“Furthermore, state secretaries are hereby directed to liaise with the directors of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture in their respective states as similar technical task teams will be constituted in every state of the federation.”

Northern youths are coming to Lagos for survival –Sarkin Hausawa

The Sarkin Hausawa of the Sasha area of Lagos, Alhaji Iliyasu Isa-Kira, appealed to Northern youths to remain in their home states pending when the Federal Government will lift the ban on interstate travels.

Reacting to the allegation that many of the youths get hidden in trucks moving cattle to Lagos, Alhaji Isa-Kira, who himself has been caught up in the lockdown in Katsina State, said the youths migrating to Lagos were merely artisans looking to use any available window provided by government to engage in menial jobs that would fetch them some money to survive the coronavirus hardship.

He attributed their decision to be smuggled into Lagos in trailers bringing livestock to a desperate attempt to escape government order mainly to make little money for survival.

He, however, appealed to Lagos and federal governments to assist citizens with adequate palliatives, saying nothing kills faster than hunger.

“Lagos State government should please help people with food. Hunger kills people even more than coronavirus. Many people who died in Kano State were not killed by the virus but hunger,” he said.

Commenting on the situation, the Sarkin Fulani of Lagos and chairman of the Association of Fulani Chiefs in Southwest Nigeria, Alhaji Mohammed Bambado, said all that is required to discourage such a practice is for relevant authorities to be proactive by ensuring that all drivers and their vehicles are properly checked at the time of leaving the North.

He advised that clearance to pass as workers on essential services be issued after the vehicles have been duly checked, adding that any driver thereafter caught conveying unauthorised persons should be sanctioned alongside the passengers.

According to him, COVID-19 is not a disease to joke with as it requires strict adherence to government’s guidelines by all Nigerians.

“It is only when serious sanction is applied that other drivers who have similar intent and their passengers would believe that government is serious about its given rules and guidelines on inter-state vehicular movements,” he noted.

Bambado pointed out that thorough checking of vehicles carrying foodstuffs and other essential items at this period of lockdown should be extended to all drivers moving from one part of the country to another and not only those moving from the North to Lagos and this should be done at every border post.

We aren’t involved –Mile 12 market leader

Reacting, the chairman of Mile 12 International Market, Alhaji Shehu Usman, said it was a lie that Northerners were using the movement of foodstuffs and livestock to move illegally into Lagos.

Mile 12 is a major food market in Lagos.

Alhaji Usman, however, admitted that some unscrupulous drivers who might want to make more money could still pick passengers on the road. He warned them of the consequences of such an act if caught.

He said: “It is a lie. Look, for about 15 years now, traders at the market have advanced to the extent that they don’t even send anybody to follow their goods. Only the driver will be given a waybill to the vendor in the market.

“People don’t come with their goods again because in cases where they make losses, they will still use from the money for their transportation back to the North. It becomes double loss for them. We called them for a meeting and told them that everybody was becoming wiser now. Place the items that you have for sale in a truck and send it to a vendor in Lagos. The vendor will sell for you and send your money to you through your account.

“In most cases, people do not follow the exchange except perhaps if the driver wants to make some money along the road and decides to pick passengers, which we have warned them about.

“I called most of the drivers that do come to Mile 12. I had a meeting with them and warned them that anybody that is caught picking passengers beyond the conductor of the truck or the owner of the goods on the road will be handed over to the police. We have done that for a very long time. Nobody is picking passenger on the road again.”

The market also said: “It is not a service for the passengers. Just yesterday, I was called from Ogun State on the same issue and I told them that it is the services of the drivers and that what they should do is to go to radio and television stations to announce that any driver that picks passengers on the road should be apprehended.”

According to him, no new faces have been admitted into the market and those who were admitted as members of the market came with guarantors who vouched for them.

He added: “If somebody wants to become a member of the market association, he or she must first come to us to signify his intention and he must bring somebody to stand as his guarantor. It is the guarantor that will say ‘this is my brother. He is from so and so place. Nobody is even doing that now.

“We don’t just allow traders; anybody that you see in the market, whether Hausa, Yoruba or Ibo, somebody has vouched for them. We engaged in the use of ID card to identify you and know where you came from. The Mile 12 of yesterday is not the Mile 12 of today. You can see that from the face of the market.

“You see, the good part of it is that since the inception of this coronavirus, after several warnings to people, we have not had a single case of casualty, even when people come to the market from places with high number of victims like Eti Osa. I am the chairman of the market. I have not heard of a single case.”

‘How ban is compromised’

Saturday Tribune investigations revealed that apart from those who were given government permit to move freely in all parts of the country, residents of different states who do not belong to any category of essential services hide under those with permit to flout the lockdown directive.

A journalist (name withheld) who conducted discreet investigation reported that moving from his Sango, Ogun State base to Lagos on a daily basis since the lockdown commenced, he had encountered adamant residents taking advantage of the permit given to some people to beat the lockdown order.

The journalist said: “I have had different experiences since the lockdown started. My ID card has been the source of my confidence but I rely mostly on drivers with permit from the government.

“When the lockdown started, I enjoyed free ride from truck drivers who were moving from Ogun State to Lagos State. These drivers have permit and once I told them about my identity, they would give me free ride to Lagos.

“There was an instance when I had to pay a tricyclist, who was a distributor for a snack company, through my nose. He allowed passengers to sit beside him on the only seat in the tricycle.

“On the fateful day, I had gone to Atan and was returning home but could not get a vehicle. After waiting for hours, I stopped the tricyclist who charged me exorbitantly. I had no choice but to jump into the space beside him.

“At every security point, he kept showing his company’s permit to the police and others who were not even concerned about his passenger.”

Some residents, especially those who have urgent need to get to Ikorodu and neighbouring communities go as far as Abeokuta and Sagamu in Ogun State to get to Ikorodu.

Monsuru, a resident of Agbado who got a contract in Ikorodu some weeks before the lockdown, said: “When I had emergencies, I went through Sango to Abeokuta and Sagamu to link Ikorodu. From there, it is easier getting to Ikorodu.”

Meanwhile, Alhaji Bambado faulted the Northern Governors’ Forum for choosing this period of COVID-19 pandemic in the country to send Almajiri boys and their malams back to their respective states of origin.

He said he is not against the repatriation of the boys but doing that at this period of coronavirus crisis with almost 2,000 confirmed cases and 58 deaths, as of Friday, nationwide is a badly timed idea.

According to him, repatriating the children at this period is an easy way of spreading coronavirus from person to person and from community to community and the consequences of that on the region and the country at large will be very huge.

Bambado, in an interview with Saturday Tribune, said all governors, rather than engage in activities that will worsen the health crisis, should, prioritise joining forces towards ensuring that the COVID-19 pandemic curve is flattened and normalcy returns to the country.

Making reference to those Almajirai who were moved from Kano State to Kaduna and Bauchi states with some of them testing positive for the virus, the traditional ruler said the various state governments would need to wait until after winning the COVID-19 war before starting to implement the repatriation agreement.

He said there is no need for rush since the movement of the boys can be shelved for now and if they must be returned to their home states, there is the need to first ascertain their health status.

“You don’t just pack people together at this period of COVID-19 on the excuse of taking them back to their states of origin when there should be social\physical distancing, and that is why this repatriation issue will need to be handled with great caution,” he emphasised.

While also faulting parents who release their children for alms seeking rather than sending them to school and bringing them up properly for a better future, Bambado, who hails from Jigawa State, advised the government to build almajiri schools not only in the state capitals but in every corner of each state in the region and run them using nomadic education template.

He said doing such would help the repatriation initiative to yield great results in the region.

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