Niger Delta - Nigeria - May 3, 2020

How travelers risk COVID-19 infection at state borders

There were hundreds of trucks lined up from Okogbe to Mbiama (Yenogoa) Junction on the East-West highway. They carried assortment of items: from supplies to oil fields in the delta, to foodstuffs, beverages, and even water.

For every truck on that stretch of the highway, there are dozens of cars, buses, and motorcycles in the mix. Drivers defying the lockdown orders as they journey through to and from towns in south to west and north of the country. Unscrupulous policemen deployed to stop the vehicular movement help the drivers break if for a fee as low N100 naira (about 25p)

At the popular Mbiama market held every Tuesday, gangs of travelers caught in the bottleneck mingled with traders and operatives of all men of the military and paramilitary forces at the various checkpoints.

Border checks are a part of measures by state governments to prevent foreign transmission of the of corona virus. The procedures came after governments were rattled by harsh reality of the corona virus. The myth that Nigerian climate is too hostile for the virus to survive or thrive has fallen like a pack of cards since the confirmation of the first case on 2020 February 2020. Cases have doubled in every state that has recorded a case in the past month.

But “The road to hell is paved with good intention”, and this and other governments’ border controls have turned into a money making chance for policemen and, more worrisome, fertile grounds for the spread of the deadly disease.

Although there were dozens of uniformed security men at this, it was dreadful. Everyone in uniform wants to take charge. An army officer in military camouflage with ‘GUNNER’ knitted into the breast of his fatigue was calmer and more civil than the others. But he wasn’t everywhere – it was impossible.

As the scores of ill-prepared security operatives battled for control of the scene, impatience civilians joined the fray. Breathe and saliva flowed randomly, interspaced cough and sneezing.

Scores of hapless commuters took shelter on roadside shades along with many others, glad to take the weight off their tired legs. Having spent hours at the same spot, were too tired to bother the social-distancing rule.

A few meters away a group of 14 young men, who from their conversation seemed to be northerners, huddled under a tree. Exhaustion and hunger etched on the sun-darkened skins.

All around the scene, there were motley assemblage of impatient travelers whose drivers are scheming a way through the gridlock. The drivers held out crushed naira notes, apparently to induce the security men. Of the crowd of over a hundred at the spot, only an FRSC official, and few others wore face mask.

From Port Harcourt to Benin City, such control posts abound, but only a few served any purpose, other than for security operatives and hawkers who had field day fleecing drivers and travellers respectively. The only exception was at Sagbama, where health officials check the temperature of travellers before allowing them through.

As the travellers journey on, they can only wish that they do not leave with the virus that some of them are running from.

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