Anambra Police Command says it is clamping down on the illegal activity
By Pamela Henry-Igwe, Awka Times guest reporter
Concerned residents of Anambra State are asking authorities in the state to look into the activities of some individuals, passing themselves off as Covid-19 enforcement task force, who harass the populace and extort monies for alleged infringement of the government’s pandemic guidelines.
There are growing complaints that some miscreants have been harassing and intimidating residents of the state, extracting spot ‘fines’ from culprits for supposed violations of the government’s coronavirus containment protocols.
A victim of such extortion, one Mr. Cosmas lbe, told Awka Times that on one occasion he had been wearing his face mask under his chin when one of such illicit gangs accosted him and forced him to part with ₦1,000 as a purported fine. He said however that the ‘enforcers’ fled the scene with his money as bystanders began to question their authenticity.
Another victim, Mrs. Bassey Effong, told Awka Times that a similar rogue gang had forced her into their vehicle and were driving off with her when they spotted an earlier victim who recognized them, at which point they panicked and then pushed her out of the moving vehicle.
There have been several cases of such extortionate attempt by rogue enforcers trying to cash in on the Anambra State government’s renewed effort to enforce public compliance with its Covid-19 containment guidelines.
The government recently intensified its containment effort as cononavirus infection has increased in the state and elsewhere in Nigeria. Anambra State still ranks low in the incidence of coronavirus infections, placing 30th among the 36 states of Nigeria and the Abuja Federal Capital Territory, with 0.3% of total coronavirus cases in the country and 1.2% of the reported deaths as of July 11, 2020. But even this low count represents a notable uptick in a state that had appeared to be virtually free of infections only a few weeks ago. The uptick has spun the government into a tizzy, occasioning a recent two-week market shutdown in Awka, the state capital.
The scoundrels posing as enforcers seem to be exploiting the government’s new regime of determined enforcement. But it isn’t entirely clear if the perpetrators are merely impostors with no connection to the government, or if they include overzealous functionaries among the government’s and other official contingents trying to cash in on their position.
A businessman in Anambra State, Mr. Adewale Olu, suggested to Awka Times that government should set up a task force to look into the harassment and collection of illegal levies by these touts. Mr. Anthony Ezue, another resident of the state, also called on the state government to look into the activities of the Covid-19 task force, especially in Onitsha area.
Mr. John Uka called for re-training of the task force, and urged the government to institute protocols for easy identification of the official personnel.
Responding to the growing menace, the Anambra State Police Command has ordered a clampdown on illegal task force teams claiming to be enforcing Covid-19 measures in Anambra State. In a statement released to the press, the police command said:
“The attention of the Anambra State Police Command has been drawn to the incessant extortions, harassment, intimidation and assault by illegal task force teams claiming to be enforcing Covid-19 measures…”
The statement noted that the Commissioner of Police in Anambra State, CP John B. Abang, “frowns at such atrocities and has ordered [an] immediate clampdown on all persons involved [in the nefarious practice], especially in Onitsha and environs.”
The police said it had received reports indicating that the “hoodlums” wear reflective jackets and operate in shuttle buses/keke with stickers bearing the inscription: ‘COVID-19 TASK FORCE’.
The police stated unequivocally that “no such task force has been constituted by the State Government to operate on the streets and highways within Anambra State.” It said that only accredited market organizations “are authorized to operate such enforcement teams within their respective markets ONLY.”
In view of the above, the police is warning that it will bear down heavily on the illegal activity.
According to the police statement, “the Command will henceforth arrest and prosecute anyone found extorting money or intimidating members of the public in the guise of enforcing face mask protocols.”
It remains to be seen if the public, suffering the hazards of the coronavirus, will be spared the additional burden of criminal extortion pretending to enforce government regulations.