The lifting of embargo on interstate travel, one of the Federal Government’s strategies to contain the spread of Coronavirus in the country, means different things to different people. To some, it is an opportunity to return to their usual way of life. On the other hand, there are those who see it as a window for cautious living in order to prevent escalation of the Coronavirus pandemic, which has brought the entire world to its knees in the past months.
Abduljelil Rasaq belongs to the latter group. The young man was one of the Ibadan-bound passengers at Mufsuf Motor Park, Ajegunle, Lagos last Tuesday. The trip was his second since the interstate lockdown was lifted having travelled down to Lagos days earlier. According to him, his first trip was an eye-opener. Rasaq told Sunday Sun that he was surprised to notice the nonchalance of so many people toward COVID-19 guidelines put in place by the government for the transport sector.
Rasaq: “When the lockdown on interstate travelling was relaxed I had expected to notice appreciable level of compliance from both the transporters and commuters alike. But what I saw on my first day at motor parks in Ibadan and Lagos was far from encouraging. Besides the open disregard for physical distancing, most transporters did not deem it necessary to compel the passengers to wash their hands or apply hand sanitizers where they were provided, before going onboard. It’s very surprising to see our people living in a manner that seems to suggest that nothing is happening.”
Rasaq’s position on the lack of compliance to the COVID-19 guidelines for interstate travelling at motor parks was similar to what obtained in most of the motor parks visited by Sunday Sun last Tuesday. Although running water, soap and sanitizer were provided at Mufsuf Motor Park, Ajegunle, Lagos, findings showed that these items were only provided for cosmetic purpose as no passenger was spotted close to these items before going onboard until our correspondent confronted the manager of the park with his discovery. Besides, Sunday Sun discovered that while the majority of the passengers onboard the bus being loaded at the time had nose masks only a handful of them had theirs on at the time. Also, although there were fewer people at the park, there was little or no indication of adherence to the physical distancing rule.
Speaking in an interview with Sunday Sun, the manager of the park, who gave his name as Mufutau Abdullahi insisted that passengers at the parks were compelled to wash or sanitise their hands before going on board, adding that the wearing of face masks and total adherence to COVID-19 guidelines are conditions all passengers must meet before going onboard.
His words: “Before we allow passengers to go onboard we ensure they wash their hands with soap and water or apply hand sanitizers. They must also have their face masks on. If you move closer to the bus that is loading now, you will find out that instead of having three passengers on each of the seats, only two passengers are occupying each of the seats. Already there are seven passengers on board, remaining only two more. These are the major necessary precautions we have been asked to put in place, and these we have done to the best of our knowledge.”
More worrisome was the situation at Sango Motor Park in Ogun State. The scramble for space by impatient passengers and motorists who seemed to be in so much haste to hit the roads accentuates the total disregard for the COVID-19 guidelines by the management of the park. In addition to the flagrant disregard to the physical distancing rule, the management of the park did not make provision for hand washing materials such as water, soap and hand sanitizer while the admonition by bus drivers to the passengers to use their face masks, as Sunday Sun observed, appeared to be more out of fear of security operatives who might want to capitalize on the situation to extort the drivers than the need to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. A confirmation of this was the plea by one of the drivers to the passengers to buy their personal face masks before leaving the park as a handful of the passengers were without their facemasks on at the time.
Confronted by Sunday Sun correspondent who disguised as a passenger on why no provision was made for hand sanitizer or other hand washing materials at the park, one of the drivers retorted: “That is the responsibility of the managers of the park, not mine. Moreover, one only needs to be prayerful not to contract the virus, if truly the virus exists. The politicians who claim they are infected do not use public transport; they have their personal vehicles. So, if this class of people who by the virtue of their positions should be more protected are coming down with the virus when the more exposed and vulnerable masses do not, that shows that what we need is prayers and not sanitizers or soap and water.”
One of the leaders at the motor park who simply identified himself as Alhaji Olokun told our correspondent that the park actually made provision for hand sanitizer and other hand-washing materials, but claimed the person in charge was yet to bring them to the park as at the time.
According to him, “we have everything in place, but the person in whose custody they are is yet to bring them out probably because of the rain. We are aware of the guidelines which is why we ensure no bus leaves this park with more than nine passengers. We also make sure all the passengers have their nose masks on. But our responsibility in ensuring that the drivers and the passengers adhere to the guidelines ends within this park since we don’t follow them to their destinations. So, if a driver chooses to pick more passengers outside the park or refuses to compel his passengers to use their masks, we cannot be held liable for that.”
It was, however, a different ball game at most of the private motor parks of major transport companies visited by Sunday Sun in Lagos. Travellers using the parks of major transport companies including Agofure Motors, Libra Motors and Famous Motors, are welcome by conspicuous banners which outlined COVID-19 guidelines commuters are expected to comply with before accessing their services.
For instance, at Iyana Ipaja parks of most of the transport companies, passengers without nose masks or those with high temperature were denied access into the parks as their temperature readings are taken before gaining entry into the parks. In addition to this, passengers are also required to wash their hands with soap and water or apply hand sanitizer before going onboard.
Mr. Monday Ihenyen, Secretary Iyare Motors, who spoke to Sunday Sun, urged all Nigerians to take the fight against Coronavirus as collective responsibility if the fight was to be won in no distant time.
According to him, “Coronavirus is real. So, everybody must see it as a collective battle. That is why we have decided to adhere to the guidelines given by the government before the parks are opened. If you look around you will see everything we have put in place to ensure total adherence to these guidelines and in order to protect our passengers and our staff. We are not only observing physical distancing at the parks alone, we also ensure we minimize physical contacts onboard. Before now we used to have 15 passengers on board, but that has been reduced to nine passengers.”