By simply parting with money, some residents of Abuja got passes to circumvent the stay-at-home order for non-essential workers ㅡ and investigation by HumAngle indicates strongly that these tags originated from the Nigeria Police Command in the Federal Capital Territory.
It took roughly three weeks, 14 phone calls and the payment of N20,000 for this reporter to obtain a pass from one of the middlemen, Kayito Enyesiobi.
In a speech delivered in March, President Muhammadu Buhari directed the cessation of movements in Abuja, Lagos, and Ogun states and the full shutdown of businesses.
People providing essential services, such as healthcare workers, journalists, telecommunication, petroleum distribution, and food-related business personnel, were, however, exempted.
Although a phased relaxation of the lockdown took effect from Monday, May 4, government officials have hinted at the possibility of restoring stricter measures if social distancing rules are not obeyed and death tolls keep rising.
Also, non-essential inter-state travelling is still prohibited under the new guidelines but transporters still operate after compromising law enforcement officers at checkpoints.
“They scrutinise the process very well,” Enyesiobi said, when he was first contacted on April 15, to justify his demand for N15,000.
He continued in Pidgin English, “If you have your N15,000, I will run it for you. I will attach documents to the application as an organisation.”
Though he initially asked for a means of identification, such as driver’s licence, none was eventually provided.
He did not immediately provide his bank account details because his contact at the Police Command said getting the pass had become tougher than usual and that he would get back to him (Enyesiobi).
The reporter later found out this contact was “Officer Thomas”, said to work at the office of the Commissioner of Police.
‘Devil ties wrapper’
On the afternoon of April 16, Enyesiobi complained about additional obstacles. “It seems they have even stopped it today,” he said.
“That’s what they are saying, except I apply in person. They said people have turned it to a business.
“The personal assistant has come; let me talk to him,” he said abruptly after someone screamed ‘hello sir’ in the background.
Two hours later, he said there was a 50-50 chance of getting a successful application but the official gave his word to do his best.
“If it does not work out at the Police Command, then I will have to apply at the Ministry of Health,” he promised.
“According to what I heard, they really abused the process. It got out of control and, at a point, they started seeing regular people, including mechanics, with the tags without packaging themselves well.
“The Inspector-General of Police did not like this,” he said.
Describing the challenges he was facing on April 17, Enyesiobi said it was as if the devil had tied his wrapper more tightly as a result of the IGP’s objection.
His contacts inside the police establishment were not willing to proceed with the application because of the unusual risks unless an extra N5,000 was paid, he said.
“Virtually all of them were complaining. The person that facilitates it for me is the P.A., direct P.A. But they said even he abused it,” Enyesiobi said.
He said he finally filed the application form that day and would return to the command headquarters the following week for acknowledgement because the Commissioner of Police was not around.
A letter he shared with HumanAngle days later, with a signature dated April 18, states the applicant is “into essential food supply that takes me with(in) the FCT metropolis”.
The letterhead suggests that the reporter owns a fictitious company called “Nwanchukwu Nig. Ltd”.
“It does not matter if you are not carrying food,” he explained. “It is just brain work.”
For several days, no progress was made despite three visits to the police headquarters.
To prove that the delay was not his fault, he forwarded a text said to be from the CP’s Personal Assistant, whom he quarrelled with though he “had never failed” him during previous transactions.
“The pass is not yet out. They gave the first, second batch. Hold on for now, I can’t continue [to] talk to you as if I am a small boy. Tell the person to [have] patience,” the text said.
Victory at last!
There was finally a glimmer of hope on the morning of Tuesday, May 5.
The tag was ready, Enyesiobi said, but there was no jacket and rope available to support it. He did not leave his house the previous day because of the massive rush that accompanied the lockdown’s relaxation.
By 4:30 pm, he confirmed he had collected the pass and would soon be on his way to make the delivery.
About half an hour later, he arrived in a black Toyota Camry and encouraged the reporter to sanitise his hands before anything else.
“The good thing about this is that you will use it for the next total lockdown,” his friend who was on the driver’s seat chipped in.
Enyesiobi reached into a brown envelope and brought out the pass as he warned that it had to be laminated.
He also removed a copy of the application, a photo of which he had shared earlier through WhatsApp. He confirmed that, despite the difficulties faced, he could get more permits if an order is placed.
“We have the intelligence report; so if you have the money now, you will send it to him so that he can pay because if there is total lockdown again, it will be hard,” the driver-friend said as his companion repeatedly glanced at the reporter’s phone with concern.
“It is available now. If you give me the money now, by tomorrow or next tomorrow,” Enyesiobi backed him up.
As this reporter transferred the final N5,000 to his Zenith bank account to complete the N20,000 payment, he opened his inbox and showed a series of messages from “Officer Thomas”, including the one forwarded close to two weeks earlier.
“Make sure you laminate it,” he repeated.
No one has issued passes recently, police spokesman insists
During a phone interview on Wednesday, May 6, DSP Anjuguri Manza, the FCT Police Command Public Relations Officer, said what he knows is that the pass was issued for free until the Commissioner of Police suspended the exercise three weeks prior to the conversation.
This period coincides with when Enyesiobi started the process of applying for the pass and complained of fresh obstacles.
“I don’t know your source. But to the best of my knowledge, it was issued for free until the Commissioner of Police suspended it. For the past three weeks, nobody has issued any pass at the command,” he said.
He said the tag obtained by HumAngle is “certainly not from the command”.
“I can tell you that authoritatively. Whoever gave it to you, verify from the person,” he added.
Manza said at the time the pass was still issued, the command verified the genuineness of the organisations’ applications and did not charge any fee for the service. He also explained that the process was suspended because “well, it was noted that certain persons were fraudulently and illegally producing those tags”.
According to the police spokesperson, over 20 persons were arrested and charged at the mobile court after investigations were conducted. He refused to disclose if there are any plans to resuscitate the pass’s issuance.