By Ochereome Nnanna
WHEN Nigeria finally woke up to the reality of the coronavirus pandemic towards the end of March this year, the political authorities took some panic measures to protect the people. President Muhammadu Buhari put the nation, especially the flashpoint states of Lagos, Ogun and Abuja, under strict lockdown.
The various governors sealed their state boundaries and mobilised task forces to keep out travellers from other states. However, vehicles carrying essential supplies such as food, fuel and critical provisions were permitted to continue operating. A number of these vehicles were allowed to move around during the lockdown.
Some of them were found to have engaged in the business of hauling illegal migrants from the North to the South (especially South-East and South-South). Most of these vehicles participated in smuggling young men of questionable identity and intentions in the dead of the night (sometimes through bush paths) to the South.
They were often hidden under piles of foodstuff, livestock and other goods in utter violation of the lockdown rules. Some did not even bother to hide. Our security agencies chose this moment of national emergency to show their very ugly sides. Even when some state task forces made up of patriotic indigenes were mobilised to the boundaries to keep these trafficked persons at bay, reports came that enormous pressures were applied from high-level political and security quarters for these people to be allowed through!
The questions arose: Who were these human cargoes? Where did they come from, and where were they going? What was their mission, especially as most of them clearly exhibited attributes of foreign origin? Who were the faceless mandarins forcing them through the various state checkpoints in flagrant defiance of presidential and gubernatorial orders? Why did most of them head straight into the forests as soon as they were offloaded?
Tensions rose. Could these men be Boko Haram or “herdsmen” jihadists capitalising on the pandemic lockdown to infiltrate Southern towns and forests in readiness to launch the kind of attacks we’ve been seeing in the North?
If they were “harmless” migrants fleeing from extreme poverty, insecurity and COVID-19 pandemic in the North, why did they not come with their families? Why only able-bodied young men? And why were foreigners involved?
Why were they moving in bunches into the forests? Didn’t they know that they were redistributing the virus, thus making their presence doubly undesirable? These questions were not being murmured. People were raising very loud alarms on various media (especially social media) platforms, with photographs and video commentaries conveying the concerns of the people in whose states and lands these people were being dumped.
Neither the man nor his company said anything about it. The President General of Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo, Dr. Nnia Nwodo, spoke the mind of the Igbo nation when he called on owners of these vehicles to stop the use of their trucks to dump undesirable elements in Igboland.
We all know that truck and trailer drivers normally violate the terms of their employment and use their masters’ company vehicles to carry illegal goods and passengers to augment their income. It is a major problem among transport companies, but the question is: why did it take so long for these companies to speak up?
Who is going to pay for the consequences of the human trafficking? If these migrants start attacking the locals, who will pay for that? Who will pay for the sudden astronomical rise in the number of infected persons, especially in the South-East and South-South? The South-East used to have the smallest infection rate of the six geopolitical zones.
But now, Ebonyi and Enugu have overtaken Osun and Ondo states which used to have much higher infection rates. I am waiting for these truck owners to answer these questions.