INVESTIGATION: One month after arrest threat, Kwara residents still flout face mask order

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• Coronavirus is a ruse – Residents

• COVID-19 for sale as Kano monarch visits Ilorin

• Arrests, prosecutions have taken place – Govt

• We’re doing our best to enforce the order – Police

• The virus is real – Expert

It is exactly one month after the Kwara State government threatened to arrest residents who appear in the public space without using the face mask. Against this background, THE RAVENS’ MUHAMMED SAHEED conducted an investigative tour of some flash points in Ilorin metropolis to assess the level of compliance with this directive. His findings were mind-blowing, and he chronicles them in this report.

On July 20, the Kwara State government issued a stern warning to residents not to appear in public places without donning their face masks, threatening that violators would be arrested and prosecuted.

This warning was contained in a statement by Rafiu Ajakaye, Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, noting that the order of arrest takes effect by July 31.

The statement reads in part, “Residents of Kwara State must use face mask in public places, keep physical distancing or stay indoors beginning from Friday July 31st, the government announced on Monday, tracing the spike in cases of COVID-19 largely to people not adhering to safety protocols.

“The government added that violators of the latest directive — including shop owners and drivers of commercial or private vehicles — risk arrest and prosecution from July 31st under the Kwara State Infectious Diseases Regulations 2020.

“Consequently, effective this Friday 24th July, 2020, nobody would be allowed into any public building, markets, malls, transport, banks and so on without their proper use of the face masks as a safety measure to lessen the transmission of the virus.

“By Friday July 31st, 2020, however, the government would commence strict enforcement of the Kwara State Infectious Diseases Regulations 2020. Thenceforth, anyone seen outside without proper use of the face mask will be arrested, prosecuted in a mobile court, and taken to any of our quarantine centres.

“Their samples will then be taken and they will be held until their status is known. We want to emphasise that shop owners or business managers, drivers of commercial or private vehicles who allow persons without face masks into their shops or vehicles would be arrested alongside offending passengers and be taken to quarantine centres, have their samples taken and be held until their result is out.”

The statements above, when placed side by side what obtains in Kwara’s public places, might be best described as an empty threat and lip service as investigations show that residents still willfully flout the face mask order unrestrained as though there are no consequences for their actions.

From streets to markets through other public places, a number of residents still move about without face masks, and go about their normal lives as it were pre-COVID.

When this reporter visited Ipata market, a popular market in Ilorin metropolis, it was business as usual as social distancing policy was recklessly neglected and some buyers and sellers were conspicuously without the face mask.

Ipata market where sellers and buyers disdain the use of face mask

COVID-19 is a ruse

Our reporter approached one of the sellers at the market, a dark middle-aged woman who does not want her name in print.

She decried the rate at which people defile the face mask order in the market, noting however that most people, including her, doubt the existence of the virus.

The woman who spoke in raw Ilorin accent said, “Most of our people in the market do not believe in this coronavirus. I also doubt it exists. Government just wants to make money from it, and they have been receiving it. Upon this, the citizens still suffer.

“Our government too does not show example. They said we should maintain social distancing, but they still organise campaign and rally ahead of Edo and Ondo elections. They keep on churning out figures of victims, but we have not even seen one. Do the victims live in another planet?” she quipped.

Government hyping figures

A tall light-skinned man who came to the market to buy foodstuff and pleaded anonymity also berated the government for what he described as “hyping the COVID-19 figures”.

According to him, “COVID-19 is a normal disease that is not different from malaria and typhoid. The government is just hyping it and giving it undue popularity. If we can live with HIV/AIDS, there is nothing much about coronavirus. The government continues to dish out figures as if it is not this same Ilorin and Kwara we live in. Are the victims angels that cannot be seen?

Also, corroborating his view, a young man who simply identified himself as “Femz” said it is true that the government is overstating the figures.

Femz, on his part, believes that there is coronavirus in Kwara, but disagrees with the figures made available by the government and relevant authorities.

He noted thus: “Our government is not truthful and honest at all, and we citizens are not fools. I read a story on one of the mediums in Ilorin where a COVID-19 survivor said the government is inflating the figures. They roll out statistics and no patients are brought to the isolation center. Our elite want to make money from it. All these face masks are just for formalities. Even, the president is not using face mask.”

Still business as usual

Another woman who sells provisions at Oja Tuntun (new market) introduced herself as “Iya Alaje” to our reporter, maintaining that people are not taking the use of face mask seriously because there’s no one to sanction those flouting the order.

She said: “Buyers and sellers are doing their transactions without covering their faces since there’s no one to arrest them. Some people have it (face mask), but keep it inside their bags. And some use it to cover their necks.

Buying and selling go on with little regard for protocols

“It’s very bad here in the market. Since many people see the virus as a big lie and government’s means of getting money. So they are claiming the government is deceiving them with the face mask.”

Hunter as hunted

When asked if the government had made arrest of people flouting the order, Iya Alaje told our reporter that, “When the announcement was made on the radio with a certain fine attached to it, we knew it’d be tough for people in the market. But it turned out to be mere yelping without action to make it come to reality. Police officers who will arrest are seen without using the face mask. That’s a hint that they can’t arrest us.

“The government must find ways to make the use of face masks compulsory in the state. Those flouting the order need to be arrested and made to pay fine. This will definitely serve as a lesson to others,” she advised.

‘I can’t waste my hard-earned money to buy facemask on a hoax virus’

A certain Razaq who identified himself as a student of Kwara State Polytechnic living in Adewole, was very sad that the government fails to open the school despite reopening the marketplace and other public places.

He categorically called COVID-19 a hoax, saying he can’t waste his hard-earned money on face mask.

A frustrated Razaq said hysterically in broken English, “I don chop first.”

He adds: “People using the face mask are still catching the virus. What we need is God’s protection and prayer. The government should open our schools. Their children are in the abroad learning unhindered.”

COVID-19 for sale as Kano monarch visits Ilorin

If there is a day COVID-19 protocols suffered huge scorn in Kwara State, it was when the new Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero came to Ilorin Emirate on a 3-day visit from Thursday, August 28 to Saturday, August 30.

Kano Emir, Alhaji Ado Bayero

People, in desperate attempts to catch a sight of the monarch, huddled together and some were not using the face mask.

When Kano Emir Ado Bayero came visiting

A large crowd thronged the streets and shut down most roads in the state capital in flagrant disobedience of the COVID-19 protocols despite warnings by the government to receive the August visitor in line with the COVID-19 health directives.

Just like when the Khalifat of Tijaniyyah was committed to earth after his shocking demise, there were no visible efforts on the part of the government to rein in the excesses coming from the people.

Large crowd greets Kano Emir in Ilorin

In the view of Sulaiman AbdulKareem, “the government lacks the moral authority to do anything or preach against these excesses because same scenario played out during the burial of the governor’s father, Late AGF AbdulRazaq.”

Another commentator who prefers not to be named however differs in his opinion, saying that the government cannot go about enforcing all laws without the use of discretion.

According to him, “Discretion is very important in the case of the visitation of the Kano Emir. It is just a one-off thing. Our people are the one who are supposed to take responsibility. They were not forced to come out. They only came out on their whims. I think it is unfair to criticise the government for the recklessness of the people.”

Arrests, prosecutions have taken place – Govt

When contacted and asked if the government knew that residents still flout the face mask order and other COVID-19 protocols, Rafiu Ajakaye, Chief Press Secretary to the Governor said the government was aware and is doing every necessary thing to correct the situation.

He also commended those taking precautions, just as he urged the violators to have a rethink.

His words: “The government is aware, and is glad, that quite a number of our people are taking all the necessary precautions to protect themselves and other members of the public. The government commends them.

Chief Press Secretary, Rafiu Ajakaye

“The government is aware, on the other hand, that a segment of our population appears to be taking things for granted even when figures do not show we are out of the woods. That is not good for anyone: the government, the violators themselves, or the general public. So the government urges this category of people to have a rethink in the interest of all.”

Ajakaye also confirmed that arrests and prosecutions have taken place, while charging the security agencies to step up in the enforcement of the regulations.

“Of course, arrests were made and prosecutions took place. The government urges security agencies to step up the enforcement of the regulations within the limits allowed by the law.

“All in all, we continue to urge our people to please abide by all the safety protocols. We are all in this together and it is by playing our respective roles that we can flatten the curve of transmission of this pandemic.”

We’re doing our best to enforce the order – Police

In a chat with our reporter, Kwara State Police spokesperson, SP Ajayi Okasanmi noted that the issue of the enforcement of the compliance to the COVID-19 protocols is more of personal responsibility, stating however that the police is doing its best.

According to Okasanmi, “The government has emplaced many preventive measures to stop the spread of the novel COVID-19 pandemic, among the measures include the partial lockdown, total lockdown, curfew, enlightenment programs in form of jingles, adverts and house to house campaigns and others.

Police Public Relations Officer, SP Ajayi Okasanmi

“On the part of the police, we had at one time or the other arrested violators of the above outlined guidelines, many of them prosecuted and convicted, several vehicles, motorcycles and ‘keke’ were impounded for contravening the guidelines, yet greater number of people either pretended or actually believed there was nothing like COVID-19 or they feel they are immuned against catching the virus.

“On the issue of violation of wearing of face mask, more enlightenment is needed, and the people should take responsibility and ensure at every family unit wearing of face mask is enforced by individual family heads, our religious leaders should also make it a point of duty to always enlighten their followers.”

Corroborating Ajakaye on the arrest claim, the law enforcement officer said, “At the last count, 14 violators were arrested by a team of policemen led by the Commissioner of Police, Mr Kayode Egbetokun himself. They were charged to court under the Kwara State Disease Control Enforcement Law and were fined two thousand naira or 6 months in prison.

“The police is still doing its best to see that the people align with the government directives on the COVID-19 protocols,” he assured.

Expert speaks

Reacting to the development, Mr Sulyman Agboola, a staff member at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, made it known that the use of face mask is very important at these rare times, speaking down on people who called COVID-19 a ruse.

In his words, “Even without the advent of COVID-19, face mask is supposed to be used in our day to day activities to prevent us from contracting viruses of varied kinds. Maybe people are not aware of this. Some are aware of it but neglect the act for unknown reasons.

“It becomes necessary for everyone to use it (face mask) presently as the number of victims of the virus keeps rising, sadly people are not using it despite the order of the government that made it compulsory for everyone. People in the market places, okada riders, motorists and a lot of others shun the use of the face mask.”

Mr Agboola also said the coronavirus is very real, while he charged the government to take the enforcement of safety protocols keenly.

He said, “Government makes laws but enforcement is the main problem. If the government had been truly arresting and charging violators of the order, it would have served as deterrence to others who are planning to flout it.”

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