Call them adamant, unflinching, rebellious or dogged. They are single-minded women of purpose, ossified and rock- ribbed. Women, who driven by want, hunger and the desire to put food on the table for their families defied the law and dared the “lion” in its den.
It was day 2 of the federal government lockdown of the commercial state of Lagos over the ravaging COVID 19 Pandemic. Lagosians, and indeed Nigerians are reputedly ardent and absorbed. The pulsation in the city of Lagos is only next to Karachi in Pakistan. The over 90 sound decibels in the city had abruptly, this Wednesday morning evaporated into eerie silence. Vehicular and human traffic had ebbed. Security agents cordoned off the roads with wooden and metal barricades. Travel time for those class of workers exempted from the lockdown was exceedingly low.
Date was Wednesday, April 1, 2020. They had trooped out in the wee hours to make purchases of some edible wares at the mile 12 market, along the popular Ikorodu road area of Lagos State, which they intended to retail at their shops and make some profit to tidy the dry ends of hunger in the COVID 19 lockdown. After a long fruitless wait at the Ikorodu garage for commuter buses to convey them, the women managed to halt a small truck driven by a middle aged dark man with a bushy beard.
Peremptorily, and without waiting to hear of their mission or intent, they rolled over themselves in a desperate bid to out -do each other to make hay with the lift. They climbed into the open cabin, with some barely hanging on the tailboard. They were five in number.
The journey had barely begun into a half kilometer stretch when they were stopped, precisely at the ever bubbling Agric Bus Stop, still on the Ikorodu axis, by ramrod security agents detailed there to enforce the lockdown order. Pronto, their ordeal began.
They were ordered to come down from their callous hanging cliff and straight into unsparing punishment. The puissance that followed squeezed their desperation into insignificance, mangled their humanity and essence of being. They were forced to kneel down in the fast emerging baking sun to the implacable delight of their tormentors and the gaze and astonishment of other motorists and onlookers. Time was 11.40am.
The women, all slovenly dressed could not have had their bath before setting out on the ill- fated journey of pain. They belong to the clan of tens of millions who live hand- mouth and risk starving if they do not defy lockdown and seek money from petty trading. Daily Sun parked at a safe way, clambered down and watched the unfurling drama.
They were making entreaties for forgiveness which understandably fell on deaf ears. The security agents were too consumed in executing the order of lockdown on their necks to spare time for a group of “suicidal” women who with open eyes took to harm’s way. Soon, the plea for clemency surged to a frenzy, and a babble of vernacular delight.
Yet, their traducers kept an icy- cold distance and silence. After what looked like seven minutes, one of the officers, in a very stern voice, barked at them to keep quiet, and dared them to continue their noise and be flogged. “Government say make una stay for house in your own interest, but na death una prefer. Una wan try government and una go get am. Any more fiam, I go lie una down here and flog una. I no go allow una go that market wey una wan go. Useless women”, he hollered.
The outburst seemed to have quieted them down. But it was only for a fleeting while. This time, they eventually got the attention and mercy of the security agents, who ordered them to stand up and head back to their homes. A flurry of thankful gratitude flounced out of their lips as they scurried off without looking back, a few in frozen laughter and banter . More drama was to play out. Scores of people who had no business to be on the road, who apparently hitched rides with some men on essential services, and who had no means of valid identification were accosted, ordered to step down from their vehicles and told to return to whence they came. Daily Sun counted four of such bizarre incidents.
Indeed, a woman who tried to resist the marching order to trek back was seized after a hot pursuit, brought back to the spot and told to assist the security agents in checkmating lawbreakers. She flinched, stood there mouth agape for upwards of 15 minutes before she begged to be allowed to go home. They allowed her. As she grudgingly and drearily walked back, she cast furtive glances backwards.
After about 70 to 100 meters stretch of trudging, she whimsically crossed the median, the BRT lane and other barriers, launched herself on the other side of the road, and continued her adumbrated journey unnoticed by the soldiers.
She deftly, in the company of two young boys on the lane, crossed the security road block on the left flank, and after accessing a safe distance from there, crossed back to the right to await another ride, away from the prying eyes of the agents on duty. What effrontery!
Elsewhere, at the old Lagos Toll gate, a young man of about 30 years old had stopped at the road block made up of an assortment of police, Road Safety and Neighbour hood Watch Security officers. Obviously inebriated, he hooted his horn endlessly to be allowed to pass. Time was 1.37pm, Day 2 of the Lockdown. He rode in a red coloured corolla car with registration number, EPE 126 Lagos.
The security men ignored him initially, but when he got down to challenge them to allow him free access, two police officers held him by the scruff of the neck telling him to go back home as he was drunk.
He resisted them and a frenetic scuffle ensued. He was eventually subdued, handcuffed and made to sit down on the median lawn. He looked dazed and flustered. Daily Sun was sighted by one of the Road Safety officers observing the incident and attempting to snap from a distance and was instantly ordered to leave. At another road block along the Lagos- Ibadan expressway, a furious truck driver with horn on the let was stopped at the Berger Bridge junction.
He brought out a letter to show he was legitimately authorized to be on the road despite the lockdown. The letter he showed the security agents had no bearing with the authorization letter needed. The letter was an internal memo in his company demanding for stricter measures in lifting of goods.
It was from the Marketing Manager and addressed to all procurement/ Marketing/ sales officers. against the officers, one of his tyres was slightly deflated. And he began to beg for forgiveness.
When told that the letter he presented was inappropriate empowerment to be on the road, he embarked on an effusive argument with the officers. One of the officers, who noticed Daily Sun’s interest in the matter, showed him the letter to read for confirmation, and perhaps, amusement. The driver and his motor boy would have none of it. He flew into fits of anger, frustration and pitiful derangement. The provoked officers were forced to clampdown on him. After a barrage of slaps and kicks, he was left in sobriety and the initial stage of trauma. For the fiery challenge
Day 3. Information filtered in that at the Owutu, Ikorodu end of the Lockdown , at a road block mounted by military men, a group of girls numbering four, fully in party gear were forced to alight from a car. Daily Sun raced to the scene in good time to witness an abridged ribaldry. Time was 12.50 pm. They knelt down in the scorching sun with their flailing hands up. They had some gala packs which they fished out from their bags and munched, defying the order of hands- up momentarily.
A study soldier in military camouflage and cap threatened to give them some lashes for their daring- do. Daily Sun sensed that they may be scarlet ladies of the night who were returning to base after a night of fun. Satisfied with the humiliation meted out to them, the feisty encounter soon fizzled out into bouts of friendly camaraderie and both camps were seen in raucous laughter.
No one knew what tickled them. Two of the girls were seen punching in some numbers into their phone sets, while the soldiers at small intervals scrutinized their phone sets with one nodding in appreciative gesture. They were soon let off and taken to a nearby shop to sit where a soldier engaged them in talks and laughter. It was gathered that the soldiers sought to keep their company for the rest of the working hours, and perhaps at night in their homes.
Daily Sun beat a retreat to the Army Barracks road block in front of the 174 Battalion, Army Barracks Odoguyan, Ikorodu and mounted an observatory post at a small distance. Time was 4.15pm. After a long wait without any incident, attention was drawn to a brewing altercation. Three young men, apparently from revelry were screaming. They held on to their bottles of Schweppes Lemon drink as they hollered.
From their protestations and attire, they were perhaps going for an evening game nearby. The soldiers were unrelenting in their bid to thrash and manacle them. The decibel of their voices could be heard in a far- flung distance. When the commotion subsided, the three boys were seen cooling off sitting on the ground by the side of the road, flushed, bullied, harassed.
Still on Day 3. A crowd of people was seen gathered round a Beauty shop that had almost been pulled down. It was at 125 Awolowo road , along Oke Ota- Ona , Ikorodu. On further enquiries, an ash coloured Toyota car was seen fully ensconced inside the shop. The huge confusion and crowd foiled an attempt to dig into the matter.
The next day, Daily Sun returned. The car had been pulled out of the shop and was parked in a mechanic workshop a small distance away. A welder was busy working at the shop, while a group of young men numbering about 6 drank from a big bottle of Origin spirits and Trophy lager beer scattered before them.
As Daily Sun approached the scene, a young man in his late 20’s or early 30’s broke loose from the drinking party and accosted the intruder. After a brief exchange of greetings, Daily Sun expressed marvel at the accident scene and prayed that he hoped that no life was lost.
The young man, decked in a blue denin jeans and multi coloured Tee shirt, while praising God owned up as the driver and central character in the accident. The following conversation ensued.
“ Oh, you’re the driver? God is wonderful. Apart from the damage to the shop, I hope no one was hurt?”
“ Not at all. I give praise to God Almighty.”
‘ Who are you?”
My name is Olatan Balogun. I am an actor.
“ Waoh! You’re an actor? A Nollywood personality?
Now tell me, how did this happen? I saw it on my way home yesterday
Eeem! I live at Idiroko here. It is not far from here. I am a bachelor, not married. My friend, Seun, who is married called me yesterday that his wife cooked a delicious soup and asked me to come and eat. I drove down to his house..
“(Cuts in) You were supposed to stay in the house as ordered by the government because of the Corona Virus. But you defied the order.”
“ I know now. It is a small distance from my house, and I was hungry. No one in the house, and no one to cook for me. I live alone. So, I was happy that he called me to come and eat. So, after eating, I was returning to the house when my brake failed and I had to veer off and run into this shop. Let me tell you, after here, there is a canal ahead. So that was why I took the quick decision to veer off into this shop. God is merciful.( He raised his hands up to heaven in total submission to his will in prayers).
“Have you met the owner of the shop? We thank God indeed that no life was lost and no one, including you hurt.
“ Yes, she came here that yesterday. They called her. In fact, if not for the lockdown and people stayed at home, it would have been a bad case. Look at the Baby pram there; I heard that her baby used to be put there. Hmmm! I cannot thank God enough for what he has done for me. I worked on that brake two days before the accident. You can see that we are drinking happily. I really thank God.
“You’re rebuilding the shop for the woman?
Yes. That is what we are doing now. The welder you can see is at work. I have discussed with the Aluminum man, the Carpenter and the brick layer. I am also going to replace the damaged items in the shop including the baby pram, furniture, dryer, etc. No be small thing, my brother.
“ In all, how much is it going to cost you?”
It is going to cost me N180,000( One hundred and Eighty thousand Naira) That is the total of what the artisans have given me.
“Do you have any regrets over the accident?”
“Never. Will I be here drinking if I had died or if people were in the shop at the time and died? I have been thanking God since yesterday when the thing happened.”
“ Thank you.”
“ Thank you”