People across the states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) are not complying with the federal government’s directive on the use of facemasks aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19, Daily Trust reports.
President Muhammadu Buhari had last week signed -COVID-19 Health Protection Regulations 2021, as part of efforts to enhance coronavirus response.
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The guidelines showed that any person that contravenes provisions of the regulations risked a fine or a term of six months imprisonment or both in accordance with Section 5 of the Quarantine Act.
To make the directive work, Buhari directed the Nigeria Police Force, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Federal Road Safety Corps, Nigeria Immigration Service, Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, and other relevant local government, state and federal governments’ agencies to enforce the regulations.
He also warned that any officer that failed, neglected, or refused to enforce the provisions of the regulations would be subjected to disciplinary actions.
However, findings in some states and the FCT indicated that people rarely complied with the directive with experts asking governors to domesticate the laws, improve enlightenment and persuasion to halt rising cases of death and infections.
Situation in states
In Benue, our correspondent who visited markets, some churches and motor parks reports that few people wore facemasks.
Although there were notices in some offices, restaurants and parks indicating “No facemask, no entry”, there were no indication of people being turned back for not complying with the rules in some places except in a few places.
However, there was adherence to the wearing of facemask in most government offices in Makurdi metropolis.
Some of those observed to be flaunting the law said the facemask was not convenient.
Tina Nyongu, an office assistant, said the facemask was inside her bag without giving any cogent reason for not wearing it.
Ejike Samuel said he found it very difficult to breathe whenever he wore his facemask.
At the moment, the state government was yet to begin proper enforcement of the law, our correspondent reports.
In Rivers, residents of Port Harcourt and environs seem to have little regard for facemask even as they don’t maintain social distancing in public places.
In Port Harcourt, Oyigbo and Eleme, our reporter observed that people in worship centres, market and those around the streets were not wearing facemasks.
Many residents said that they were not aware of any law relating to punishment for violators of COVID-19 protocols.
“Honestly I am not aware of the law on COVID-19. I thought the pandemic is over,” said Tony, a resident of Port Harcourt.
Another resident in Oyigbo, said, “There is nothing like COVID-19 and that is the reason why I don’t wear facemask.
“Where did you see COVID-19? It is malaria, which is very common in our tropical region. I don’t believe in the virus and I will never contract it,” he said.
Governor Nyesom Wike had in December 2020, threatened to lockdown the state in January this year if residents continued to disobey COVID-19 protocols.
Millions of people in Kano have not been wearing facemask as only those on motorcycles or in government offices were seen with it.
Worried by the seeming danger, Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, on Sunday, inaugurated a team of 2000-man COVID-19 marshals in the state.
Ganduje said violators of the protocols will have to face the consequences of the law.
Our correspondent reports that most people keep the facemask in their pockets or bags; and only use it while accessing public places such as banks, schools, shopping malls and other government places.
A tricycle rider, Kabiru Umar, who was not wearing the facemask, told our reporter that he only wears it when he was forced to do so.
Aisha Muhammad, who came to Kano from Kaduna, said she was used to wearing facemask.
“I am already used to wearing facemask. If not for corona, one has to use it to protect himself against the dust but I believe corona is real and people should be careful,” she said.
With the deployment of the COVID-19 marshals, some facemask sellers said they noticed increased patronage in Kano metropolis on Monday.
In Lagos, people interviewed said they were aware of the presidential order, which provided fine or six months imprisonment for violators.
A passenger in a bus heading to Oshodi, who gave his name as Akeem Arowolo, told our reporter that he finds it difficult to breathe under facemask and that he was not even aware of the existence of a new law.
“I am a carpenter and I sweat a lot while doing my work, wearing facemask while at work or while going out to buy materials constitute a nuisance to me.
“I think what I will do is to get a face shield, which I think is better for me,” he said.
At Agege market, many people were seen wearing their facemask properly.
However, there were some traders who had it under their chin, some in their pockets while some held it in their hands. Majority of the people who were not wearing theirs complained of discomfort.
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu had in line with the presidential COVID-19 order directed that no gathering of more than 50 persons shall hold in an enclosed space, except for religious purposes, in which case the gathering should not exceed 50 per cent capacity of the space.
The Edo State Government also yesterday raised the alarm that they were facing a more violent strain.
The State COVID-19 Incident Manager, Dr Andrew Obi, said, “Comparing the first nine weeks of the first wave and that of the second wave, we have a difference of 907 more cases, which is over 400 per cent increase in confirmed cases.
“Edo, in the last 72 hours, recorded 73 new confirmed cases, 3 deaths and 46 recoveries from the coronavirus disease, with 609 active cases,” he said.
A Mobile Court sitting in Benin City presided over by Chief Magistrate Bright Eraze Oniha, yesterday, convicted 19 persons for violating the government’s directives on compulsory use of facemasks and restriction of movement between 10 pm and 5 am.
After they pleaded guilty to the offence and begged for leniency, the court convicted the 19 persons to three hours of community service within the premises of the Edo State High Court with the option to pay a fine of N2, 000.
Noncompliance of COVID-19 protocol was also noticed in Katsina, Plateau, Borno, Gombe, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa and others.
Despite court order, Wuse Market still opened, 100 people convicted
Our correspondents report that security operatives including National Correctional Service (NCS), FCT Directorate of Road Traffic Services (DRTS), army, civil defence, Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB), among others, on Monday arrested scores of COVID-19 violators in Abuja.
The operatives were seen around the Federal Secretariat and National Assembly, Wuse, Maitama, and Berger.
In the process of enforcing compliance, a mobile court ordered the shutting down of Wuse Market, UTC Market and the Murg Shopping Plaza for violating the COVID-19 protocols.
When our reporters visited Wuse Market around 4 pm, people were going about their businesses normally with partial compliance to the protocols.
Some people were seen wearing facemasks, though loosely; while some weren’t.
A market official, who doesn’t want his name in print, however, said the market was not shutdown contrary to what had been widely reported.
The court also convicted about 100 persons who were arrested by the COVID-19 enforcement team for not wearing facemasks in public places.
The court presided by Magistrate Idayat Akanni fined the violators N2, 000 each, with an option of 2 weeks community service.
She also explained that the convicts were given lesser penalties because they were first offenders.
Speaking with the media after the court ruling, the Head, Media and Enlightenment of FCTA COVID-19 Enforcement Team, Ihkaro Attah, said the disregard for the safety protocols in the markets was such that no responsible government would pretend not to see.
He said the court order warranting the shutting down of the markets could only be vacated when the management of the facilities complied with the regulations.
A resident of Jabi, Peter Ndichim Oche, said the government had not carried enough enlightenment especially for people working in motor parks and markets.
We’re working on ensuring compliance
Speaking on the implementation of the new guidelines and the fines, the National Incident Manager (NIM) of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Dr Mukhtar Muhammad said they were with the state governments to set up taskforces that would monitor public places and ensure compliance.
He said people found wanting would be prosecuted.
“We are also sensitising all our security agencies to live up to expectations of what Mr President has endorsed.”
Muhammad wondered why people were conducting their businesses without wearing facemasks.
He said, “I just came out of a market now in Abuja, out of 10 people, you hardly find one person wearing a facemask.
“So, why won’t the virus spread? People mingle anyhow, you have large gatherings, see our buses packed and carrying people with no facemasks, why won’t the infection go round?
“We don’t have to have a new strain for the rising cases.”
Use persuasion – Expert
A renowned virologist and immediate past President of the Nigerian Academy of Sciences, Professor Oyewale Tomori said the federal government should use persuasion not regulations for people to adhere to the COVID-19 safety measures.
He said, “Whenever we have a crisis, it has been resolved through persuasion and not through regulations, which we have a mutual agreement to deregulate.
“Take the boycott of polio vaccines in 2003 in some parts of Nigeria. It is a case in point, it took persuasion and working with the community and their accepted leaders at the ward, community and town levels.
“With COVID-19, we failed to fully and properly engage the individuals at family and community levels and now we want to ram regulations down their nose and mouth instead of persuading them to cover with masks.”
He said the government had already applied measures that have failed.
“Now we must shift the focus to the people. After all COVID-19 virus is made mobile by the people and it kills people, not the government.
“Now the government must go back to appeal and appease the people for past errors on this matter.”
As of January 31, 2021, Nigeria has recorded 131,242 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 104,989 discharged and 1,586 deaths.
However, only 1, 302,410 samples have been tested out the 200 million population, meaning less than 1 per cent of the population has been tested.
From Hope A. Emmanuel (Makurdi), Victor Edozie (Port Harcourt), Zahraddeen Y. Shuaibu (Kano), Abbas Jimoh, Terkula Igidi, Dalhatu M. Liman, Ojoma Akoh, Olayemi John-Mensah & Deborah I. Izuegbunem (Abuja)