Border Closure, Curfew: the Hypocrisy, the Farce

May 10, 2020

Crowds of people struggling to cross over the Niger Bridge when it was opened recently: such opening makes nonsense of efforts to contain COVID-19

By Jude Atupulazi

First of all, let me say how mightily pleased I am to be back to doing what gives me the greatest joy. It was killing to be out of action, doing nothing but eat when I saw food, and trying to sleep when sleep hardly came. Indeed, the period of the lockdown is one I never want to see again.

But thanks to our human faced governor, Chief Willie Obiano, I'm back and straining on the leash to get going. I will revisit that dark period in this piece before I sign off.

Now, while the blackout, a.k.a. coronavirus-induced lockdown lasted, many issues cropped up among which was closure of borders to ensure that those infected by the virus did not enter the state and infect others. This was after the state rolled out measures to combat the virus such as shutting of schools, markets, work, motor parks and churches.

Even despite these measures, the state recorded her first, and (up till now that I write) only positive index case (even though it was mired in comical controversy). The man was quarantined and all those deemed to have associated with him, also traced and tested. Eventually, the man came through as negative, along with his crowd.

At this point, when people were beginning to run out of patience, owing to excruciating conditions, the governor significantly relaxed the lockdown by announcing the opening of markets, churches, businesses and work, albeit on condition that wearing of face masks was compulsory.

Last Monday, which marked the first day of the partial lifting of the lockdown, people emptied into the streets and one of the most visited places were banks. People were seen milling around bank premises, trying to gain entrance as bank security barred many from entering at once.

The markets also bubbled, just as most other public places. It was such that some people feared the relaxation of the lockdown could be counter-productive as there could be an explosion of the disease here.
Well, that is left to be seen. But it is obvious the people are happy to be let off the leash; even if temporarily. But amid this euphoria is the matter of the curfew declared nationwide by the Federal Government which begins from 8 in the evening and ends at 6 in the morning.
In Anambra State, only health workers are exempted from the curfew. Journalists have been shut out. Despite the express directive of the presidency that essential service providers, of which the media is inclusive, should be exempted, the Anambra State Police Command has shut out media practitioners. In fact one of my colleagues was detained at a checkpoint for two hours after he closed late from work.

Despite the protestations by the press, at least as at the time of writing this, the police have remained adamant. But in Enugu and Delta States, the ones I have verified, journalists are exempted.
The action of the police in Anambra has led some people to wonder if there is anything the police are trying to hide. After all, is it not the media that will monitor and report the level of compliance to the curfew by the citizenry? Is it not the media that will assess the efficiency of the police in enforcing that order?

It beats me why the same journalists who were exempted during the lockdown period and issued tags by the police to operate, are now not exempted during a mere curfew. Yet, while curfew is being applied rigidly within, people are daily crossing over our borders and probably coming in. it is believed the police are compromised at the borders by those trying to come in and go out.

True, the state police boss and the boss of the FRSC may have been visiting the borders to monitor the enforcement of the closure, but it is believed that once they turn their backs, it becomes business as usual again.
While I have not personally seen any security official taking bribe at our borders to let in or let out people, I however know for sure that people are coming in and going out.
I have this friend who told me he would leave for Enugu last two Mondays and went on to do it. It didn't even take him time to cross over. So who's fooling who?

The fact that people are coming and going through our borders makes the matter of the curfew ridiculous. Indeed, of what use is an internal matter like the curfew when the borders are porous? Isn't the best thing to do simply to make the borders water-tight, and let those inside go about their businesses? If no one comes in, how can the coronavirus come in?
Methinks that so long as the security agencies continue to compromise the shutting of the state's borders, any other measure taken to stave off the COVID-19 pandemic here will be a nullity and much akin to taking one step forward and two steps backward.

This is not just an Anambra problem. Stories abound about how people travel from far off places and arrive at their destinations. Sometimes, all they need do is to acquire the services of a security agent who travels with them to ensure easy passage across all borders. That is why people have travelled from the east to the west and from the north to the south.
Besides that, there is much human and vehicular traffic at our borders.

For instance, if you get to Amansea border, you will notice that commercial vehicles from Enugu drop off passengers there and take those coming from Anambra back to Enugu. It is the same for vehicles coming from Anambra which drop off their passengers at the said border and pick up those who have crossed on foot from Enugu.

Also you will notice that private vehicles are equally crossing. The only problem they will encounter is a little delay due to the heavy traffic and bribing security officials there. Yet, Nigeria says it is fighting COVID-19.

Let me even ask? Is it only between 8pm and 6am that the COVID-19 infect people? What happens between 6am and 8pm? Does it mean that the markets which have been reopened and which attract large numbers of people cannot allow the disease to be contracted there in day time? Thus, if people are allowed to co-mingle everywhere in the day, just because they have face masks, why can't they do same at night by also wearing face masks?
For us therefore to lay any claim to be genuinely fighting this monstrous disease, we have to be honest to ourselves. We have to tackle the danger where it is real and that is at the borders. A water-tight border means no one goes in or out. It in turn means that those within are shielded from the disease.

To me therefore, this whole idea of border closure is pretentious. And what of the curfew? It is most ridiculous.
Once upon a lockdown
For those born after the Civil War, what obtained during the period of the lockdown across the country gave them a glimpse of what those during that war went through. Every day during the lockdown, everybody sat back at home. Initially, some found it exhilarating to rest and do nothing, but with time, even students and civil servants who love holidays of any sort began to get tired. For those who loved to work, it was killing to say the least.
Staying at home was not easy in that period. You soon discovered that you spent more and ate more, and that is if you were lucky to have enough cash to buy and stock up food at home.

The matter was not helped by the power situation. The unreliability of our power suppliers meant that staying at home, especially in the afternoons, was akin to roasting yourself because of the heat.
The alternative which would have been to go out to some place to cool off was not there because you were not allowed to leave your home. Thus it was a kind of house arrest.

It was a time when the low and the mighty suffered. The low faced hunger and boredom; the mighty had enough to eat but could not go out. Thus they were bored too. Mark you, their going out was usually to jump onto planes and fly off outside the country or to some other nice places within the country. But while they could easily have left the country, they realized that foreign countries were dead serious about not allowing flights into their countries. So everybody was confined to their homes.

It was a period that saw the prices of food stuffs jump. Thus, while government advised people to buy and stock up food items, the money for that wasn't there. Any wonder that during that period, some youths became restive and stormed the streets in protest in certain cities of the country?

Today, in Anambra, people are free to move again and go to markets, banks, work and church, wearing masks. It is a welcome relief. However that period wasn't entirely bad: it taught many people the value of comradeship, friendship and family. Things which we have been regarding as common proved not so common after all. Perhaps, after all this, we will learn to value each other more. May this saga not happen again.

The fact that people are coming and going through our borders makes the matter of the curfew ridiculous. Indeed, of what use is an internal matter like the curfew when the borders are porous? Isn't the best thing to do simply to make the borders water-tight, and let those inside go about their businesses? If no one comes in, how can the coronavirus come in? Methinks that so long as the security agencies continue to compromise the shutting of the state's borders, any other measure taken to stave off the COVID-19 pandemic here will be a nullity and much akin to taking one step forward and two steps backward.



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