COVID-19: Taskforce accused of extortion as Bayelsa begins enforcement of face mask use

The compulsory use of face mask by residents of Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital on Monday, took off among persons visiting public places, banks, supermarkets, markets.

Newspot learned that the new order compelling the compulsory use of masks is part of the state government’s caution after the increase in the rate of COVID 19 in the state.

Many residents including children were seen wearing face masks while on the street and in commercial transports.

Newspot visited some parts of the state capital and witnessed some members of the state COVID-19 task force and security agencies monitoring and enforcing the state government’s order.

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Some residents who spoke to Newspot alleged that some members of the state Task Force and policemen have resorted to extorting sums of money ranging from N1,000 to N2,000 from those apprehended without the use of face masks.

One Timi, a security guard attached to the Bayelsa Council of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), was apprehended few meters from his duty post by police personnel attached to Ekeki Divisional Police Station and compelled to pay N1, 000 to secure his freedom.

One respondent, identified as Preye, alleged that some members of the Task Force were allegedly arresting innocent people in front of their houses and on their streets for not wearing face masks and illegally extorting money from them.

However, the secretary of the State Task Force, Comrade Akpor in response to the allegation called the members of the task force to exercise caution during monitoring and enforcement.

Meanwhile, the leaders of road transport unions have unanimously declared support for the State Government’s directive on the compulsory use of face masks in public places.

Speaking at an interactive meeting in Government House, Yenagoa, representatives of the major transport unions including the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), assured the government of their readiness to ensure that their members and passengers comply with the directive.

The State Chairman of NURTW, Eminah Dinyorinyu described the fight against COVID-19 as more dangerous than physical guerrilla warfare as it has the capacity to operate as an unseen enemy to attack and mow down its victims.

He said the government’s enforcement of the directive on the compulsory use of facemask would justify the sensitization campaigns earlier carried out by the various unions.

Also speaking, the Chairman, Tricycle Owners Association of Nigeria and Vice Chairman of Road Transport Employment Association of Nigeria, Bayelsa Chapter, Comrade Dorgu Jeremiah, urged their members and the general public to complement the state government’s efforts towards flattening the coronavirus curve in the state.

Addressing the unionists, the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Transport, Architect Ere Efeke highlighted the consequences of not complying with the directive, stressing that the government was ready to deal decisively with motorists and tricycle operators who flout the order.

In their separate remarks, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, Dr Inodu Apoku and his Ministry of Information counterpart, Chief Freston Akpor, educated the transporters on the importance of using facemasks and enjoined them to share the knowledge gained with their members.

Earlier in his remarks, Governor Douye Diri who was represented by his Deputy, Senator Lawrence Ewhrujakpo, emphasized that his administration would not leave any stone unturned in its bid to protect the lives of the people.

He identified access to relevant information and taking precautions as the most effective preventive means of curbing the spread of the COVID-19 scourge, which had already claimed 16 lives in the state as of Tuesday this week.

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