In any unpleasant situation, there is always an advantage for some. This time, the lockdown to control the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has become great gain for security agents particularly police and traffic officers in Abuja. They are involved in the enforcement of the restrictions and stay-at-home order.
Interestingly, private security officials attached to major markets and shopping malls in Abuja also leveraged on the situation to make quick fortunes for themselves with or without the knowledge and support of the market management.
The enforcement agents are taking advantage of defiant motorists, commuters and shop owners who choose not to comply with the stay-at-home directive to enrich themselves.
Undoubtedly, many people were trapped by the sudden lockdown of the country, while the directive met so many people unprepared, financially and otherwise. Some Nigerians, particularly those in the informal sector, depend on their daily income for survival, hence the hesitation to fully comply with the stay-at-home directive.
At some isolated checkpoints in Abuja, the enforcement officials are visibly making fortunes out of defiant motorists, commuters and other defaulters. They carefully separate these set of people who are not included in the list of people on essential services who are permitted to enjoy unlimited movement, delay them and in some cases, make them part with some money as punishment for violating the presidential restrictions order.
At different markets and shopping malls premises, the situation is not different. Private security officials attached to the markets and malls deliberately deny occupants access to their shops until they make moves to “drop something” before they are temporarily allowed access into the business premises, not to open and run business, but to either pick goods from the shops or attend to certain things under closed watch of the security officials.
At Nyanya Market, any trader who desires to enter the locked market for any reason is made to pay N500 before access is permitted through an unrecognized entry point. Few minutes is allocated for such trader for such purposes. The financial burden is, however, transferred to the customer in form of inflated price.
A dealer in phone accessories, identified as Chukwuemeka, said he has been giving the N500 tip since the day the market was officially locked by FCT Administration, as part of measures to contain community transmission of dreaded coronavirus in Abuja:
“Our concern is that the N500 tip is for one entry into market. Each entry costs N500. Few people have protested the treatment the first few days but the security officials, possibly with the backing of the market taskforce officials insisted on that fee cannot be changed. We have to comply because there is nothing we can do. We need to attend to our customers and make something for ourselves. The cost is always transferred to our customers.”
The situation at both Kugbo mechanic and furniture market, looks like a conspiracy between the market managers, security officials and market taskforce to extort the traders, customers and make extra fortunes for themselves and, perhaps, the market purse.
A motor mechanic in Kugbo who identified himself as Kazeem, told Daily Sun that even to pick a spanner or any work tool from the shop costs N500 entry fee, not to talk of motor parts dealer opening his shop for few minutes to pick up a goods for a customer: “That is what we have been doing for days now to keep body and soul together. We come out every morning and perch one corner waiting for customers. If need be that we pick up something, either a tool or spare parts, the customer must be informed about the cost before we proceed.
“What I did was to carry my toolbox the day I paid N500 to enter the market. After that day, I kept the toolbox inside my car trunk. I take it home and back everyday. It is better for me than paying N500 tip for each entry into the market. That is unwise. We live on daily income and unfortunately, government locked down the country for whatever reason without a proper provision to cushion the effect of the lockdown.”
A motorist, Felix Okazi, said he had an unpalatable experience few days ago in the hands of enforcement team on his way to Zuba for a particular purpose: “I may not be among the people who are not covered by the restrictions but there should be some kind of considerations for people with genuine reasons for being on the road. I tried as much as I could to explain to the officials of my predicament but they ignored me. At the end, I had to part with some money after about an hour of delay.
Meanwhile, in Jikwoyi, Kurudu and other nearby communities, police move at evening or night hours harassing, intimidating and extorting money from street shop owners.
Some of the street traders in Jikwoyi alleged that some traders arrested in the first few days of the lockdown were detained at the police station and made to bail themselves with at least N5, 000 each.