COVID-19 border closure, Peace Corps Of Nigeria and my unscheduled visit to C’River/Benue Border
By Onyilo Peters (SA to Cross River State Governor on New Media)
Over the past few weeks since the Cross River State Governor, Sir Ben Ayade ordered the closure of all the entry points into the state, the cyberspace have been inundated with reports alleging that most enforcement officers collect money from motorists who are not on essential duties or conveying essential commodities to allow them into the state.
This allegation has been gathering momentum especially with the news of some people who entered the state from Kano recently and other worst COVID-19 hit states showing some symptoms of the virus.
The decision of the Governor to order the withdrawal of all appointees who were enforcement officers from the borders and directed the Peace Corps of Nigeria, Cross River State Command to take charge of the Benue in Gakem, Bekwarra local government area of the state and two days ago Tsav, Vandiekya, also another entry point from Benue to the State is not unconnected to this allegation.
With this change of barton between appointees and the Peace Corps of Nigeria, one would expected that the rumour about compromise would have stopped but it never did. To get first hand information for myself, I decided to pay an unscheduled visit to the Gakem border to see things for myself.
At about 10:43Pm yesterday, I disguised as a commercial driver who was trying to go out of the state to understudy the activities at the border. As I go there, I waited in the queue for a few minutes then stepped down pretending to be looking for how those who have been stopped from entering can be cleared to allow those of us leaving to go as the Governor has said the state is practicing lock-in not lock-out.
As I got to where the heavy duty vehicles were packed, to my greatest bewilderment, I saw the State Commandant of the Corps, Patriot Okweche Dominic enforcing the order himself. I saw him moving from vehicle to vehicle assessing contents to ensure that only vehicles conveying essential commodities with their drivers well kitted with their mask were allowed entry after sanitising their hands.
For almost 20 minutes, he didn’t see or recognised me. While I was watching, I saw a patriotic Cross Riverian who was taking the work very personal with so much commitment. While he was doing the assessment, he was also warning his boys not to compromise standard. At some point I couldn’t hide again I approached him and he was so excited to have me around. At this point, I took out my camera and started recording him in appreciation of what I saw.
Wait, I also noticed something unpleasant things.
Although, I saw patriotism and professionalism on the part of Peace Corps, some Police officers and Vegelante who were mounting the second blockage showed very high level of unprofessionalism which I considered a sharp contrast to what I saw from the other side.
Once Peace Corps officers clear and pass drivers from the first checkpoint, the Police and Vegelante officers were seen demanding money from them before allowing them cross the second one. One of them who stood just beside me and assumed I was a driver was heard shouting, “bring the thing” and the dirver asked, what? He said “the money”.
They also commisioned some civilians who were not in uniform to collect money for them. At some point, there was a mild clash between Peace Corps officers and Police/Vegelante because the Peace Corps people insisted that motorists should not be charged anything to be allowed into the state. Thank God the Commandant who enjoys respect from all was on ground to calm the situation.
I’ve the clash as well as the confession of one of the civilians detailed to collect illegal monies from motorists for Police on Camera but because the Sergeant in charge pleaded guilty and promised to make amends, I promised him I was not going to send the video to public domain.
The summary of my experience is that while some persons at the border were seen clearly compromising, others particularly the Peace Corps were modest, professional and patriotic.
Like I told the Policemen yesterday, we all need to take responsibility and act responsibly to conquer the pandemic. The virus is no respecter of guns or scary uniforms. Government alone can’t do it all. All hands must be on deck to ensure that we also stay safe and healthy before even thinking of making this money.
Kudos to our health workers, the Peace Corps and all those working tirelessly to ensure that this ravaging pandemic is defeated.
Together, we shall win.