By Michael Egbejumi-David
email@example.com / Twitter: demdemdem1
I arrived Utako Motor Park in Abuja just before 5:30 am.
I wasn’t going to fly. My woman had recently come in from the UK through Lagos. A few days later, she came to Abuja. She started by road from Delta to Benin, then flew to Kaduna via Port Harcourt. The journey from Kaduna airport to Abuja took another three hours. I wasn’t going to subject myself to all of that.
Two hours after I got to the park, we eventually got on a bus and drove out. I sat up front by the driver who turned out to be a most cantankerous old man. He drove leisurely to a fuel station where he was informed that they were yet to open up for business.
Before the driver could respond, his phone rang. He had a short conversation with someone and then drove us back to the Motor Park. He had left his manifest behind. Back at the park, the miserable old man proceeded to have a heated argument with the young chaps that ran things there. It took some passengers intervention before the driver collected his now torn manifest and drove out of the park again.
We drove at no more than 2 miles an hour to another fuel station. From there, we proceeded at a slightly quicker pace onto a dirt road without any word from this driver. We ended up by a vulcaniser. That was when one of the passengers lost his cool and an inelegant argument ensued. The driver ultimately out-shouted the passengers – from plenty of practice, I guess.
Finally, we hit the motorway. We were only about 30 minutes in when the driver pulled up again, in front of some stalls. He wanted to buy some food stuff. Most of the passengers also got off the bus. Before I knew what was up, people were buying pink, blue, yellow, green beans; buying onions the size of small footballs. By the time we resumed the journey, it’d gone past 9:00.
Ten minutes later, the bus’ air conditioner packed up. Just the fan was blowing hot air around. We protested. The driver said there was nothing he could do about it. That was that.
The old git slotted in a CD; very energetic Igbo Christian music filled the bus. The music was so loud, even angels needed ear plugs to keep from going deaf. The bass was so deep (and I kid you not) it kept my family jewels from resting undisturbed on the seat. We asked the driver to reduce the volume. He ignored us.
Less than 3 hours later, we were in Lokoja. Humidity-wise, Lokoja might be the hottest place in Nigeria. Also, the place has been kept perfectly preserved as Lord Lugard left it. The only change I could see was that, a long time ago, someone tarred the main road.
I got off the bus and bought some great smelling suya. Before my suya could be served, a young lady approached me and handed me a typed A5-sized card. That card was colourful and well laminated. I read it quickly. It claimed the bearer is ‘deaf & dumb’ and that the reader should kindly help. I gave the lady a little money and her card back.
That turned out to be a mistake as I was immediately besieged by a horde of beggars. I tried to give as much as I could but the beggars were just too many. Amongst them was a short man with a slight hunch on his back. I told him that he really should try and get some form of employment or a trade. To encourage him along, I refused to give him any money.
Then a young lad of about 8 came to me. He put out his hand and asked me in perfect Pidgin English for assistance, pointing back to two people I assumed were his mother and sister. They all looked North African – perhaps Moroccan. I wondered how they ended up in a rest stop in Lokoja. Anyhow, I only advised the youngster not to go to South Africa at this time. He acted displeased; he did not know that I was dropping priceless advice on him.
As our bus was leaving, I saw the lady who had earlier handed me the deaf & dumb card chatting animatedly with a uniformed security guard. It was my turn to be speechless.
One of the passengers handed the driver a music CD. Pleaded with him to play it. Turned out to be a collection of wonderful old school Nigerian music. A few of the tracks were by that splendid musician, Bongos Ikwue.
In a short while, we were engaged in a robust political discussion that was served with assuredness and humour the way only Nigerians can do it. It was fantastic.
Thirty minutes or so after Lokoja, we swung left at the Okene bypass, and the road simply disappeared! I wasn't prepared for that. We drove like that, bumping painfully along before we got to something that was once a road. Honestly you couldn't drive straight for 3 meters. It was more swerving than driving. I've seen potholes before but nothing like these. We all got hold of our seats as we were being thrown in every direction.
Preposterously, by that bypass, on what has got to be the worst road in the country at the moment was a billboard bearing the picture of the Governor and the message, “Kogi State is working!”
We bumped slowly along like that until we entered Okene town. Well, Okene turned out to be a place time left behind. The place wears a 1940s look. Majority of the buildings there are mud jobs with tiny wooden windows complete with conspicuous ancient graves right up front.
The inhabitants lolling about those mud houses looked out of it. There were a few scraggly dogs and ewures gathered by the sides of the road. They were flagging down vehicles, they too wanted out of the place.
One day, a merciful government would have pity on Okene and send in bulldozers to level the place and start all over again.
Perhaps half of the okada motorcycles in Nigeria are in Okene - which I really don't understand because about 70% of them had no passengers. We drove up to one open spot and this chap was picking himself up from the ground. I wasn't sure whether he fell off the bike or the thing simply disintegrated underneath him as pieces of the okada littered the road.
Nigeria's commercial motorcyclists - Okada
The only thing that cheered me up in Okene was the sight of the people in their varying wonderfully colourful attires as they returned from Jumat service.
From Kogi, we limped our way into Edo state. The roads were just as bad. Often, vehicles were forced to abandon the highway and drive on the bush’s verge. On that horrible road, I saw a large monkey skip across into the bush and saw a van being towed along by another van with nothing but a bamboo stick. Thankfully, there were plenty of military and police men about moving things along and providing security.
For entertainment, I began reading the various slogans written on many of the trailers and lorries clogging up everywhere. First prize went to a long trailer with this inscription: "Man proposit, Allah this pose.”
Over time, our governments must develop a rail transportation network to take the burden of freight and petroleum off the roads.
There is a busy cement factory at Okpella. I wonder if Alhaji Dangote knows. At that place, I bought four bottles of what turned out to be the best peanuts I have ever tasted. Soon, we ambled past the historic Auchi Polytechnic, passed Ambrose Ali University in Ekpoma and passed a very expansive Jehovah Witness structure covering hectares and hectares of land. Only God and a few senior angels know what the Witness people are up to in there.
There were some madams at the back of our bus. I wanted to chat them up but the heat and the stress of the journey have rendered their makeup and hair prostrate. Few sights in this world scarier than a bunch of frazzled women with wigs pointing in the wrong directions. I left the ladies to themselves.
We didn't get reprieve from the bad roads or see a dual carriageway again until the Benin bypass. My lower back had long given up. I crawled into my house in Warri early evening – more than 12 hours since I got up that morning.
Despite the terrible state of the roads, it was actually a rather pleasant sight beholding the landscape and seeing how the demography, the vegetation, the colours, the mode of dressing and the language flowed and changed. It was quite beautiful.
Nigeria really is a pretty place and its peoples are ingenious, friendly, largely hardworking and wonderful. We just need our governments (at all levels) to put in about 40% of effort.
At some point, I will take some time off, get a driver and criss-cross Nigeria. But not now; after the roads have been re-established. For now, Abuja to Warri, my people, no road.