Coronavirus: How fake news pushed FUOYE students to travel on trailers

A fake news following the federal government’s directive shutting tertiary institutions in Nigeria due to the COVID-19 epidemic on Sunday caused a panic among students of the Federal  University, Oye-Ekiti (FUOYE) who resorted to unusual means to get out of town.

In compliance with the federal government directive, the authorities of FUOYE announced that the school would be shut down on Monday, March 23.

After a case of coronavirus was detected in Ekiti, the state government also issued a statement that “Operators of commercial vehicles shall not carry excess passengers” and some guidelines were listed.

Some people in Ekiti State, however, misinterpreted the memo. On Friday, a WhatsApp message was sent to several groups. It reads: “No interstate bus will be allowed to come in and out of Ekiti State as from Monday 23rd of March. So you’re advice (sic) to travel before the stipulated date to avoid been stranded here.”
The memo was allegedly signed by the “Ekiti State Commissioner for Road Transport.”

The memo cause panic among students of FUOYE who mostly reside in Lagos, Ibadan, Osun and Abuja. They have since been fleeing the town. On Sunday, thousands of them besieged the major motor park around UBA in Oye, seeking vehicles to take them out of Oye-Ekiti.

In the early hours of the day, some student representatives had liaised with the local motor park officials to ensure students travelling were not charged excessive fares. The officials agreed that students headed to Lagos would pay N2500, while those going to Ibadan and Abuja were charged N1500 and N3000 respectively.

At about 9 a.m, however, the tide turned. The available vehicles were not enough to convey a quarter of the passengers. Drivers immediately took advantage of this by charging twice the normal fares.

“I got to the park this morning by 6:12 a.m.,” a student, Isaac-Orji Praise, said. “You need to have seen the thousands of students there already. I waited under the sun until around 11 a.m. Before, the price was normal but the buses were limited. Later, they said Ibadan is N2500 and Lagos is N4000. People were still fighting for it. I was still not able to enter those ones. Later, there were no buses coming at all. I had to go back to my hostel and I will try again tomorrow.”

Information has it that students soon stopped trailers headed to Ibadan and Lagos. According to Adedokun Abolore, a 400-level student of Peace and Conflict Management Studies, “the people in the trucks were instructed to pen down their names in case anything happened. The blue truck driver collected N500 from everybody and he will drop them in Lagos.”

Mr Abolore said “Now I can see the effect of misinformation. The message originated on WhatsApp with no authentication and this was the main reason why students are panicking and later resorted to what is currently happening in Oye.”

He continued by saying “It is very risky and I am disappointed this is coming from undergraduates. For God’s sake, they are literate enough to know what they are doing is dangerous. But at the same time,I won’t blame them. I will blame those elements of fake news.”

Yinka Oyebode, the spokesperson to the state governor, said the false memo did not emanate from the state government.

“The directive of Mr Governor is clear on the matter. Motorists are to obey some rules, including not putting more than three passengers on the back row seats and limit passengers on the front seat to one.”

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