State governments on Monday explained obstacles to the enforcement of COVID-19 Health Protection Regulation 2021, which was signed by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) on January 27.
Our correspondents, who monitored major cities across the country on Monday, observed that many residents were not complying with COVID-19 protocols such as wearing of face masks and social distancing.
Officials of state governments, including Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Enugu and Niger, who spoke to The PUNCH on Monday explained difficulties in enforcing the safety rules as the police vowed to use “coercive measures” to ensure compliance.
According to the regulations signed by the President, any person that contravenes provisions of the regulations, upon conviction, risks a fine or a term of six months imprisonment or both in accordance with Section 5 of the Quarantine Act.
While Cross River State Commissioner for Health, Dr Betta Edu, attributed low compliance to lack of political will, the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Ini Ememobong, linked non-enforcement of the protocols to the police.
The Enugu State Commissioner for Information Mr Chidi Aroh, said with the high level of non-compliance, mass arrest of people would be difficult.
Commenting on the COVID-19 rule enforcement, the Cross River State Commissioner for Health, Edu, said, “The political will is not strong all the way down. We need that political will. It should not stop at the level of the President signing an Executive Order. There should be discussions at the level of governors’ forum for them to agree on it and map out strategies on how to go about it and getting support from the Federal Government.
During first wave, we spent N10m daily on task force enforcing rules, says C’River
“There is a lot of COVID-9 fatigue right now. Government is fatigued. Individuals are fatigued, even funding.”
According to him, during the first wave of COVID-9, it cost the state N10m daily to fund a task force that enforced the use of face mask.
“The task force was in the metropolis and border areas. Imagine that you run that process for 30 days, that is N300m. You have to fuel the vehicles, pay the security officers to follow the task force.
“If you calculate all these costs, you will see that it is a lot more difficult to enforce. At this point, it is necessary for the Federal Government to sit with the state governments and discuss their challenges and ways they can be assisted.
“The Federal Government and the states should commit funding into the enforcement and let them work hand in hand and implementation will be good and smooth. But we need that level of collaboration at this point so that things can happen.”
On its part, the Akwa Ibom State Government said it was the duty of police to ensure enforcement of the protocols.
Ememobong, who stated this, disclosed that the state government had been working with traditional and religious leaders to stop the spread of COVID-19.
He stated, “It’s the duty of the police is to enforce the law. The President has given a directive. In fact, it’s an executive order which is even in the hierarchy of the law, so the executive has acted at the federal level. It is, therefore, the duty of the police to enforce and not the duty of the state government
“As a government, we have set in motion machinery for sensitisation. We are still doing sensitisation; we run jingles and interface with traditional and religious leaders but for enforcement it’s the duty of the security.”
Effecting mass arrest difficult –Enugu commissioner
The Enugu State Commissioner for Information, Aroh, said effecting mass arrest of people who were not COVID-19 protocols compliant in a market would be difficult.
According to him, arresting people for non-compliance to protocols will not solve any problem.
He stated, “On the directive of His Excellency, the governor, all the government officials have been directed to engage in sensitisation in their communities. The ministry of education is monitoring schools to ensure total compliance to COVID-19 protocols in our schools especially in the areas of non-pharmaceutical measures in the management of COVID-19.
If you jail everybody in Ogbete Main Market, it won’t change anything – Commissioner
“We have not jettisoned enforcement, but we are combining all the factors. Enforcement alone will not solve the problem. If you carry everybody in Ogbete Main Market to a correctional facility, it will not change anything.
“There wouldn’t be space to accommodate them. So while security agencies are trying their best to increase the level of compliance, we are more interested in bringing the moral standards; with a reason that we all need to be alive.”
The Niger State Commissioner for Health, Muhammad Makusidi, said the nonchalant attitude of residents of the state was one of the obstacles to compliance with the safety rules.
He said, “To ensure compliance, we involved state transport union, market people, religious and traditional leaders, and women in the COVID-19 task force which are to ensure all inclusiveness, sadly, everybody is showing nonchalant attitudes.”
But the Chairman, Ekiti State COVID-19 Response Task Force, Prof Bolaji Aluko, said the new COVID-19 protocols, which enjoined the federal security agencies to act, were being enforced in the state.
Aluko said, “As part of the enforcement, people can no longer do any event without permission. Every day now, I sign a minimum of 10 permissions for burials, weddings and other events and in the permissions, the people have to pledge to obey COVID-19 protocols.
“Personal responsibility is necessary. We have to keep trying to make the people do the right things, at the end of the day, these things are in the interest of the people, to prevent them from contracting COVID-19,” the state COVID-19 Response Task Force chairman said.
Also the Edo State COVID-19 Incident Manager, Dr Andrew Obi, disclosed on Monday that the government was working to ensure that residents adhered strictly to the protocols.
Benue State Commissioner for Information, Mrs Ngunan Adingi, said the state government would liaise with the police to ensure compliance with the safety rules.
When told that people were not obeying the rules, she stated, “If that is the case, we will get in touch with police to see how to enforce the protocols.”
Coercive measures will be used, police warn violators
Meanwhile, force headquarters on Monday warned that those who failed to obey the regulations on COVID-19 would be compelled to comply.
The force spokesman, Frank Mba, stated this in an interview with The PUNCH while commenting on the low level of compliance with COVID-19 regulations.
He said, “Where citizens failed to comply voluntarily, the coercive powers of the state would be brought to bear on them. This is in their interest and the interest of others and that is what we are doing.”
According to him, many state commands have been enforcing the directive, noting that many violators have been arrested in Lagos, Abuja and other cities.
Mba said, “The Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu has already directed state commands to enforce the regulations on COVID-19, but there is need to sensitise the people through the media about the intention of the regulations which is for their own good.”
43 violators arrested in FCT
No fewer than 43 violators of COVID-19 guidelines were arraigned before the Federal Capital Territory mobile court on Monday.
Presiding Magistrate Idayat Akanni convicted all the accused of gross violation of the ‘Coronavirus Disease Health Protection Regulation 2021.
Educating the violators about the regulation and proper use of face masks, Akanni advised them not to leave their noses out of the face masks, hang it under their chin or put it inside their pockets, adding that it was meant to be worn so as to curtail further spread of the disease.
The spokesman for the FCT COVID-19 Restrictions taskforce, Ikharo Attah, warned the people to always comply with the guidelines, noting that his men would not hesitate to arrest violators and make them face the law squarely.
In Lagos State, the Police Public Relations Officer, Muyiwa Adejobi, said over 2,000 persons had been charged for violating COVID-19 protocols in Lagos, adding that the command had been consistent in enforcing the protocols in the state.
Adejobi said, “Before the President’s order, the Lagos State police command had been enforcing the COVID-19 guidelines and protocols. We have arrested more than 2,000 violators, for violating the protocols including the 12 midnight to 4am curfew. Those arrested have been charged. So, the command has been on it and we will be consistent on the due enforcement despite the large population of the state.
“As we speak, the Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu, is meeting with the area commanders.”
The Police Public Relations Officer in Ogun State, Abimbola Oyeyemi, said the police had yet to arrest anyone in the state for violation of federal order on the use of face masks .
When asked if the police were facing some hindrances in enforcing the presidential order, Oyeyemi said, “There is nothing hindering us, we have not seen people not using it (face mask).
“People have been complying with the order. There is nothing hindering us. People have been complying. People are using it (face mask). No one has been arrested yet.”
Kano arrests 200 violators, laments low compliance
The Kano State Commissioner for Information, Malam Muhammad Garba, lamented that despite the existence of the new variant of COVID-19, residents of the state had not been obeying safety rules.
Garba, who stated this in a statement, disclosed that no fewer than 200 people were on Monday, arrested and fined for violating COVID-19 preventive protocols.
The spokesperson for Osun State Police Command, Yemisi Opalola, said the command had embarked on advocacy to ensure compliance without arrest.
“The command would not hesitate to enforce the directive anytime soon. But we urge the residents to ensure they comply with the directive on use of facemask and COVID-19 protocols without being forced,” Opalola said.
The Rivers State Police Public Relations Officer, Nnamdi Omoni said a special task force it set up was enforcing the regulations.
The Oyo State Police Command said it received a signal from the Police Force Headquarters, Abuja on the enforcement of the COVID-19 protocols.
The Police Public Relations Officer in Oyo State, Olugbenga Fadeyi, who confirmed that the signal had been received indicated the readiness of the command to enforce the order.
Despite several efforts at ensuring adherence to the measures, checks had shown that majority of the people of the state still defaulted with little or nothing done in the area of enforcement.
By Adelani Adepegba, Deji Lambo, Patrick Odey, Dennis Naku, Ada Wodu, Raphael Ede, Adebayo Ayinde, Abiodun Nejo, Adeyinka Adedipe, John Charles, Daud Olatunji, Ted Odogwu, Bola Bamigbola, Wale Oyewale and John Charles.