BENIN – ORE ROAD: IS NIGERIA NOT FINISHED?
Guest columnist: BY Toyosi Akerele
A while ago, I updated my Blackberry status, which read 'Is traveling now my lifestyle? Na wah o'. That was my way of expressing concern for myself on my very frequent trips to different parts of the country recently. At least, I know that in August, I spent only about eight nights at home. For the most part, I was away in other states either organizing a national youths forum in Nigerian cities to enhance the intellect and capacity of the average Nigerian young person or participating as a guest speaker on various subjects of interest somewhere else.
I am a full time young Nigerian. Passionate and progressive. Worse still, I am an upcoming Nigerian entrepreneur.
I used 'worse' because I assume we all know the hurdles and rigors of setting- up, managing and growing a sustainable enterprise in Nigeria in the face of the calamitous twin problems of power and economic instability.
It was September 9. My driver and I had set out of Lagos at exactly 10 a.m. We arrived Ore some minutes past noon. Then this turbulence erupted.
People came off the public buses they had boarded and they were trekking en-masse through the dilapidated road. Everyone called it traffic jam. I thought it was sheer madness and an undeserved punishment meted out to Nigerians by successive governments in our history.
There was ABC Transport, Chisco, Ekene Dili Chukwu, Imo Transport Company, Bob Izua Motors, Edegbe Line, Osariemen Transport, Dan Dollars, Efosa Express , my patient and happy-go-lucky Togolese driver and myself in our pitch black jeep, Mbanefo and Sons, Ifesinachi Mass Transit, Iyare Motors, branded diesel and petrol trucks, and trailers loaded with merchandise. Just all kinds of road users. We are Nigerians and of our free will with our human rights and pride tucked in our pockets, we set out of our homes to travel for different purposes on our tax constructed and maintained roads with the hope to arrive safely at our destinations.
In the heat of that afternoon, there was a red ambulance conveying a corpse and two other buses behind it on their way in a convoy most probably for the burial, but were stuck on the road for hours. So what will happen when even the dead revolts against our irresponsible leaders?
Under-age children that could be described as urchins ran after us chanting: 'Help us mummy, God will bless you mummy, appointments, promotions, mummy. Devil will not follow you, only goodness and mercy'. I was more dejected. They were looking hungry, dirty and desperate as they jumped and hung on moving vehicles, begging profusely. The most pitiful and nerve wracking of all happened at 10 p.m. when a man started approaching vehicles on the queue to beg for water for his dehydrated little two-year-old daughter to drink. I envisaged he must have bought water earlier, but none of us thought we would be on that journey that long.
The police checkpoints were countless and their job description is mostly to stop any flashy sport car or SUV to ask for your name, your state of origin and finally, beg for money or intimidate you so they can extort money. The checkpoints between Lagos and Asaba were almost 50. So even if you were really a newly converted born again Christian who wants to adhere to the biblical 'give and it shall be given unto you', how many of them can you possibly give to?
It is even more annoying that amidst this horrendous crisis on this road, police officers at the different stops were chatting away, cocking their guns and just generally meandering. Helping to ease the traffic situation and ensuring that men of the underworld do not seize the opportunity to rob and rape female passengers was out of the question.We rode with trepidation as I hid three of my phones and held out the cheapest of them in preparation for the worst, at least, if we were harassed by robbers. It will endanger me, if I say I travel without a single handset.
I watched with utter sorrow, disgust and fury as car engines knocked, shock absorbers were damaged, tyres punctured and as radiators were overheating. People incurred expenses they did not plan for while roadside mechanics had a field day overcharging these unfortunate Benin - Ore victims.
Then network seized on all my 4 mobile phones. So I was rendered 'not available' or 'unreachable'. I almost cursed, but I knew that God has never been more interested in Nigeria as he is now. And He is ready to do again what he did with Pharaoh and his cohorts when they persecuted the children of Israel.
This is a country where governments care less about the welfare of the citizenry and wake up one morning to ban Okadas from operating without providing a viable alternative for them. I understand the rationale behind instilling discipline and sanity into our system but my worry is when it is done at the expense of the poverty stricken masses. People have to earn a living to feed their families and be deterred from becoming a menace to society.
Then, we arrived Asaba at 1.17am, since 10am when we set out of Lagos.
Abeg o, Nigerians are always seen to make pacifying statements from time to time such as 'Nigeria can be great again', 'There is no place like home', 'It took America years to firmly entrench their democracy, so Nigeria will get there'. Statements that in reality do not portend that there is hope for this country. Within the ambience of the insensitive leadership we have always had and their nonchalance , honestly, the blueprint that is laid before us suggests a very bleak future. My great Benin friend of many years whose life has inspired me so much says 'they are not touched by the infirmities of the people'. Ironically, we clamor much for our dear country without taking special note of us as 'a dear people' too forgetful that we the people are the nation.