Many Nigerians are daily flouting the guidelines rolled out by the authorities to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Sunday Sun investigation shows that those involved in this act are unfazed about the recommendation that some non-pharmaceutical interventions are necessary for sustaining the battle against the ravaging Coronavirus disease. Such culprits are unwilling to appreciate that the laid out rules are for their own good, and observing them will as well help protect their neighbours and curtail the onslaught of the deadly pandemic. But they carry on as though nothing is at stake.
It was learnt that even when some people seem to pay heed to what is being said to prevent COVID-19, it is just to get by. Once they are done, they move on without giving any thought to protecting themselves and the next person.
But the inescapable truth is that Coronavirus is significantly altering lives. The virus is forcing new cultures and new lifestyle on everyone everywhere, compelling both the old and young to wear face masks.
It is also forcing people to wash their hands at regularly intervals or to apply hand sanitisers while at home or in the offices. The new COVID-19 culture is equally forcing people to stay away from friends, acquaintances and even some family members. On account of the raging pandemic, many, especially the older ones are no longer free to launch out to enjoy life outdoors. They cannot go to parties anymore – not even to places of worship. Passengers in public transports no longer sit four or three persons per cabin as they used to. Everyone is tasked to avoid crowed environments if they must go out.
Over the months, health authorities have been regularly and emphatically warning that the sure way to avoid contracting Coronavirus is to adhere strictly to the guidelines laid out for its prevention.
To ensure compliance with the various non-medical interventions being rolled out, some establishments now insist that their visitors wear a face mask before being admitted into their premises. Right at the gate, visitors are given hand sanitisers; in some instances, they are shown places to wash their hands with soap and water. COVID-19 task force now patrols the streets looking out for residents who are not wearing their face masks so as to arrest and bring them to account. Even the police have joined this enforcement drive.
But are many Nigerians paying heed to what they are being told to observe – wearing their face masks, washing their hands even at home, sitting two per seat in public transports? Are many Nigerians shunning the crowds and parties? Are some people still seeing these measures as necessary to prevent them from harm? Do people believe that failure to abide by these instructions might get them into harm’s way? There is a cloud of doubt around all these.
Sunday Sun investigation reveals that many Lagos residents only see wearing of the face mask as a way of avoiding the wrath of law enforcement agents. So, they simply leave the piece tightened around their chin region, and get it on only when they sight a police team or any of the enforcement group.
In the meantime, the market places are still brimming with large crowd as usual. Banks and public offices are teeming with people. Many seem to care a little about the existence of Coronavirus and the dangers it holds.
Quick look back
Now here is a quick thrown back. Until four months ago, only a handful of Nigerians knew what a face mask meant. One out of many then wore it probably to show off, perhaps after an activity at a supposedly dirty environment. Then, it was not unlikely that their admirers envied them, with some wondering what the piece they had on was all about.
But now, the situation is different. According to our investigation, a large number of people now wearing face masks are doing so for fear of being punished and not necessarily for protecting themselves. Policemen are alleged to be giving such people a rough patch by extorting them. So, the defaulters care more about parting with some money to the police than wearing the safety piece to protect themselves.
Now consider this. Until the dreaded Ebola virus berthed in Nigeria, the hand-washing culture was such a strange one. But the fear of Ebola brought it to national consciousness. But after the Ebola virus folded into history, Nigerians particularly those living in Lagos, returned to their old ways. Now, how many families consider regular hand washing as necessary? Getting them to do so regularly is like building a tower from ground zero.
At various streets corners where recreation joints abound, men and women still congregate in their large numbers, enjoying their popular, nkwobi, isi-ewu and cart fish pepper soup, washing them down with their favourite drinks amid bouts of banters. Life goes on.
Also according to our investigation, to a large extent, road transport workers have significantly tried to carry lesser number of passengers during their daily runs. But they are making up that shortfall in numbers with spike in fares. Ironically, many drivers tricycle and motorcycle riders as well as their passengers do not care a hoot anymore about the dangers in contracting Coronavirus should they crowd in commuter vehicles.
Police extort passengers with face mask
Now, look at this scenario. As the commercial Volkswagen bus – the one Lagos residents call danfo was making its way to international airport road in Lagos, its conductor perching as usual at the door, peered into the distance and sighted a police check point. Then he shot his head into the vehicle and issued an unusual caveat. “Everybody put on your face mask ooo!” he bellowed.
The scruffy lad – about 25, then pulled a dirty piece of cloth with straps which passed for his face mask over his nose. For long it was resting on his chin. Then surveying every passenger’s face to see they had the piece on, he roared at a man, descending heavily on him with a howl as his driver slowed down to ensure compliance. “If you don’t have your face mask on, the police will make money from you right now and altogether delay me. I don’t want such wahala,” he warned. At that, those who had their face masks lowered to their chins, pulled them up.
Right under the bridge before 7/8 bus stop, a police stop-and-search team was on duty. The team members kept peering at the passengers as the vehicle taxied past. Any passenger who had no face mask on might be compelled to part with a much as N2,000 or risk being delayed or even detained.
At Okota round about in Oshodi/Isolo council, police men on duty at the spot are alleged to be extorting passengers onokada or tricycles without face masks.
“If you don’t have your face mask on, better buy one now. It only costs N100,” the keke rider told our correspondent as he kick-started his tricycle as he made to depart for Jakande Estate.
When he was prodded to explain what he meant, he said: “The policemen at the Roundabout will disturb you ooo. Of course, they will compel you to drop some money.” Just then, a lad hawking the commodity lumbered across, making some cool cash from those who had no masks.
People borrow face mask
Now, it might shock you to learn that some desperate Nigerians resort to borrowing face mask just to get by.
A man, who identified himself as Tony told our correspondent that even when banks insists that customers must wear a face mask before accessing the banking ball, some customers don’t care a damn.
“While I was waiting for my turn to enter one of the commercial banks around Trinity area of Apapa, a bank customer who was desperate to enter the banking hall, to everyone’s shock went begging for a face mask.
“At that point, I began wondering if a face mask is not supposed to be personal. How hygienic is it for someone to use another’s face mask?” he queried.
Social distancing in breach
Now, what about the much trumpeted social distancing? According to our investigation, it is being observed in the breach. Various markets across Lagos are swarming with buyers and sellers. When our correspondent visited Mushin grocery market in Lagos, activities were in full gear. The usual hustle and bustle that characterise the facility was well in place. Traders and their customers moved up and down, body-for-body, with many talking to one another eyeball for eyeball. Nothing about social distancing was being observed. At the popular Oshodi market, the story was not different when our correspondent passed through the textile section.
Mrs Kate Obi, a teacher who visited Oshodi market to purchase stockings for her kids ahead of the speculated school resumption admitted that God has been saving Nigerians from COVID-19, otherwise community transmission of the virus would have since been on a massive scale.
“Look at the number of people in this market now. Is there anything like social distancing? Even when you visit the banks, is the situation not nearly the same? They say the virus can be transmitted by touching money. But how many of us wash our hands soon after touching money?”
At recreation centres no social distancing
At various recreation centres across Lagos, residents are observed in usual clusters enjoying their good time. Some clubs houses are on; their customers are not observing anything called social distancing.
Last weekend in Lagos, it was reported that members of the Lagos State Safety Commission COVID-19 enforcement team were allegedly shot at Ipaja area while they made to arrest clubbers at a popular hotel in the area who were in breach of the rules.
“The hotel had over 100 people clubbing and dancing within its premises, flouting the state government’s directive and contravening the Infectious Disease Law of the state,”Technical Adviser to the commission, Mr Seun Awojobi, said.
At various viewing centres in the city where the youths gather to watch their favourite European football clubs, no one observes any form of social distancing. Once a goal is scored, the attendees indulge in their usual wild celebration – hugging and backslapping.
No social distancing in commercial vehicles
And what about contracting Coronavirus in commercial vehicles? Dr Akase Irohen, head, Infectious Disease unit, Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba says this is possible, warning commuters to be careful.
“For those who can afford it, it is safest for them to go to their offices in their own vehicles to minimise the risk of contracting the virus on the way.”
But for those who must use the public vehicles, he advised: “They should ensure that they wear their face masks always; they should be very careful with what they touch. Upon alighting from the vehicle, they should wash their hands as soon as possible.”
But even when the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) has managed to compel its members to carry half of the number of passengers they hitherto carried in order to maintain one-meter distance, not many of them are heeding to that directive. Even the passengers are willingly submitting themselves to be crowed in public vehicles.
“Does that matter,” a mini bus driver told our correspondent in Ikeja, Lagos, as he sought to add one more passenger without a face mask on in addition to two others already seated on a bus that is supposed to take five passengers in these COVID-19 times. Not even one of the passengers raised as much as a whimper.
“Don’t mind the figures government is bandying around just to raise money. Have you seen anyone suffering from this virus since they claimed it started?” the driver asked, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
At the moment, some commercial buses plying the Oshodi-Mile 2 Expressway are carrying their normal four passengers per cabin. Passengers are gladly riding on the buses damning the consequences. Many commercial bus operators in Surulere were said to be defying their union’s directives. They are picking more passengers than they were told to carry, thus raising increased fears of community transmission of the rampaging pandemic.