Policemen deployed in the enforcement of the ban on interstate movements and other COVID-19-related assignments have cried out over non-provision of a special allowance and face masks for them.
The policemen, who spoke to The PUNCH on Sunday on condition of anonymity because of the nature of their job, said since their deployment in state boundaries and intrastate patrol duties, no mention had been made of a special allowance despite the fact that they were at the risk of contracting COVID-19.
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), in his first broadcast on COVID-19 pandemic on March 29, ordered a lockdown in the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and Ogun states.
Although the enforcement of the lockdown is being carried out by all security agencies, the police, who are mainly responsible for the internal security of the country, have been deployed in all parts of the country to ensure compliance with the presidential order.
But some policemen have fallen victim of the deadly virus. For example, a deputy commissioner of police attached to the Zone 5 headquarters in Benin, Francis Bissong, died of COVID-19 on April 21.
On May 10, the Public Relations Officer of the Federal Medical Centre, Abeokuta, Olusegun Orisajo, said a policeman died of COVID-19 complications at the FMC.
In Edo State, police officers, who were manning the state boundaries, told The PUNCH that they had yet to get a special allowance despite the fact that they could easily be infected with the virus because they mingled with people when enforcing government’s order.
Some of them stated that they bought face masks to protect themselves from being infected with COVID-19.
A top police officer in the state, who confided in The PUNCH, stated, “Actually, we don’t have any form of protection. Doctors on duty have their own protection, but not our men. We have some face masks and hand gloves we made ourselves and others donated by one organisation. That’s all. But for the general insurance, there is no insurance or a special pay package like the one provided by the ministry of health for health personnel.
“We have our men who send those coming into the state back. Some of the people our men mingle with are already infected with COVID-19.”
In the Federal Capital Territory, The PUNCH gathered that face masks had not been provided for police personnel enforcing the interstate travel ban and the curfew in the FCT, despite the risks and exposure they faced daily in the course of interacting with members of the public.
It was also learnt that the men had not been paid any allowance for COVID-19 lockdown and curfew enforcement duties.
It was gathered that only a few senior officers were given face masks while the rank and file bought theirs.
On Sunday, it was observed that the majority of the policemen did not wear masks even as they enforced the directives on use of face masks in public by residents.
Some of them told one of our correspondents that they had to buy the masks with their own money, noting that no personal protection equipment was provided by the authorities.
A sergeant stated, “We had to buy the face masks because the command did not provide for us. We expected the command or government to provide face masks, gloves, hand sanitiser for security operatives as we face the risk of contracting coronavirus daily.”
The FCT police spokesman, Anjuguri Manzah, did not respond to calls and the SMS requesting comments on the failure of the command to issue the PPE to the police personnel.
It was, however, gathered that the force headquarters had shared face masks for officers in various departments but the number of masks provided was insufficient and many rank and file did not receive them.
One of our correspondents, however, gathered that the force headquarters had reached out to the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 on the need to provide the PPE and special allowances for policemen.
The Director of Information in the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Willie Bassey, did not respond to inquiries sent to him on Sunday.
He was asked to explain what the PTF was doing to address the complaint by the policemen that they had not received any special allowance and the PPE.
In Enugu State, The PUNCH also learnt that policemen and women enforcing interstate lockdown had not received any special allowance and the PPE.
Other security agents like the men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, it was gathered, had not been given an allowance and the PPE.
A senior police officer, who did not want his name mentioned, told one of our correspondents that they had not received any special allowance since the enforcement of the interstate ban started.
The NSCDC State Public Relations Officer, Manuel Iwuchukwu, confirmed that no special allowance was provided for the agency’s personnel on lockdown enforcement operations in the state.
He said “There is no any kind of allowance because of the pandemic. In my command, Enugu State, the management provided hand sanitisers, buckets and soap, but no special allowance.”
Efforts to get the reaction of the state Police Command failed as neither the Commissioner, Ahmad Abdurrahma nor the Public Relations Officer, Daniel Ndukwe, answered calls and replied text messages sent to their mobile phones.
In Ogun State, policemen and women, who spoke to The PUNCH on anonymity, lamented that unlike other professionals involved in the war against COVID-19, they had not been given any special allowance and face masks.
They also complained that most of them had no personal vehicles and that they were always stranded when going back home after finishing their work.
But the state police command said it was expecting funds from the police headquarters for a special allowance for its men on COVID-19 duties.
The Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Abimbola Oyeyemi, stated this in an interview with The PUNCH.
We are expecting special allowance from police high command – Ogun PPRO
When asked if there was a provision for any special allowance for police officers on COVID-19 duties, Oyeyemi said “I cannot say we have been totally forgotten. If there is going to be, the police high command will make it known to us. We are expecting.”
The PPRO, however, said the command had received some palliatives from the state government and some prominent politicians including a former governor of the state, Ibikunle Amosun.
But the Ondo State Police Command said it had done what was expected of it in terms of welfare of its officers and men on COVID-19 duties.
The command Public Relations Officer, Mr Tee-Leo Ikoro, said, “Every policeman posted for COVID-19 assignments is being given every necessary thing to work with. We have provided for every one of them.”
In Rivers, the state police command said that policemen manning the borders were always supplied with face masks, insisting that none of its men could honestly say that he was not given a face mask to protect himself from COVID-19.
The state Police Public Relations Officer, Nnamdi Omoni, explained that more face masks would be distributed to the men at the borders.
On the complaint about a special allowance, Omoni stated that the command would not be able to comment on that and referred The PUNCH to the Force Public Relations Officer in Abuja.
Nigerians await Buhari as first phase of gradual reopening of economy ends today
Meanwhile, as the first phase of the eased lockdown as directed by the Federal Government ends on Monday (today), Nigerians expect the President to make a pronouncement.
Buhari has been addressing Nigerians on efforts by the government to curtail the spread of COVID-19.
He had, on March 30, ordered a total lockdown for an initial period of 14 days in Lagos and Ogun states as well as the FCT.
Two weeks after, he ordered a 14-day extension which ended at 11.59 pm on April 27.
The President, on April 27, announced a “phased and gradual easing” of the lockdown, while declaring a nationwide curfew with effect from May 4.
On the three instances, Buhari made the positions of government known during nationwide broadcasts.
The Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, had, on May 4, said Buhari could restore the lockdown if the guidelines for gradual reopening of the economy were not observed and there was a surge in coronavirus cases.
PTF submits proposals to Buhari, says Nigeria in a marathon
The President and members of the PTF held a meeting on Sunday, preparatory to Monday’s (today) announcement of the next phase of the COVID-19 lockdown.
The Chairman of the committee and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha, led members to the meeting at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Recall that on April 27, Buhari had in a nationwide broadcast, announced the phased easing of the lockdown of the FCT, Lagos and Ogun states effective from May 4.
After the completion of two weeks, the President is expected to speak on the next phase today.
Speaking to reporters after Sunday’s meeting, Mustapha said the committee came to submit proposals to Buhari on the next phase of the lockdown.
He explained that the proposals would help him to take a decision on the next step forward.
Mustapha said, “We have supplied him with all the materials that are required to enable him to look at the issues…
“We are in for a long haul. This is a marathon and not a short-distance race, and we have to keep everything in perspective…
“Tomorrow, we should expect new processes to be put in place. That’s why we had to give him all the materials that will help us to prepare for the future.”
Mustapha declined to give specifics of what the committee proposed to Buhari, as he insisted that they were meant for Buhari to take a decision.
Asked what was Buhari’s response, the SGF replied that the President “expressed satisfaction” over the measures so far put in place and the efforts of agencies such as the NCDC.
However, Mustapha admitted that a major concern was the failure of many Nigerians to comply with COVID – 19 safety regulations, adding that some even believed that they had immunity against the infection.
He disclosed that while a recent survey indicated that “99 per cent of Nigerians were aware of COVID-19, there were those in many “percentages”, who did not believe that they could be infected.
Mustapha said the next target was how to contain community spread by making sure that communities took control of the prevention processes.
The SGF stated, “The proposals we brought to Mr President today, looking at them holistically, will prepare us for the future.
“We want the communities to take ownership of the response to COVID-19. That is what we really want to do now because we have got to the stage of community transmission.”
Buhari had on May 4, relaxed the lockdown and replaced it with a ban on interstate movements and the imposition of an 8pm to 6am curfew across the country.
Civil servants at grade level 14 and above have also resumed work to go to office on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of the week.