Maintaining law and order in an unconventional situation as the one that Covid19 poses for Nigerian Police and the society at large requires oneness, vigilance, and decency. This is why the Commissioner of Police in Lagos, Hakeem Odumosu, PSC has named the task ‘Persuasive Enforcement’. The Police cannot do it alone, thus it extends hands of fellowship to Nigerians to be patriotic enough so that the war against Covid-19 will be won with minimal casualties. In this special interview granted to delegates of the leadership of the National Association of Online Security Reporters, NAOSRE, during a courtesy visit to the Police Command’s Public Relations Officer, DSP Bala Elkana, he spoke extensively on the steps that the Lagos Command is putting up to ensure safety for all law-abiding citizens
What are the measures you have put in place as a Command to ensure that Covid19 does not spread?
It is something new to all of us even from the law enforcement angle. None of our generation has witnessed this in the past. Enforcing the order is not like the conventional law enforcement where we deal with armed robbery, kidnapping etc. This is a virus we are fighting, we have to try to educate our men to enforce this order with compassion and with human face which is why the Commissioner of Police has tagged it ‘persuasive enforcement’. We have deployed our resources to all the boundary communities, all the 14 points that we have identified that border Ogun and Lagos has been manned to ensure that ban on non-essential interstate travel is enforced. Within the town also those who are exempted during the lockdown period are allowed to go out to conduct their essential services. Those not exempted are stopped while those apprehended are charged to court.
Now that we are in the second phase, which is gradual easing of lockdown in Lagos as pronounced by the President, we have restriction of movement from 8pm to 6am. We have our deployment all over to make sure that the curfew is obeyed and to a large extent, we have gotten a lot of compliance from Lagosians because at this stage, quite a number of people accept that we are all at war against a virus and everyone must take personal responsibility in combating this virus and stopping the further spread of the virus. Definitely the compliance we have now is higher than what we had in the first week of the lockdown. Because then, most people don’t even understand what we are doing. The assumption from the onset was this virus is for the rich not the poor until they see even their neighbor testing positive for the virus for them to see that this is real and then the compliance is high.
What do you have to say about people who are trekking across the border into Lagos?
The challenge is there are free days that vehicles were allowed to move in Ogun state during the lockdown. So when vehicles stop them at the boundary, they drop and cross to Lagos with their legs. But now that we are on the same page, we are working closely with Ogun that even those vehicles should not even get to the border communities which has given us improvement now because we have deployment from both Ogun and Lagos to stop movement. One difficult aspect again is many who work in Lagos but live in Ogun are also essential service providers, for example, I have some of my men here who live in Ogun. If you say ‘don’t move, then they cannot come to work’. But those who are on nonessential service, we stop them and that’s why you will see the massive arrests we have made and the vehicles impounded.
Some also think they are smart especially the trailers. They are allowed to bring food during the period but not carry more than 7 persons. They hide more people under the items because they think we will not check. With our thorough check, the last one we got 42 persons from one trailer. We got them arrested and sent the trailer back not to enter our jurisdiction. When they saw our idea, they changed to dropping the passengers at a distant place who now walk through the border communities to join the trailer in front after it has been cleared. We have discovered that too. We have told traditional rulers and community leaders not to allow people like this use their community as passage and this collaborative effort is working.
What warning are you sending to those who think they can outsmart the Police?
First, the law is no respecter of persons. Second is law enforcement agents are a step ahead of anyone who think they are smart in lawbreaking. We had 208 travelers arrested recently so it is not just the drivers but the passengers too because the law says no interstate travel for non-essential purposes. We will keep taking them to court to face the full wroth of the law.
How is your Command helping to protect your officers so they don’t get infected?
That’s an aspect of our job that many don’t understand. When everyone is moving from danger, we run to danger so that everyone can be saved. But Covid19 has no respect for uniform, job, age, color or your personality. Every single policeman on the road is vulnerable but if we decide to stay at home, definitely nobody will enforce the law. So what we did from day one is to put in place safety measures that will minimize exposure. We first educate them, they understood the importance of social distance when talking to people and checking vehicles, and the use of face masks. Then we provided water and soap so they can wash their hands regularly. And we gave sanitizers to each to carry so that after every encounter with people or touching something, they can sanitize their hands quickly and that has helped to minimize the number of policemen exposed to the virus.
Your message to Nigerians?
We must accept the reality that we are in a difficult moment. Life is not the same and I am sure it will be same in the near future. This virus has redefined the way we live and interact. We must accept the reality. We should minimize contacts, the virus doesn’t move, humans move the virus. We must take personal responsibility that we are at war. We are at war with a virus and no soldier goes to the war and become careless, otherwise, he would be killed by the enemy. If you refuse to observe the guidelines given by the experts, you may end up a casualty. We must together defeat this virus. Everybody must play his part.