Covid-19 palliatives and soaring crime rate amidst lockdown

Despite the stay-at-home order by President Muhammadu Buhari aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos and Ogun states, that had recorded the highest cases crime rate appears to have soared amidst lockdown, ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU writes.

Coronavirus (COVID -19) was first detected in Nigeria in February setting the stage for unexpected developments culminating in the stay-at-home order by the federal government following increasing cases.

However, the order by the federal government was resisted by a session of Nigerians basically because most citizens survive on daily incomes which would be cut off with the lockdown order.

Given the wide spread poverty in the country, with many living way below accepted standard, President Buhari’s directed that palliatives should be given to the less privileged to cushion the effect of the lockdown was received with cheer.

The palliative is basically to assist those who can’t earn a living during the period and those who had no means of livelihood even prior to the lockdown to ensure compliance and avoid a breakdown of law and order.

Regrettably, the palliative appear not to have reached the people that are most in need, notwithstanding the fact that Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), individuals and groups are complimenting government efforts.

This is as speculations are rife in the both conventional and new media regarding the handling of the federal government palliatives.

Sadly, some Nigerians are now taking advantage of the situation to break into and loot shops as well as robbing houses especially in Lagos, Ogun, and the FCT.

Lagos, Ogun scenario

In the first 14 days, residents of some communities in Ogun and Lagos have lost sleep over robberies by hoodlums, who have reportedly seized the opportunity provided by the lockdown to unleash terror on residents.

In Ogun state, residents of Owode, Ilepa, Ifo, Arigbajo, Itori, Dalemo, Ijoko, Ogba Ayo, Mosa, Joju, Sango, Ota, Oniyale among other communities in Ifo and Ado-Odo Ota local government areas continue to bemoan how armed hoodlums have been dispossessing them of their valuables during the  day and at night.

Last Saturday, as it is fast becoming a daily occurrence, there were incidents in FESTAC Town, Jankara, and Ifako-Ijaiye areas of Lagos state as hoodlums besieged the densely populated areas robbing residents and looting shops closed by their owners in compliance with the lockdown order.

Similarly, it was also reported in some national dailies that a gang led by an ex-convict identified simply as Felix aka Confidence, had sacked a police checkpoint in Dalemo, Ogun state, robbing road users and robbed residents.

…FCT no different

Similarly, in the FCT there have been cases of attacks by armed robbers and hoodlums attacking moving vehicles. In Nyanya, a border community between Abuja and Nasarawa state, our correspondent gathered that armed robbers attacked an estate and made away with the residents valuables without intervention from the security operatives despite repeated calls for help by some residents.

In Jikowyi, another suburb of Abuja, some common criminals have been attacking households to steal foodstuff and other valuables.

Living in fear of COVID-19, criminals

A resident of Lagos state and the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN) Vice President, South-west, Comrade Amosun Kazeem, told Blueprint Weekend that most residents of Lagos are living in fear of not only the coronavirus but also of the criminals that are now taking advantage of the lockdown to perpetrate their evil acts with without intervention from the security agencies.

He said in a telephone chat with our correspondent, “With this lockdown, Lagos is no longer safe. We can no longer sleep with our two eyes closed. We now leave in fear.

“Before the lockdown people hustle to survive but the lockdown caused by the outbreak of this pandemic has distorted our live style. Those who use to hustle can longer hustle to earn a living so they have resulted into stealing. “Some days ago, some people we believe are area boys and other hoodlums in their numbers went around in broad daylight to dispossessed people of their valuables including foodstuff.

The NYCN vice president continued, “They go to shops, break into them and loot whatever they find. They also visited people in their houses and also made away with their valuables.”

According to hm, “Fortunately, the police made some arrests and they have now increased their presence in most parts of Lagos. However, this is not enough as the security personnel cannot be everywhere at every time.

“What must communities do here in Lagos to engage the services of vigilante groups, Odua People’s Congress (OPC) and in some cases the residents also stay awake to protect their neighbourhood and loved ones.

“Even though I agree with Mr President that this lockdown is essential to get rid of this pandemic there is urgent need for the federal government and state government to come up with well coordinated palliatives for the less privilege to cushion the effect the lockdown is having on them. If these palliatives reach these people I am sure some of these boys will stop terrorising us.”

Police vows to deal with violators

In a bid to discourage attacks on law abiding citizens under the guise of COVID-19 lockdown the Inspector General of Police, IGP Muhammed Adamu, had vowed to deal with the criminals violating the lockdown.

Speaking during a briefing by the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19, Tuesday in Abuja, the Police boss said: “I hereby sound a note of warning to criminals going from place to place to desist from doing such.

“Personnel were deployed to Lagos and Ogun states and the FCT to ensure that the directives of Mr President on the prevention of movement of persons not on essential duties are adhere to.

“The police personnel were deployed to vulnerable points, such as residential areas, markets, shopping malls, banks and other critical infrastructure to make sure they are not vandalised or attacked.”

According to him, “Due to the series of complaints received from Lagos and Ogun axis on the activities of some hoodlums who came out to be attack innocent citizens and deprive them of their property we have deployed an intervention force to Lagos and Ogun led by Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) to deal with the situation.

“To ensure that the policemen we have deployed adhere strictly to the code of conduct and respect for the rights of Nigerians we are embarking on sensitisation programmes both on social media and in the traditional media.

“We will continue to provide escort for medical personnel and relief materials. Now we want to again sound a note of warning to criminals that are using the opportunity of this lockdown to go from one place to another, especially in Lagos mainland and any part of this country to desist from doing that.

“We have instructed all the commissioners of police, the AIG’s on charge of zonal commands to deploy all the resources available to them to make sure that criminals are not allowed to take the opportunity of the lockdown to perpetrate their crimes.”

FG assures on palliatives

On his part, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, who is also the Chairman of the Presidential Taskforce (PTF) on COVID-19 has assured that corresponding action would be put in place to arrest the situation and ensure palliatives get to those who need it most.

Speaking during a nation-wide briefing by the PTF, Mustapha said, “We spoke with the Lagos and Ogun state governors and they informed us that they have been holding their security meetings. And you all know that every governor is the Chief Security Officer of his state and if they can’t deal with it the situation it will escalate to national.

“Traditionally, there are some flash points in some states and the law enforcement agencies have mapped out these flash points for decisive action.”

The SGF also assured Nigerians that it was the responsibility of government to cater for their welfare, their security and safety, even as he assured that government would not abdicate this responsibility.

“I know that Mr President his resolved and he will keep faith with that. And whatever happens he will not allowed Nigerians to be subjected to this kind of treatment.

“We are all in a difficult moment, fighting an enemy that is unseen and unknown, that attack our wealth and health. I think Nigeria will not want another enemy wanting to intrude into their affairs.

“So, I believe that we will be decisive in dealing with this situation in different states base on the security prescription of those areas and the analysis that we will carried out. Corresponding actions will be put in place,” he assured.

The way out

For a public affairs analyst Abdullahi Abubakar, there was need for the states and federal government to roll out genuine relief materials to prevent further breakdown of law and order.

Abubakar in a phone interview with Blueprint Weekend stated, “We know that COVID -19 is real, but there is hunger in the land. If we shut down Lagos, Ogun, and Abuja, then we must try everything possible to make food available to the less privilege.

“You see, if we must make progress in the fight against the COVID-19, we must try our best to obey this stay at home order.

“You know the fear of most of these developed country that are evacuating their citizens is that because of the rate of poverty in Nigeria it will difficult to ask people to stay at home for weeks and if they do, the effect and pressure will likely lead to increase in crime rate, because there will limited and expensive resources.”

Speaking further he said: “Now for the federal government and even the state government to achieve its stay-at-home objective they must ensure that adequate measures are put in place for those that will find it difficult to feed under this condition.

“Yes, I agreed with you that the federal and state governments have put plans in place to ensure that the less privilege are well taken care of, but are they effectively distributed?

“We thank the government for directing that the register should be expanded but beyond the expansion there is need for the officers in charge to be transparent and ensure that the palliatives get to the deserving members of the society.

“Aside this, the federal government can also employ the services of some people that will cook on daily basis and serve people at some of these places that we know the less privileged leave, they can do this without compromising the social or physical distance directive.”

He further stated that, “On the part of the state government, some of them have rolled out palliative but in most cases they are using political party structures. This is not a time to play politics, for the safety of all let the palliative get to deserving members irrespective of political party.

“This is also a time for us to be our brother’s keeper. Share what you have your neighbour that has none. Feed your gateman, if you are blessed you can also help those around you. Government cannot do this all alone.

“I strongly believe that if the state and federal government give rational relief material and they are sincere in the disbursements the people will obey the stay-at-home order and this will consequently help to curtail the spread of COVID-19.

“Also, with the support of other members of the community and heavy presence of our security personnel the insecurity amidst this lockdown will reduce.”

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