COVID-19: Ogun residents recount border closure dilemma
The last two weeks have been hellish for residents of Ogun State, who are working in neighbouring Lagos State as they have been forced to endure untold pains and agony due to the state’s closure of its borders.
Ogun State, a fortnight ago, announced the closure of its borders with neighbouring states, as well as its international border with Benin Republic, in the wake of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), to curtail spread of the virus.
“As a result, movement in and out of the state is banned as a further measure to contain the Coronavirus pandemic. The position of Ogun State is peculiar. It not only shares an international border with the Republic of Benin, it does so with all other states in the Southwest (except Ekiti), including Lagos State, which has understandably recorded the highest number of infections in the country, largely because it hosts the busiest air and sea ports, and it’s the nation’s economic capital,” the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Kunle Somorin, said in a statement.
Even though the closure came into effect midnight of Sunday, March 29, 2020, the residents started bearing the brunt on Monday, May 4, 2020, when the Federal Government relaxed its lockdown and replaced it with a night curfew.
The Lagos State government may have drastically scaled down the number of civil servants to resume work, but artisans, traders, bankers, and market women, as well as essential workers who operate work in the country’s commercial capital have continued to struggle to cross over to the state from Ogun State.
The Guardian’s visit to some border points last Wednesday revealed the stress that the affected residents encounter daily as they strive to make ends meet.
At the old tollgate in Sango, on the Lagos-Abeokuta Express Road, barricades were mounted across the road, leaving only a section of the road open for vehicular traffic. The long queue of heavy-duty vehicles and a number of cars, forced commercial buses to drop their passengers mid way, where they have to trek hundreds of metres to the Lagos section of the road.
While motorists and pedestrians have their way in the day, the story is different at night, as most motorists, including essential workers have to seek alternative routes to get back home. Some are forced to abandon their vehicles at the barricades erected by security operatives.
The situation is similar at the Odo boundary via Ikola. Lorry drivers and heavy-duty vehicles, who took advantage of the lockdown relaxation days were denied entry into Lagos State by security personnel mounting barricades at the border.
As a result of this, the area has been turned into a mini motor park, as mini buses popularly called Korope, tricycles and even commercial motorcycles are making brisk money. Passengers dropped at the boundary resort to them to get to their final destinations, which are as far as Idimu, Ikotun, Command, Ipaja, Ayobo, Agbado Kollington and other areas.
At the Berger end, on the Lagos-Ibadan Express Road, the scenario is almost the same with the only difference being that, while security agents around Sango appear to be a bit lenient with essential workers, their colleagues at the Berger end subject motorists, including journalists to unpleasant experiences.
However, one thing that is common is the fact the security agents are using the opportunity to extort motorists.
A banker, Mr. Adebola Oluwunmi, told The Guardian that his experience since the lockdown was eased has been very unpleasant.
“I live in Singer area of Sango, and I work at the branch of a new generation bank in Anthony, in Lagos. Even though we close by 3pm, and I usually leave office between 4pm to 4.30pm, but due to the rush by everyone to beat the 8pm curfew, the traffic snarl begins to build long before one even gets to the tollgate.
“That notwithstanding, the major challenges that I always encounter is alighting from one bus, trekking through the boundary in search of another vehicle to convey me home. Most times, the fare is three times higher. In addition to this, security personnel enforcing strict compliance with the curfew are always on hand to harass even those that are on essential duty.”
A journalist with one of the national dailies, residing in Dalemo Estate, Sango, Lanre Oladeji, claimed that long before the lockdown he had been encountering issues passing through the boundary, and he even gets turned back whenever he gets there late.
He said: “I was speechless and helpless the first day I encountered that challenge at the old tollgate because I didn’t know what to do at about 10pm. Despite my house being just a three-minute drive from the border point, I was forced to drive back to Kollignton to connect Command Road to link up with Sango.
“There, I met another barricade where I was told I could not go past. It was when I showed them my pass that I was led through a short-cut to connect Sango. I didn’t only waste time; I wasted my fuel and energy as I got home around 11:00pm.”
Madam Abike Oluronke, a trader at Ile-Epo market, said she goes through gruelling times while making her way to and from the market.
According to her, apart from the long distance, which she treks before getting on a bus, she now spends N1, 800 for transportation daily as against N600 to N700 before the pandemic broke out.”
A commuter bus driver, Uchendu Lawrence said what should have been strict enforcement of the border closure is compromised by security agents, who are using it to extort members of the public.
“What most people do, especially the rich is to engage police officers to travel with them. With that, they can pass through any boundary without any one trying to stop them. As good as the decision to close the border is, the issue of extortion and favouritism on the part of the police will not work towards achieving the expected objectives.”