In spite of the spike in COVID-19 infection in the country, there is laxity on the streets of Asaba, the Delta state capital. On the ever-busy Nnebisi Road Asaba, residents can be seen going about their normal businesses. Church services have resumed, relaxation centres have opened up for businesses and other forms of social gathering have all commenced. The social distancing and face mask-wearing measures introduced by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to control the spread of the infection are not being strictly adhered to.
In the early days of the lockdown in Delta, the state government had through radio jingles and other public service advertorials sensitised Deltans on the need for strict compliance to NCDC guidelines to avoid community transmission of the virus. To that effect, monitoring teams and compliance task force were established to enforce compliance with the guidelines.
However, these monitoring teams have converted their mandate into money-making ventures. On the Asaba/Onitsha express road, which has been experiencing serious gridlock occasioned by the inter-state border closure, this reporter noticed several checkpoints manned by both uniformed personnel and officials of the Delta State COVID-19 task force who regularly extorted motorists. Here again, the personnel paid less attention to whether drivers and passengers were observing the rules of using the face mask and maintaining social distance in their sitting arrangements.
According to a driver who gave his name as Felix on the Asaba/Onitsha route, “Even when we comply, they [the officials] demand money to allow us to pass. When we don’t comply, it’s still money they demand. So we choose to give them money to avoid their harassment and delay,” said Felix
The passengers are now made to bear the exorbitant cost of a trans fare to Onitsha. “We pay up to a thousand Naira to get to Onitsha from Asaba ― a distance not exceeding three kilometres,” a passenger revealed to me.
Elsewhere in the town, many residents could be seen walking about with their face masks under their chin with many not even wearing at all. Two residents, Papa Ada and Iweka on the streets of Asaba said they could swear that there was no COVID-19 in the country, that it was purely made up to fleece Nigerians. When it was pointed out to them that there have been recorded deaths in the country as a result of the pandemic, Papa Ada quickly interjected that it was common malaria that got those people and not COVID-19.
All around the town of Asaba, there is a growing nonchalance regarding the severity of the infection with many residents murmuring that the government should remove the “unnecessary” strict measures it is imposing, which they say are making life quite difficult.
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