Face Mask Enforcers Most things in Nigeria, no matter how well intentioned, end up being abused to the detriment of society. One of them which is happening of late is the harassment, bullying and extortion of citizens by those parading selves as enforcers of the face mask directive.
In the wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Anambra State Government, just like some others, had made it compulsory that people correctly wear face masks, failing which they would be fined N10, 000 or be made to do public service, or both.
But soon after the directive, we began to see all manner of people posing as Face Mask Task Force Teams, with some of them merely out to make money out of it by any means.
The other day at Onitsha Main Market, a lady ran into some of those enforcers who extorted N3, 000 from her. According to the lady and eyewitnesses, as she mingled her way among the crowded confined spaces at the market, she noticed that a man was holding her by the hand and drawing her back. Despite her efforts to extricate herself from his grip, the man held on, until out of anger, the lady lowered her mask to the jaw so she could enquire why she was being held.
Immediately she did that, the some people masquerading as Face Mask Task Force enforcers swooped on her and accused her of not wearing her mask well. By this time, the man holding her hand had vanished. She was then asked to pay N10, 000. As she protested the injustice of it all, one of the gang snatched her bag and was moving away, when on the prompting of some women who sold items there, she ran after him and retrieved her bag. She eventually paid N3, 000 before she was allowed to go.
Fides learnt that such scenario replicates itself in other places but in other forms. This has prompted many to wonder if criminals had been recruited to enforce the directive of government.
But the Anambra State Police Command has come out to order an immediate clampdown on such teams they described as illegal, especially in Onitsha and environs.
Reports further indicate that the hoodlums wear reflective jackets and operate in shuttle buses/keke with stickers bearing ”COVID-19 TASK FORCE”.
The police said there had never been such a task force authorized to operate on the streets and highways within Anambra State. It said that only organised markets were authorized to operate such enforcement teams within their respective markets only.
The Command vowed to arrest and prosecute anyone found extorting money or intimidating members of the public in the guise of enforcing face mask protocols, including buses, Keke riders and persons bearing COVID-19 task force stickers or jackets on the streets/highways within the state.
We wish to support the action of the State Police Command and to thank them for speedily responding to an issue that has been subjected to abuse.
We baulk at the use of touts to perform such duties, given their propensity to be lawless, crude and criminal. We know that many agents of the state government are using touts to collect revenue and we also know the attendant unsavoury consequences.
Where the state agents do not use them, the government has often failed to halt the activities of such people who constitute themselves into a big nuisance. Some of these people are suspected to be thieves who will use any opportunity to rob anyone unfortunate to fall into their trap.
Apart from the police clampdown, however, we urge the government to also come down hard on such persons and come out with fool proof ways of identifying such people to whom many have lost their personal belongings. Also only legal agencies like the police, Civil Defence, among others, should be used in the enforcement of such directives in order to effectively checkmate abuse.
Such people must be reined in in order for society to know peace. In the interim, however, we once more hail the Anambra State Police Command for its efforts to rid the state of such undesirables.