Last weekend was, for me, a remarkable one. I travelled to Ile-Ife, Osun State, which is ordinarily no big deal but for the reported attacks and kidnapping of people by Fulani herdsmen on the road. This is a road I have traversed scores of times since I enrolled and passed out of the Obafemi Awolowo University, then known as the University of Ife, in the 1980s. It is a road that I should ordinarily travel without any fear or anxiety, having been travelling it for more than 50 years, but last weekend’s journey was a special one. It followed a week of great anxiety and indecision on whether to make the journey or not.
Virtually everyone I interacted with and had to inform that I was travelling from Lagos through Ibadan to Ile-Ife warned me against the journey. They simply thought that the risk of the journey, following the incessant reports of Fulani herdsmen attacks on travellers on the road, was simply not worth it. At a point, I thought I would bypass the direct Ibadan-Ife route and pass straight through Ibadan and enter Ile-Ife through Ede, which I felt had not been frequently mentioned on the list of attack-prone areas. But, I felt it was unsafe to travel on a road I was not very familiar with. I also believe that with the dilapidation of many of the roads in the country, the Ede-Ife Road was likely to be in a bad state, and nothing aids attacks on expressways better than bad portions of roads at which vehicles must necessarily slow down, making them vulnerable to attacks. And so, the decision to travel via the dreaded Ibadan-Ife expressway was made, and thus began my journey which I call a rollercoaster one, not only because of the insecurity on the expressways, but also because of the gamut of emotions I experienced during the two-day trip.
The two occasions that took me out of Lagos were happy ones which were saddened by the state of affairs in the country. First, was the 60th birthday of a beloved sister, who chose to celebrate the occasion with the residents of three orphanages in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital. The trip to Ibadan on Saturday was the very smoothest I have ever experienced, and I have been travelling that road for at least 35 years. There was no traffic holdup, no accident and none of the scary situations where one had to park and wait by the expressway like other travelers, because of armed robbery attacks ahead.
However, the trips to the orphanages – Cheshire Home around the Ibadan Polytechnic, the Christ Kids Orphanage at Monatan and the Aduke Olaidibo God’s Mercy Orphanage behind the Access Bank opposite the police station on Iwo Road were another kettle of fish, entirely. We were confronted with such a large number of both children and adults suffering a host of disabilities including Down’s Syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy and paralysis at these homes that a number of people on our entourage shed not a few tears. The pitiable sight of the distorted limbs and minds of most of the residents of these homes are heart-wrenching and I cannot but salute the managers and workers of these homes for their love, forbearance and the spirit of sacrificial service that informed their unflinching commitment to their mission of caring for the disabled in society. I think the situation also calls for more public education on the causes and ways to avoid congenital physical and mental disabilities. Thankfully, more Nigerians are becoming aware of the need to visit orphanages and care for the less privileged but a lot still needs to be done for these homes.
The God’s Mercy Home, in particular, is in a particularly desperate situation and urgently in need of a decent accommodation, a borehole, an industrial cooker and money. It is a very good place for public-spirited persons and non-governmental organizations. Here, and at the Christ’s kids home, are some severely disabled children who are unable to even sit up but are fed lying on their backs with their limbs severely distorted. But for the anxiety of the journey ahead to Ile-Ife the next day, which was Sunday, I have no doubt that I would have wept buckets over the sheer physical disabilities and sad situation of the children.
And so, began the journey to Ile-Ife, but first a confession. The decision to go ahead with the journey was aided by the fact that an acquaintance of a person who accompanied me on the trip somehow mustered a fully armed military escort and two armed policemen in a back-up vehicle. It was the first time I was riding in a vehicle with a dark-goggled, fully armed soldier and with two policemen following behind.
Mercifully, the journey was not eventful. No Fulani herdsmen jumped out of the forests, and the two or three police checkpoints on the road both to and fro (not as many as I expected on the now infamously insecure road) gave us all the respects and a smooth passage as soon as they saw our uniformed escorts.
But then, my observations. The state of the Ibadan-Ife Expressway makes it a piece of cake for any potential kidnapper. It is a road with many diversions, on which travelers have to take “one-way” at some points. This sometimes results in road accidents and the situation claimed the life of the spouse of a traditional ruler sometime last year, I think.
The danger of road diversion on such an attack-prone road, with no signboards to indicate the diversion, is that a driver who is unfamiliar with the road may soon find himself isolated on a lonely stretch of bad road and find himself at a dead and vulnerable to attack. The least the road safety and security officials can do is to clearly mark, or even close, the points at which vehicles should divert to another lane.
It is also worrisome that this need for diversions to face oncoming traffic on the Ibadan-Ife Expressway has been on for many years. It is not a recent development. Why would the government allow such a situation to persist, endlessly? A situation in which motorists need to divert to face oncoming traffic on a busy expressway, on what is ordinarily a two-way expressway, is dangerous. More importantly, is the need for the government to sincerely address the growing menace of herdsmen kidnapping of people on the expressway. It is certainly reality, and not a myth, as some people will have the nation believe.
An orthopaedic surgeon at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Prof. Olayinka Adegbehingbe was kidnapped in May and, by his own testimony, he was kept in the forest by his Fulani abductors and released only after a payment of N5.4 million. A number of people, among them a visitor to the country, have had similar experiences.
Herdsmen attacks have become a serious problem in many parts of Southern Nigeria where the herders have a sense of entitlement to grazing. Government must find a way to solve this problem speedily before there is a general uprising in Southern Nigerian against the herdsmen and other Northerners and foreigners who appear to have taken strategic positions in many Southern cities, working as okada riders, gatemen and the like. The impression that has been created is that the herdsmen can lord it over anyone in any part of the country. This should be corrected.
Will I be traveling the Ibadan-Ile Ife Expressway anytime soon? I need to, but I think not. I do not enjoy the rollercoaster of emotions that attend such risky ventures. Let government and our security agencies double their efforts so that we can all travel safely and without fear on all our expressways.