Any travel by road from several parts of the country, especially from Lagos and western Nigeria, to the eastern parts of Nigeria is a travail. The trip, most times, is a travail of sorts. Recently, I had cause to go to the East from Oyo State, where I now eke out a living, and it became clear that it was a travail, not a regular everyday travel. This is not to say that travelling by road for a trip said to be 501 kilometres, which the map said should last a little over eight hours, is a tea party. But the difference became the physical distance between heaven and earth.
The travail began with the shylock transporters who hiked the fare in response to the economics of demand of supply. There was apparent scarcity that day such that available ones took advantage of the situation. The travail first hit the pocket when it coughed out funds beyond its budget. If the fare variance was all it took, there would have been no need to make a mountain of a mole hill in a country where prices rise every day.
But that was the morning that showed the day. That a journey of eight hours lasted for 13 hours could only have started on such extortion to show where it was headed. In spite of general insecurity across the land, there seemed to be relative peace in the SouthWest, perhaps because the security outfit, Amotekun, is living up to its billing or troublemakers have chosen to take their heinous crimes elsewhere.
The foregoing is my way of explaining the relative absence of police and army checkpoints on the way until the traveller or ‘ travailler’, in this instance, begins to get close to Ore in Ondo State and Benin in Edo State. Those checkpoints are traditional for people familiar with that road. The vehicle runs into them at reasonable distances and slows down to make way for police or army checkpoints and hawkers whose display points is their head, who announce what you have already seen in their heads as though you are blind or that sales are made by those who win the shouting competition they have made of the announcement of their self-evident wares.
As usual, some of the checkpoints are actually ‘collection’ points, as defended by a police officer I once encountered some years ago in Epe area of Lagos who justified his ‘collection’ by throwing a challenge to me and those with me to tell him a sector in Nigeria where they do not ‘collect’. He gave the example of his little daughter in a school where her teacher demanded brooms, hoe, knife and other stuff for cleaning the classroom and its environs. He argued that every pupil’s positive response to the demand would leave plenty for the teacher. He was ready to be stoned by anyone whose hands were clean on the matter.
We parted with a forced tip, for want of another word, given that it seemed we could not match his argument. It was, therefore, little matter that some of the checkpoints on the Benin-Ore road were ‘collection’ points. The travail, in that instance, was for drivers who parted with funds, but that was nothing compared to the multiple collection points ahead. The collection points grew as the journey progressed. The Benin bypass had its own share of collection points. The road, which was the hallmark of the tenure of Mr. Fix It, the late Chief Tony Anenih, who supervised that project during his time as minister of works at the first tenure of President Olusegun Obasanjo, was completed in 2005. It has gone bad at some points, which further slows the journey.
You journeyed through the relatively smooth road from Benin to Asaba, as you exited the bypass, you also saw some checkpoints. At those points, their propensity to be collection points had reduced, perhaps they knew you had been on it and that you must have become weary. You trudged on. The sun, which had begun its journey to the west to set, had long reached its destination as you arrived Asaba.
If you were going to Imo State, as I was, you would now engage in calculation of how you would get into Owerri in three hours or so. The daydream would hit you when you crossed the Niger Bridge, and the news would hit you like a ton of bricks that you could not continue the travail because the barrage of military men on the Onitsha-Owerri road was as though a whole barracks had been emptied on that road. You wondered how you had spent nearly 11 hours for an eight-hour journey only to be stopped two or three hours to your destination. You decided to brave it. You were told that you needed loads of cash to go through the new collection points spread virtually one metre apart on the way. You decided to brave it but the driver said he would not dare. He would suspend the trip at Onitsha and continue in the morning but that proposition found the wrong part of you.
Another driver, who seemed to know the terrain, was ready to take the risk and that proposition found the positive side of you. No one told you that two hours would become nearly five hours. The new driver knew the route, including meandering though villages along the route to avoid the total barricade of the Onitsha-Owerri road. The second leg of that trip was a bigger travail because there was more military presence during the supposedly two-hour trip than there was on the entire stretch from Lagos.
I got into Owerri at about 2am and I would have spent the night there had I not arranged for a vehicle that waited to take me to the village that odd hour. That trip is a story for another day.
It was a reaction to the alleged activities of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IBOP). There are, probably, more soldiers on the roads than there are in places were bandits have held sway. There seems to be a communication gap between IPOB and the people. It would seem that strange people hide under the cover of IPOB to wreak havoc on the people. I am happy that the group has intensified their information to convey the suspension of the sit-at-home order that is crippling the economy of the zone and increasing hardship. I spent an extra day in the village given that it was a Monday, and no one went out because there was a supposed order from the organization.
The reason for the trip, a memorial thanksgiving for my departed mother, went well. My siblings, most of whom live in the cities, all drove away shortly after a brief reception in the village. The event went well but the travel was a travail.