COVID-19 RETURN TO WORK: WHEN THE SECURITY AGENCIES BECOME THE THREAT
As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, Africa and especially Nigeria has been left to find medical support and solution for its people. This is as even the developed countries are still overwhelmed by the crisis and also looking for solutions.
Rising death tolls have left many perplexed, as more cases are reported daily. The news from Africa has been encouraging, especially for a continent with poor medical service. Africa is now responsible for the safety of its people. So far, Africans have managed their health systems independently, and more persons have recovered after treatment.
While the world still awaits a major breakthrough in the treatment and prevention of Corona Virus, Africa has made several claims of discovering a treatment and vaccine, although still subject to further tests. Madagascar is one case in point with encouraging results as a number of persons have recovered from the virus. This has also been reported in other parts of Africa, including Nigeria.
In Nigeria, Lagos State has been outstanding in managing the crisis, and it's many fallouts. With support from Corporate Organisations, Nigeria has been able to put together medical facility (testing and isolation centres) to manage cases with over 1000 bed capacity in Lagos alone and more still planned.
While attention has been on Lagos and Abuja, other parts of the country seem not prepared. Kano has fast developed as a concern and new epicentre of the pandemic in Nigeria following Lagos and Abuja, with evidence of community transmission now real. The worry for Kano, however, remains its capacity to deal with the crisis and the risk of further community transmission.
While the Government is still struggling to find medical solutions, economic challenges have emerged as a bigger problem with attendant consequences. For a country with two-thirds of its population poor, the bigger crisis remains the inability to provide for the people. Buoyed by this challenge, the President was forced to ease the lockdown on Lagos, FCT and Ogun to allow the people fend for themselves with effect from 4th May 2020. Returning to work after 35 days of compulsory and unplanned leave can be demanding, and it comes with pressure.
The gradual return to economic life will come with its challenges, some of which Government has identified and made provisions for. However, the bigger challenge remains- Law enforcement.
The excesses of Law enforcement Agents
Nigeria has been described as a country with many opportunities, however, doing business in Nigeria is challenging. Harassment and Extortion by law enforcement agencies remains a major concern. As the people prepare to return to work, the law enforcement teams remain a major concern of the people. The fear that these agents are waiting to prey on the public. From simple offences like traffic offence to other misdemeanour offences, officials have preyed on members of the public who are determined to provide food for themselves without resorting to crime.
The street hawkers, commercial motorcyclists, tricycle operators among others will go out of their way to earn a living, the big question remains will law enforcement "wear a human face" when dealing with these misdemeanours or will it exploit the hungry people further.
As a case in point, two police officers in Iwo, Osun State were caught on camera brutalising a woman who was out to buy drugs for a sick relative. Also, the Agbowa Police Station viral video reports another incident where the Police was accused of collecting 10,000 naira which the victim was referred by the Police to use a POS machine, following her arrest among others are well documented.
The Military was not left out as the killing of an unarmed civilian at a checkpoint in Warri generated tension.
With these concerns in mind, the fear of return to work is the Security and law enforcement officials. There are reports of extortion despite the lockdown at inter-state boundaries as the teams allow vehicles to pass after collecting a toll fee. They even deny distribution vehicles of food and beverage Companies despite the fact that these groups have been exempted. If these are not addressed, we may likely see a spike in demonstrations and resort to violence at the slightest provocation.
It is important to remind all that the Police during the past 35days arrested several persons and seized their vehicles for violating the lockdown order. Although the Governor of Lagos has said the vehicles would be returned at no cost, the worry, however, is that the law enforcement agencies may not comply without extorting the owners or making retrieval difficult. This is evident as bail is only free on paper but not in practice. The VIO officials are not spared either as they will be ready to look for ways to make up for lost revenues with the masses at the receiving end.
Or is it LASTMA, whose operatives have been starved and cannot fund their daily contribution from proceeds of extortion.
LAGESC and Taskforce are also there.
The people and even Companies will need more than a directive from the Governor to be able to return and grow the economy. An enabling environment will help the healing process. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has been the hero in all of the crisis. How he manages the return to work will further endear him to the hearts of people