COVID-19: Bad news from Benin By-Pass for YIAGA, Govt

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Apart from the pains regrettably inflicted on travelers by security agencies along the Lagos –Asaba expressway, the government may consider taking the ongoing anti-COVID-19 campaign to the security officers, who behave as if they have special immunity against the virus

By Goddy Ikeh

THE Nigerian youths were among the groups that voiced their disappointment when the ministerial list of President Muhammadu Buhari was made public in 2019. The Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth, and Advancement, which is also known as YIAGA Africa, in its reaction to the list of ministers, said that the absence of young people in Buhari’s ministerial nominees list was disappointing.

The statement issued on July 24, 2019 and signed by the director of the group, Samson Itodo, said that it was disappointing that young Nigerians were omitted in the list despite their giant stride in politics and leadership roles.

“The conspicuous absence of young people under the age of 35 in the ministerial nominees read by Senate President Ahmed Lawan as sent to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari has come to us and the entire Nigerian youths as a big surprise,”

“It is indeed disappointing to see that despite the giant strides made by young people, especially in the area of politics and leadership, President Muhammadu Buhari has not seen any person below the age of 35 worthy of any ministerial position.

“Despite publicly proclaiming that young people of Nigeria are now set to leave their mark on the political space, just as they have done over the decades in entrepreneurship, sports, art, media entertainment, technology, and several other fields, we are surprised that President Muhammadu Buhari did not consider young people in his cabinet,” the statement said.

Unfortunately, not much has since been heard from YIAGA in terms of the protection of the interests of the Nigerian youths, mobilization on any crucial national issues and looking ahead of the 2023 general elections.

Perhaps, one critical issue that will surprise the group is the popular perception among the security agencies that the Nigerian youths are largely involved in internet fraud and the sins of a few are now visited on many of their members.

For instance, while the nation is moaning and battling to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus in the country and imposing lockdown on several states, some policemen are busy on the Benin By-Pass embarrassing and extorting money from some young men, who travel from the Eastern States to Lagos. Specifically, a commercial bus, which was traveling from Asaba to Lagos, was among the buses and cars stopped on Sunday, March 29 along the notorious Benin By-Pass and three young men in the bus, who are perceived as criminals, were ordered to come down with their bags and phones and taken to the police van parked beside the road.

After series of interrogations and searches conducted on their bodies, bags and phones, one of the policemen came to the bus to announce to the passengers and the driver that one of the boys was an internet fraudster. The driver then went to the police van to find out what the policemen were planning to do with the young man so that the other passengers won’t be delayed unnecessarily. The driver came back to ask if any passenger could bail the young man with N30,000 requested by the policemen and that the young man would transfer the money to the passenger since the policemen refused that the money should be transferred to any of their bank accounts.

When the appeal failed, the policemen ordered one of the motorcycle boys they use for their operation to take the young man to the spot, a few kilometres along the same road to a Point of Sale (POS) machine operator, where the transaction was executed and the young man was freed after transferring the money to the POS operator, who in turn, gave the policemen N30,000 cash before he was freed and brought back to the bus by the motorcyclist. The young man said that another young traveler in a Siena car, who was equally arrested for engaging in internet fraud, paid N50,000 to secure his freedom from the policemen.

Some of the travelers said that the Benin By-Pass is notorious for such illegal activities by the policemen, especially, the group known as SARS. They said that some traders had been made to part with large sums of money if the policemen noticed huge sums of money on their phones as balance sent to them by their banks.

Incidentally, the day this operation was going on was the same day that the the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, was warning Nigerians to be vigilant against criminal elements.  Adamu also asked the citizens to take precautionary steps against some individuals, who might explore the emergency situation created by the Covid-19 pandemic to increase and diversify their criminal activities.

These warnings were contained in a statement issued on Sunday, March 29 by the Force Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba. “The IGP’s advice is informed by intelligence at the disposal of the Force which suggests that fraud and cybercrime are expected to rise at this time owing to the lockdown emplaced by government at all levels to contain the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic.

“Intelligence obtained from the INTERPOL Headquarters shows that scammers in Nigeria and other parts of the globe have begun to create and set up fraudulent websites, e-commerce platforms, fake social media accounts and emails claiming to sell and deliver (COVID-19) medical product,” Mba said.

Despite this laudable action of the police boss, the police authorities may consider taking the campaign against the spread of coronavirus to its field officers, especially those of them who behave as if the police have special immunity against the virus at checkpoints. They may even compel some of the officers to go for the COVID-19 test to avoid spreading the virus to their colleagues and family members.

Apart from this illegal activities of this group of policemen, the Lagos –Asaba expressway is known to have over 80 checkpoints by the police, army, Federal Roads Safety Commission, FRSC, and the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS. The presence of these organisations cause a lot of pains and hardship to the travelers and the journey of less than 700km from Lagos to Asaba takes between 10 and 12 hours instead of about 6 hours.

Although the lawmakers from the South East had recently protested the presence of these organizations on this particular expressway and the way they extort money from travelers, no action has been taken to review their operation and check their nefarious activities.

Perhaps, the federal government does not recognize how these organizations are flagrantly denting their anti-corruption campaign, while the states – Ogun, Ondo, Edo and Delta appear not to bother that no foreign or local investor will take their quest for investments seriously when these organisations cause the gridlock on this road and engage in extorting money from travelers openly on daily basis in their states.

However, there is no concrete evidence that the presence of these organisations has in any way reduced the crime rates along this expressway and the governors and commissioners of police in these states should intervene and assist the Inspector General of Police to improve the security situation in the country, while the citizens await the take-off of the Community Policing programme of the government.

– Apr. 4, 2020 @ 18:45 GMT |

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