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COVID-19: Security agents lack safety kits, face other hurdles in Abuja, Nasarawa

As the federal and some state governments enforce a lockdown, restricting movement to control the spread of the new coronavirus (also called COVID-19) pandemic, scores of law enforcement agents manning checkpoints may be at risk as they work without personal protective equipment (PPE). The agents are also battling logistics crisis and an overwhelming rate of violation of traffic rules mostly by commercial motorists trying to survive amidst the lockdown. Our survey across over 20 checkpoints in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Nasarawa State showed that many security agents may be at risk of contracting the coronavirus due to these hurdles. Transport: ‘How we suffer going to work’ Patrick Okorie is a police officer with Utako Division in Abuja but resides in Mararaba, a Nasarawa State town bordering the FCT.

However, as part of the team enforcing the lockdown, he has to find a way to get to his station very early to join the official vehicle designated to a particular checkpoint for that day. “I have to be ready latest by 6am and get a vehicle that would convey me to Abuja. This is very difficult as the restriction stops all commercial vehicles from operating,” Okorie noted. Like Okorie, Margaret John lives in Kubwa but serves in Abuja town. “What I later devised after two weeks of the lockdown is that our colleague who has a car, gives us a lift. But it was not easy initially.” President Muhammadu Buhari had initially declared a lockdown of Lagos, Ogun States and Abuja on March 30 for a 14-day period.

By 13th of April, he extended the order by another 14 days which will elapse on Monday April 27, 2020. On 2nd of April, the Nasarawa State government imposed a 24-hour curfew on Karu Local Government Area (LGA) for an initial 14 days and its has continued. Operatives without PPEs Aliyu Isa is a vigilante group member working with a team at the checkpoint in Mararaba but he has no facemask. “We have been promised that we will get facemasks but for now they are not there for many of us,” he revealed. Daily Trust, however, observed on Wednesday afternoon that almost all the VIOs had yellow facemasks at checkpoints at Mabushi, the National Mosque at Central Area, AYA at Asokoro, NICON Junction at Maitama, and the military checkpoint at Kugbo. However, only a few police officials were observed to have black facemasks around these routes, and others including the Nyanya checkpoint which is the boundary between the FCT and Nasarawa State on the Abuja-Keffi expressway. At the checkpoint, officials of Nasarawa State COVID-19 taskforce were seen checking the body temperature of commuters.

While the health officials have facemasks, many of the others including military personnel did not wear any. At other checkpoints along Mararaba and Masaka route in the state, there were fewer operatives that had safety kits, oftentimes coming in closer contact with commuters. Some who had did not wear it. Matthew Sambo, an operative said it was difficult using the mask especially as they stood in the scorching sun, sweating profusely while screening road users. Operatives battle one-way commuters Daily Trust further observed that it was business as usual in Karu LGA of Nasarawa State with large movement of people, vehicles and motorcycles. The enforcement agents are apparently overwhelmed by the load of commuters in vehicles and tricycles popularly called ‘Keke’. Chidi Okonkwo, a Keke rider said Nigerians were already tired of the lockdown as the hunger bite harder. “Sometimes we scale through, at other times the police nab us.

We are just trying to survive,” Okonkwo, who plies the Mararaba to Masaka town route, said. At the Mararaba roadside motor park on the Abuja-Keffi expressway, vehicles were loading for Keffi and Jos. This is just 100 metres away from the Mararaba COVID-19 checkpoint, while motorcycle operators, moved about their businesses freely. It is business as usual in Karu LGA of Nasarawa State as people move freely, some metres away from a COVID-19 Taskforce checkpoint. It is business as usual in Karu LGA of Nasarawa State as people move freely, some metres away from a COVID-19 Taskforce checkpoint. “When we are confronted by the security officials, we just tell them our predicament and also find ‘something’ for them. But some of us don’t carry many passengers because of the physical distancing rule,” Aminu Yusuf, a minibus (Sharon) driver said.

The trend of jeopardising the lockdown is also evident in Nasarawa and FCT as some impatient drivers and commercial drivers drive against traffic to avoid queues and security agents at checkpoints. It was also learnt that commercial drivers charge N300 to N500 for a route that was N100 and N150 before the lockdown, saying they take risk driving on one-way and had to ‘settle’ security agents along the way. However, we could not immediately confirm at the Kugbo expressway if the violators gave bribes to security agents at the other lane of the dual carriage way to allow them violate the law.

FCT, Nasarawa taking action – Officials The Chairman, Ministerial Task Force for the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) on COVID-19, Ikharo Attah, when contacted said the FCTA and the police have provided PPEs for the security agents. He said, “The ones with me who are part of my team all got facemasks in the morning (Thursday). We even got branded facemasks which we gave to all the team members yesterday (Wednesday). That is the one am also wearing now. “I know that the Commissioner of Police also told the Divisional Police Officers (DPOs) to take facemasks and give to people on the beat,” Attah said. The task force chairman, who was on monitoring duty on Thursday at Area 11, however, said he observed that some operatives “don’t use it properly,” and that he had been telling them at checkpoints to adjust the facemasks fully while on duty. The Commissioner for Health in Nasarawa State and Chairman of the State Taskforce on COVID-19, Mohammed Yahaya, said, “We are distributing them. We did before and it was exhausted, and we are sending again. We have some for the security agents and they have taken them for all security checkpoints, I can assure you of that.