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Inter-state transport ban rattling Nigeria’s economy

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… Manufacturers, transporters lament

THE ban on inter-state movement has been one of the veritable methods adopted to curtail the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Nigeria; albeit, not without bequeathing a devastating blow on the national economy.

  Though ideal and efficacious in limiting the spread of the dreaded pandemic, the embargo in inter- state transportation has exposed many categories of business persons, especially the manufacturers, exporters and long distance bus operators to untold economic hardships.

  Recall that the ban was extended by President Muhammadu Buhari after the expiration of the duration of his initial broadcast to the nation when he declared a lockdown in Lagos, Ogun and Abuja, with essential services being the only exemption.

  Rising from a meeting held recently on the excruciating effects of the ban on interstate transport, the Director General of Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Dr. Yusuf Muda lamented that some members have complained bitterly after having their export businesses crippled by the current inter-state ban.

The LCCI boss emphasised that export cargoes were critical to the nation’s economy given the prevailing challenges with foreign exchange and dwindling global crude oil price which is the nation’s major source of forex.

 “Export cargoes are very critical now, however, with the lockdown; I have heard a lot of our members complaining about the inter-state ban. Some of these goods have even gone bad because they can’t have access to convenient storage facilities. We are just hoping that the lockdown eases and this inter-state lockdown is relaxed so we don’t create more problems for exporters and other business persons who require such movement”, Yusuf said.

  According to him, the inter-state ban will see the nation’s economy plunge into further economic crisis with huge losses across various sectors.

  For the transport sector, COVID-19 and the consequent inter-state ban will be an ‘August visitor’ that wouldn’t be remembered for good.

  The total ban on inter-state movement has been projected to lead to the collapse of transportation businesses in the country except the federal government quickly intervenes with some kind of grants.

  In fact, some experts posit that it will be very difficult, if not impossible, for inter-state transporters, whose thousands of buses have been ‘locked down’ for nearly two months, to recover without any form of help from the government.

  Chairman and CEO of Bonnyway Motors Ltd, Chief Boniface Nwachukwu told National Light in Lagos that no sooner he bought a luxurious bus which cost was put at N106million than the nation was locked down due to the outbreak of the pandemic. He said over 200 workers in his transport company are now lying idle, yet, they must be paid at the end of the month because they have families.

  There is fear that with the continuous ban on inter-state transport, massive job losses could emerge as inter-state transporters ponder ways to cut down cost after being out of business for a long period. Subsequently, the economy is billed to record rise in unemployment and drop in investment, as unpaid loans with huge interests would affect the finance sector.

  In the maritime sector, for over one month, cargo haulage crisis erupted in Port Harcourt caused by the ban. Shippers with consignments which arrived the Port Harcourt Port were unable to move the goods to other states.

   It took the timely intervention of Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) and the Presidential Taskforce for the Control of COVID-19 in Nigeria, to get the governor of Rivers State, Nyesome Wike to reopen the land borders in the state.

  Despite the lockdown, the seaport in Port Harcourt remained open and operational with several manufacturers’ goods and other essential goods coming in. However, they were unable to get to the final destination outside the state as a result of the cessation of movement.

  The Chairman, Bayelsa and Rivers Shippers Association, Mr. Ofon Udofia told our correspondent that shippers have been unable to get their goods out of Rivers State.

  Udofia urged the Rivers State Government to create a window that would allow shippers convey their goods to the various destinations after proper checks by the relevant health personnel.

   For essential commodities, government excluded food items from the ban which can go through to other states. Exporters and dealers in perishable items have been faced with different challenges at state borders.

  Truck drivers spend between two to three days queuing at state borders before they are cleared by the security operatives. This delay exposes perishable items like tomatoes, pepper, watermelon, onions, and potatoes, among others.

  The Ministerial Taskforce set up by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) to enforce restrictions placed on residents to curb the spread of COVID-19 has arrested 68 travelers passing through the territory to and fro different parts of the country.

  According to the Chairman of the TaskForce Team, Mr. Ikharo Attah, the travellers were hidden in two trucks and another truck conveying fertilizers from Edo State. They were arraigned before Magistrate Ebiwari Damini at the Zuba Mobile Court.

  He said the magistrate convicted Abdul Sani and Mukhtar Usman, both truck drivers, among others. They were fined N5, 000 each and ordered that the people be guided out of the FCT and allowed to return to their initial departure points.

  Attah, who led the operation to turn back the trucks decried the high violations of the interstate travel imposed by President Buhari as part of measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

  “Most of the drivers often ask the passengers to sit on the floor or hide in between bags so that they cannot be spotted by security personnel, but for us in the FCT, we check every truck before allowing them passage,” he said.

  The breakdown of those arrested, include 17 persons travelling from Zaria to Lokoja and Asaba in Delta State, 16 persons travelling from Kano to Lokoja and Obajana in Kogi State and 25 persons traveling from Edo State to Zaria in Kaduna State.

  Last week, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Edo Command apprehended 200 persons, who tried to sneak into the state despite the federal government restriction on interstate movement.

 The commandant of the corps in the state, Mr. Makinde Ayinla, disclosed this even as he stressed that the violators were denied access to the state and turned back to wherever they were coming from.

   Ayinla decried the attitude of people that flout the restriction order meant to contain the spread of the COVID-19 in the state.

  “It is disheartening because vehicles with food and agricultural produce that were permitted to move into states were being used by some persons to sneak into the state,” Ayinla said, while he appealed to residents to adhere strictly to measures put in place by both the federal and state government in curtailing the spread of the pandemic in the country.

  Despite the challenges facing businesses, President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, emphasised the need for security agencies to ensure a total enforcement of the federal government’s ban on interstate travels to curtail the spread of COVID-19.

  Lawan made the call in his remarks sequel to the consideration of a motion on the “Need to Enforce Presidential Order Banning Interstate Movement”, sponsored by Senator Ike Ekweremadu (PDP- Enugu West).

  “There is need for total enforcement on the ban on interstate travels. Apparently, there is so much breach, and it appears like our security agencies who are supposed to enforce this, in most cases appear to look helpless. They need to sit up,” Lawan said.

“This is a very serious health challenge to our country, but beyond interstate, even the observance of social distancing, hygiene and other protocols sometimes suffer inside the states.

  “I think it is very important that citizens do this because it is for our sake. Government cannot be without citizens, and it is important at this point that we do this for our sake and that of our family members,” the Senate President appealed.

Earlier, sponsor of the motion, Senator Ike Ekweremadu lamented the spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in the country, which according to him, stands at 4,641 cases and 150 deaths.

  The lawmaker raised alarm that confirmed daily cases of the novel disease by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) are now in hundreds.

   He recalled that President Buhari while relying on advisories by relevant authorities and powers conferred on him by Section 3 of the Quarantine Act, CAP Q2 Laws of the Federation 2004, issued the proclamation order for the ban on non-essential interstate passenger travels until further notice.

  According to him, “the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 has raised alarm over what it described as increased level of interstate movement, worsened by the dubious concealment of people in food-carrying vehicles.”

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