Daud Olatunji ex-rays on the harassment of residents and corruption that have characterised the enforcement of weekend lockdown in Ogun State by security agents
On June 20, 2020, a woman identified as Tolu Adesh was assaulted by an official of the COVID-19 Task Force in Ojodu Abiodun, Ifo Local Government Area of Ogun State, for flouting the lockdown order and refusing to pay a fine of N15,000.
Adesh is one of the victims of assault and extortion by officials of the Ogun State Government enforcing the restriction of interstate movement and the lockdown order.
The lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic was imposed on the state by the government with a view to curbing the spread of the disease in the state.
From the beginning, the lockdown was enforced during weekdays, but it was later shifted to weekends by the government following complaints of hunger by the residents, while the Federal Government’s 8pm to 6am daily curfew was retained.
Findings, however, show that the weekend lockdown has been turned into a thriving business venture by those saddled with its enforcement.
The task force comprises the police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Traffic Compliance and Enforcement Corps, So-Safe Corps and other paramilitary outfits.
The officials, who are empowered to enforce the restriction of movement within the state, have chosen to do brisk business with the lockdown at the numerous checkpoints, especially in border communities with neighbouring states.
Commercial motorcyclists, bus and taxi drivers are the major victims of the extortion by the officials stationed at the various checkpoints.
Findings revealed that the task force officials were taking advantage of some motorists and motorcyclists, who flout the restriction of movement order, and were exploiting them.
The action of the officials, according to findings, has given the people, especially motorists and motorcyclists, the boldness to move freely during the lockdown.
Taiwo Bankole, a motorcyclist in Sagamu, explained that to operate during the lockdown would take him and his fellow motorcyclists between N100 and N500.
Bankole explained that both the task force officials and motorcyclists had struck an understanding on how to pay the money, which is a free ticket for them to operate during the lockdown daily.
Wunmi Kola, who conveys charcoal to Lagos through the Igboora-Lafenwa Road, said he usually bribed his way through the checkpoints with N500.
When asked how much he spent from Igboora in Oyo State to Lagos, Wunmi said, “It varies; at some checkpoints, I will beg them to collect N200; at others, the officials will not collect anything less than N500, while others reluctantly collect N100 from me. From Igboora to Lagos, I spend about N3,500 to bribe my way.”
Seun Ganiyu, a motorcyclist, who plies Iyana-Oloke, Panseke, Adigbe and Oke-Ilewo areas of Abeokuta, said he was grateful to be allowed to operate during the lockdown.
“I am happy and grateful to the task force officials for allowing me to fend for my family; they collect money from me. Imagine if they do not allow me to work during the lockdown, how will I feed my family? I have two wives and seven children,” he stated.
A resident of Abeokuta, Adisa Alayinde, said, “I saw the security personnel collecting money, especially in the evening. It’s very common around the Brewery, Olomore and Ita-Oshin.”
A resident of Ilaro, Tokunbo Fakeye, narrated his experience thus, “It has been extortion galore for the paramilitary agencies and the military. The police’s case is the worst. Instead of assisting the government to enforce the lockdown, it is an open secret that security agents collect money and leave people to disobey all instructions.
“Overloading by tricycle operators and commercial vehicles continue unchecked on the Abeokuta to Sango-Ota route. The FRSC, VIOs and TRACE are all involved in the extortion.”
Also, Seun Abati, an Ilaro-based motorist, stated, “I didn’t give any bribe, but I saw people paying and task force officials collecting it. Some of them request from me in style like, ‘Give us something for pure (sachet) water now.’”
Zainab Adebayo, an indigene of Igboora but resident in Abeokuta, who spoke with our correspondent on the activities of the task officials on the Lafenwa-Rounder-Igboora Road, said they were worse than their colleagues on the Abeokuta-Sango-Lagos Road.
She said, “The task force officials on the Lafenwa-Rounder-Igboora Road are worse than their colleagues on the Abeokuta-Sango-Lagos Road.
“Imagine the transport fare from Abeokuta to Igboora, or from Igboora to Abeokuta used to be between N300 and N400, but because of the activities of these officials on the road, the drivers now charge N600. I counted eight checkpoints between Igboora and Lafenwa and the officials collect not less than N100 on each checkpoint; some collect as much as N200.”
A resident of Ifo, Qudus Ogundapo, told our correspondent that the restriction of movement was not effective because of the activities of the security agents at the various checkpoints in the state.
He said their activities had led to the hike in the transport fares.
“Before the lockdown was pronounced, I used to pay N200 as transport fare from Ifo to Abeokuta, but, now it is N400. The officials at the checkpoints demand bribes from the drivers. The drivers will just squeeze the currency and give it them; I counted 20 checkpoints from Sango to Abeokuta and all the officials at the checkpoints demanded money from the drivers.”
Another resident, Yemi Awopeju, narrated her experience when she took a motorcycle from Isale Abetu to the Ewang Estate in Abeokuta during the lockdown. She said the motorcyclist was delayed until he gave N100 to the officials at the Olohunsogo checkpoint before they let him go.
It was gathered that restriction of interstate movement was also not effective as many people travel from Ogun State to Oyo and Lagos states, among others, with ease despite the order.
Nurudeen Ayinde, who travelled with members of his family to Ibadan last week for a social occasion, narrated his experience at the various checkpoints between Abeokuta and the Oyo State capital. He said that despite the fact that they flouted the social distancing rule with the number of passengers in the car as well as the interstate movement restriction, they bribed their way through with N200 at each checkpoint.
Some commercial motorcyclists, who spoke to our correspondent, said they had studied the situation and discovered that the best period for them to operate almost unhindered was in the evening.
Akibu Tiwalade said, “I observe that the task force officials don’t usually disturb us in the evening. I still pay little to them whenever I am caught, but it is better than working in the morning.”
When confronted with the allegations against their men, the spokespersons for the police, TRACE and the NSCDC denied the allegations.
The Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Abimbola Oyeyemi, said the command was not aware of the allegations.
He, however, blamed the residents, who had experienced the atrocities of police personnel at the checkpoints and refused to report them to the appropriate quarters.
When asked if the command was aware of the alleged activities of its personnel, Oyeyemi said, “There is no way the command will be aware of any act of corruption and will keep quiet over it.
“And it takes two to tango; the people who are giving and those who are taking; they are all liable for prosecution.”
Speaking on the measures put in place to monitor the personnel at the checkpoints, Oyeyemi said some detachments from different sections had been deployed to monitor the activities of policemen.
“We have a lot of monitors, who are out to check the excesses of our men. On the road, we have the IGP squad, we have the CP monitoring team and we have the MOPOL, and they are all moving from one place to the other,” Oyeyemi stated.
Speaking on the expectation of the command from the people, the PPRO urged residents of the state to help curb unprofessional actions by its men by speaking out.
He said, “There is no way an organisation can fight corruption without the cooperation of members of the public.
“Those, who are being exploited, are supposed to complain. Those, who have the courage to come and complain to us, know what we have been doing to the personnel concerned.
“Even the Inspector-General of Police does not take it lightly with any personnel found culpable of corruption, but the inability of people to come out and complain that police personnel have collected money from them is what is hindering the action that we would have taken against them.
“But, those who are giving (bribes) too are equally liable, because when the government gives a directive that people should not go out on particular days, I don’t know why it is so difficult for us to obey this simple directive. But, our people like to bend the rules and by so doing, they will be looking for those, who are available for this attitude of corruption, to pass through the checkpoints.”
On the plan to end corruption at the checkpoints, Oyeyemi said, “The command is all out to make sure that anybody found wanting or at the point of collecting bribe is seriously dealt with; that is the standard set out by the police force.
“We don’t tolerate bribe-taking; we don’t condone it and we encourage our people to come forward and report those that are involved in it. All our monitors cannot be everywhere at the same time.”
Also speaking on the allegation against his men, the Public Relations Officer of the NSCDC in the state, Ogbonnaya Dyke, challenged those with evidence against any of its personnel to come out and present such.
Dyke said the command usually adjusts the composition of its personnel at the checkpoints regularly to prevent any form of indiscipline.
He stated, “If there are officials, who are doing things that are not supposed to be done, people know that they wear name tags, they should mention errant personnel by name, so that we can bring such officials to justice.
“So, when you say officials are doing something, it’s a generalisation, because I am also an official and I am in the office and I also go out. So, you need to mention my name to pin me down to a crime or an offence.”
On the steps taken to instil discipline in the personnel, Dyke stated, “We always brief them and if they are going out, all these things are what we tell them and we actually bring back a lot of them from different places and replace them with new ones, just to ensure that this thing does not happen.”
When contacted for his reaction, the Public Relations Officer of TRACE, Babatunde Akinbiyi, urged anyone with “concrete evidence to come out and prove the allegations.”
Asked if the corps was aware of the atrocities being allegedly perpetrated by its personnel on the lockdown days, Akinbiyi described them as “mere allegations.”
“Let the person, who has concrete evidence come out. They are just mere allegations. There is no compromise and no complicity; we don’t condone indiscipline,” he stated.
Akinbiyi added that TRACE knew what was at stake and would not jeopardise the effort of the government in the fight against coronavirus in the state.
He said, “In just two days, our men at the border in Odeda sent 39 northerners from Sokoto State back to Bakatari.
“Also, in Ota, our men sent some people from Niger State back to Lagos during the lockdown. We know what is at stake; we cannot engage in what will endanger the lives of our people, whom we are protecting.”
On the steps towards curb indiscipline, Akinbiyi said TRACE had a surveillance unit, which serves as the police for the corps.
“The TRACE police go around in mufti to monitor. Some appointments have been terminated as a result of bad behaviour,” he added.