Have you ever been to Kafanchan? Have you by any circumstance driven past Kafanchan? If you are a Nigerian big man and or a policy maker, have you travelled by road to any part of your country recently? If you are a politician who by any stretch is nursing a national contest, have you ever taken a road trip across Nigeria?
Do you know your would-be constituency? If you are on a quiz hot seat or on a debate with other contestants would you be at peace if you failed the question, 'where is Kafanchan?' Would the location of Kafanchan be a knotty question for you? If a map of Nigeria is flashed on the screen, will you get the location of Kafanchan right?
I've never bothered to ask the natives or even my hosts, who the founders of modern Kafanchan are. All I can hazard a guess is that Kafanchan grew as an important trading post first for the colonials who also made it an important trade route using the locomotive. It gradually became a quasi-cosmopolitan city populated mainly by stranger elements, particularly the Igbo and other southern minorities who came along with their Christian faith – a faith that soon spread like the biblical mustard seed to other parts of southern Kaduna- and from there made a serious in-road into northern Nigeria.
Looking back, I cannot remember if there were any other businesses of commercial value there when I last visited, other than a huge, imposing Catholic Church edifice known as St. Peter-Claver. St. Peter Claver is to Kafanchan what the Maria Assumpta Cathedral is to Owerri. Seven years later, I visited again last week to find out that as it ought to be, a lot of changes have taken place in the capital city of Christian dominated southern Kaduna.
Now Nigerian commercial banks have full-fledged offices and branches. Now, the major artery (road) leading into the city is a beehive of activities as traders have done with it, some of the things they've done to roads into cities of Lagos, Ibadan, Onitsha and Aba i.e. encroach on the main roads hugging them with audacious impunity as they obstruct vehicular and human movements.
Driving to Kafanchan the first time in 2004 was from Lagos. We had made it through Ibadan by-passing Ile-Ife before linking Akure. From Akure we had linked Akoko area of Ondo state. It was from there, we made it to Lokoja and Abuja and from there to Kafanchan. It was in the heat of OBJ's second term when everything was upward looking and we were on an HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness campaign.
It was a period when Nigeria was resurrecting from the donkey years of repressive military rule - a period when El-Rufai, Ribadu, Soludo, Akunyili, Okonjo-Iweala, Ransom-Kuti, and Olusegun Aganga held sway. Then Kafanchan was a rustic, commercial center surrounded by many subsistence agriculture induced communities. These communities as Kwoi and Bewang you must come upon as you drive, if you're coming from the Keffi end of the Nasarawa state. As an important trading post right there in the heart of northern central Nigeria, it also used to be a hub of the now moribund Nigeria railway corporation.
This time, the journey to Kafanchan began from Owerri. Some weeks before, I had struggled to come up with the route best suitable for such a long and expectedly tedious journey. Should it be the Owerri, Okigwe Otukpo, Makurdi, and Keffi to Abuja route or the Owerri to Onitsha, Agbor, Auchi, Okene route? The decision to take the latter was a no brainer. Anxious to discover some parts of Nigeria I only know by rote, their reputation and elementary geography, I settled for the Owerri, Onitsha, Agbor, and Auchi, Itakpe, Okene to Lokoja route.
A few years ago, the United States authorities approved road travel over that by air for its citizens in Nigeria. I'm not sure they've changed that policy. Then and now, because they knew the average airworthiness of most of the airplanes that flew domestic in Nigeria, they had from time to time issued a travel alert against air travel on Nigeria. At every press release on the matter, it had urged its citizens to use the road, no matter how hazardous. On the road, at least a careful driver would manage and maneuver his destiny.
With this alert frequently replayed in my head, I had set out to do another round of long distance travel across Nigeria by road with Owerri, where I live as a starting point. Now, I do not anymore; blame most long distance Nigerian travelers who would not do it by road. In Nigeria, I have found out by doing it myself, that long distance road travels which ought to be the most enjoyed and thrilling could be a piece of hell. The preponderance of pot holes and craters on Nigerian roads which in the past I thought was a sectional thing has now taken a new national dimension.
Two days before, I had taken the car to Jideofor, my know it all and do it all multi-talented mechanics at the mechanic village in Owerri. His assignment was simple and brief. '(a) Change the oil; and (b) make sure the brakes are in good working condition.' Thereafter, I did some alignment and wheel balancing on the car - a 15 year-old land cruiser that has turned out by any stretch to be a dependable war horse. That done, I was ready to do battle in the name of travel by road on the neglected, ill maintained, deplorable Nigerian roads. My destination from Owerri was Kafanchan.
The last time I did a long distance road travel in Nigeria (from Lagos to Owerri) was a few months ago before the last elections. The last time a Nigerian policy maker of worth drove on a long distance trip on any Nigerian road and it was publicized, if I remember vividly, was when Deziani Allison-Madueke then minister of works made that famous trip on the Shagamu Benin road. It was the trip that opened her eyes to the deplorable conditions of roads in Nigeria. She was instantly moved to tears.
It was the trip that precipitated a vow from her and a huge hope for we the people -'the condemned to death' Nigerian road users as she vowed to do everything within her limits to turn things around for good on Nigerian roads. It was a trip that made it possible for Nigerians to know that the sum of three billion Naira was spent for the rehabilitation of that road which is the major artery of transportation for the people of the south-south and their south east distant cousins.
Apart from discovering Nigeria, I have always made conscious efforts on most of my driving engagements across this land to learn a lesson or two in the observation of my environment with particular interest in the people I may come upon. But of much import to me have been the nature of the roads I drive on. It was after I had gone far into my driving across the land that I began to make a mental comparison of the roads in the south or any other with the roads in the north. For example, I am shocked to announce that by far, the federal roads that surround or cut through Imo have been better maintained than the rest. Same cannot be said of roads in Anambra or Abia states. And I do not know the reason why. All I know is that, that portion of the Owerri-Onitsha road they call Upper Iweka area should be a veritable shame to both Governor Peter Obi and the federal authorities.
Take as an example, the interstate federal road that links Owerri and Aba. It was a piece of hell at the peak of its deplorable condition. Yes, although that road ought to have been dualized by now judging the volume of vehicular traffic on it, it is, now, surprisingly pot hole free, until it joins the Enugu-Port Harcourt 'express' road. The completely neglected Enugu-Port Harcourt express road is the greatest death trap right now, east of the Niger!
The other road that is relatively speaking, pot hole free is that road from Owerri to Okigwe. To the eternal glory of the Federal Emergency Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA), that road which ought to have been completely dualized by now, too has been completely rehabilitated. Same goes for the federal road from Okigwe through Umuelmai and to Umuahia. Unfortunately, sections of the recently rehabilitated portions of that road have started to peel.
This was the mental picture I was in when I drove from Abuja to Keffi in Nasarawa state. To be sure, every road in Abuja is of first class standard. It was from there, I veered left on to the Keffi-Kaduna road which would have, if, I were not branching off at Kwoi into Kafanchan, led me direct to Kaduna. Surprisingly, that accident prone road, which seven years ago took the life of a very close friend is still the way it was. The potholes on the road have assumed the dimensions of craters.
The journey which ought to have taken less than an hour now stretches into hours as the driver is forced by circumstance to be on the lookout for death traps on a road as important and relevant as the Keffi-Kaduna.
The Kwoi-Kafanchan road is something else. Newer than the Kaduna-Keffi road, portions of it have peeled and potholes developed almost to an embarrassing situation. So much that self help facelift methods which I thought were peculiar to roads in the south east have sprung up. On that road with beautiful sceneries and undulating rolling hills, bordered by boulders and rocks of magnificent sizes, you would encounter able-bodied, sweat smeared young adult males work the roads.
Tirelessly with shovels and hoes, they sand fill portions of the road that have sunk or are sinking. Embarrassingly, they pause to beg for money from motorist, some who are blackmailed to understand the worth of the work of these unemployed youths. Often, they stop to drop a naira or two.