February 26, 2021

Covid-19: Inmates on isolation protest ‘illegal detention’ in Plateau

Locals in a Jos community struggle over government official's cash gift during lockdown: representative photo

About 32 Nigerian inmates on isolation, Thursday protested over “prolonged detention,” by authorities in Plateau State, leading to their release.

The inmates were arrested on April 13, 2020 in Jos, during the State’s first lockdown which lasted seven days from April 9, 2020.

All were travelers from other States, charged with illegal boundary crossing and lockdown violation, it was learnt.

One of them was a Lagos returnee who came to bury his father, but was arrested from the border and taken to the center.

The State authorities had set up 10 mobile courts to try defaulters of the lockdown, but none of the freed inmates was tried and convicted by the courts, it was gathered.

Their detention was “precautionary”, to prevent the spread of covid-19 in the State, said an official.

The 32 were however held till April 30, 2020 when they protested for having been detained for more than 14 days, the standard observation period.

Sources in the Heipang, Barkin Ladi isolation center where the inmates were kept said the protests started Wednesday.

One of the protesting inmates was hit by a fleeing Local Government Official, but the protesters were relentless.

A top Officer of the Nigerian Police Force among the detainees appealed to them to be patient for another day, leading to a temporary halt.

Officials had collected their samples for laboratory tests on Monday, the day they should have been released, but had yet to issue the results.

The prolonged detention was likely due to the delayed results, but “we kept hearing different stories raising suspicions that they were planning to use us for something we don’t understand,” said an inmate.

An inmate in the facility who complained was last week declared positive for coronavirus after she returned from a trip in Kano.

Officials said she developed symptoms similar to those of COVID-19 but sources say she only vomited, which is not a symptom of COVID-19.

Her result signed by veterinary Doctors further suspicions that the result may have been fabricated to attract federal funding.

Officials claiming to have evacuated her to a treatment center and begun contact tracing around her, while she was still free in the isolation center along with over 40 others, and her first contacts not reached for days further compounded the suspensions.

“The government must be planning something fishy with our results,” said an inmate.

After the 24hr grace period appealed by the intervening Police Officer, the protests resumed, forcing officials to verbally declare test results and releasing the inmates.

The State had however yet to end its latest lockdown when the inmates regained freedom.

Whether they were each issued a pass or taken home by officials, or merely released to find their way, it is unknown.

Efforts to speak to Officials proved abortive as of reporting time.

The State Governor, Simon Lalong however confirmed in a State broadcast that 65 test results returned Thursday negative.

With the release of the 32, about 15 inmates are currently left in the Heipang isolation center.

11 others had been released days earlier on completion of their 14-day observation period.

Locals are however protesting the siting of an isolation center in a residential area.

A press statement by Mr. Rwang Tengwong, the spokesperson of a native youth group on Sunday said the action by government violates World Health Organization standards.