President Muhammadu Buhari, last week, announced the extension of lockdown imposed on Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory as a result of COVID-19 pandemic by two weeks. The extension is to frontally tackle the coronavirus pandemic currently ravaging the world. This is necessary and desirable. But it is imperative to note that the patience of many Nigerians is growing very thin. We agree with the points the President made which necessitated the two-week extension. The most important thing to do now is to embark on massive testing of people. This is to further isolate and treat those who test positive for the virus. So far, Ghana, with smaller population, has tested far more people than Nigeria. This should not be so.
Nevertheless, the plan by the Federal Government to conduct 4,000 COVID-19 tests every day is heart-warming. According to the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, 2,000 tests would be conducted in Lagos, 1,000 in Abuja and another 1,000 in other parts of the country.
Already, Lagos State, which is the epicentre of this disease, has embarked on house-to-house testing of residents. This resulted in the discovery of 119 people with symptoms of COVID-19 in two days of testing 118,000 households. We encourage other states to do the same.
Besides, government should endeavour to increase and improve the palliatives to the citizens. The President, in his broadcast, announced an increase in the National Social Register from 2.6 million to 3.6 million households. The Lagos State Government also announced that it would transfer cash and feed 100,000 youths daily. These are steps in the right direction. But considering the huge population of the poor in Nigeria, more needs to be done. People are hungry and it can dispose them to commit crimes.
This can partly explain the rising criminality in different parts of Lagos and Ogun states where criminal gangs are holding innocent citizens hostage. They have attacked such places as Agege, Idimu, Iju-Ishaga, Iyana Ipaja, Dopemu, Abule Egba, Alagbado, Sango, Ifo and many others. They not only invade and loot houses and shops; they also unleash mayhem on hapless citizens.
The so-called Awawa Boys and One Million boys, a robbery/cult group, appear to be the most notorious in these attacks. They reportedly inform some communities of their coming and they fulfil their mission with little or no resistance. Although the Lagos State police command claims it is equal to the task, the reports from some victims indicate a slow response from the police in some cases. Frustrated residents in some robbery-prone areas have had to resort to forming emergency vigilance groups to protect themselves.
More troubling are reports of extortion involving some police personnel. Under the guise of enforcing the stay-at-home order, these officers allegedly arrest private motorists at random and force them to pay as much N50,000 or more to bail themselves. Some of the victims happen to be those who have gone out to buy food items for the family. It is important to enforce the law on restriction of movement. But it is more important to do it with human face. COVID-19 is enough trouble for humanity. Adding extortion to it is unnecessary.
It is also important for the police to avoid avoidable killings. In Kenya, Uganda, South Africa and some other African countries, security forces have used heavy-handed approach to enforce lockdown order. In Nigeria, the National Human Rights Commission says the police have killed more citizens in the last two weeks than the deadly coronavirus. The security agents killed 18 people whereas the virus has only killed 11 as at Thursday. This will never reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Rather, it will alienate the police and the government from the people and defeat the aim of stopping the virus in the first place. Let us not forget that effective lockdown is almost impossible in crowded poverty-stricken slums many Africans live in. Our security operatives should use more of persuasion than brutal force to enforce it.
This time calls for cooperation from every stakeholder in the Nigerian project. Despite having the worst cases of this COVID-19, the United States and some European countries have evacuated their citizens from Nigeria. Some of their influential citizens have predicted looming coronavirus calamities for Africa.
We need to let the world know that we can handle any emergency that comes our way. The Federal Government must do everything possible to mop up the remaining COVID-19 cases in the country.