Having witnessed once how difficult it is to get about freely in Nigeria‘s North when politics and electioneering are in top gear, I’d decided not to be found anywhere around the North at such times. However, I had commitments (which had lingered for so long and had I not done the journey at the time I did, I probably would’ve had to wait till after the General Elections next year to do it, assuming there’d be no post-election violence) of a familial and business nature that necessitated my having to go there in the days preceding the October 1, Independence Day celebrations, till a few days after it. The electioneering, coupled with the fact that it was Independence Day (Monday) weekend meant that I’d be going into that territory with serious motives in the middle of celebrations and political rigmarolling.
The Lagos I left behind was one bracing for a political upending following the decision of Lagos landlord and godfather to incumbent Governor Akinwunmi Ambode to withdraw support for his godson in his bid for re-election. I travelled by road for the simple reason that I always want to gauge infrastructural development along the path I travel when making cross-country journeys across Nigeria, something that would hitherto be impossible should I travel by air. By night, because that way I don’t waste so much time of day in doing so. Travelling on that last Friday in September, like I did wasn’t peak period, so the luxury bus I boarded felt more like it was prepped for cargo than it was for passengers, such that in the end, I like a few others who made that journey that night had two seats to ourselves all the way from Lagos to Abuja.
Besides the fact that the journey was slow because of the weight in the cargo hold, which made the bus strain when it needed to navigate elevated aspects of roads, it was largely uneventful. The driver even had to change a bad tyre when we began to approach the bad roads in Ondo State in the wee hours of the morning, but I’d experienced many of such in my road travelling life to be bothered by such, and viewed passengers who found the delay it occasioned frustrating and irritating as either inexperienced or just simply easily irritable. For me such delays might even be ominous, and I hardly ever complain about. I was disappointed though that at that time of the morning, we were yet to leave the southwest of Nigeria. The slow speed occasioned by the heavy load that our bus was hauling, was further complicated by the bad roads we encountered even into Kogi State well over into full daylight. The Trunk-A roads were so bad that the driver had to opt for the Trunk-B in Okene only for us to return to the Trunk-A shortly after making the detour out of it because the roads had been blocked because the Governor, Yahaya Bello was in town for some political engagement, unconnected with his state’s party primaries scheduled for that weekend.
While the roads were bad, Okenne seemed to have done better for itself, definitely in spite of government help. There also seem to be a preponderance of hotels, motels and lodgings in the town, though not in the splendour with which the ones in Owerri (Imo State) in the southeast were cast. Hotel business appears to be the only business that can survive the harsh business environment that Nigeria represents, while manufacturing makes the least in that order. Lokoja didn’t seem to have changed much since the last time I passed through. Worse still, the recent flooding that besieged Nigeria’s middle-belt regions was yet to abate there, and houses, especially those close to the confluence between the Niger and Benue rivers were still submerged.
The journey from Lagos to Abuja that used to be about nine hours, took close to fifteen hours due to the combination of factors I’d earlier mentioned. The only consolation for me was the fact that I was able to observe better, the situation of things in the area we careered through. The scenic environments of Okenne and Lokoja, set in the hills was a delight to see, and I hoped that one day I could retire to such a place amongst nature, away from the concrete jungle of Lagos. It took up to an hour for the luxury bus to discharge its content at the terminus in Utako, before it proceeded to Mararaba, from where I boarded a cab into Nasarawa State, my third home.
The skies over Karu held the interesting sight of a big aircraft, accompanied by four smaller ones, displaying some fascinating moves which unfortunately only those of us travelling that quiet road were opportuned to witness. I put it to manoeuvres by the Nigerian Airforce in preparation for the Independence Day Celebrations scheduled for the coming Monday, one of such of which resulted in the collision
between two jets in Abuja earlier in the week before my journey, resulting in the death of one pilot whose parachute failed to effectively deploy, after ejecting from his jet, while the other sustained injuries.
Just before Keffi, the traffic had built up, but by that time, I was so fagged out that I couldn’t be bothered by delays owing to party faithfuls and supporters returning from political rallies and constituting a nuisance to other road users, in preparations for the party primaries that weekend. The North doesn’t joke with politics, as it appears there’s more the desire to be led politically, and otherwise there, than it is in the Southeast (the place of origin of my parents), where self actualization for the individual consists of the shedding of any iota of subservience to and under a fellow man. The reason the Igbo are regarded as a people “without kings”.
I did nothing serious with what was left of the Saturday after I arrived my destination in Nasarawa State, and missing the Sabbath service of that day, having arrived late but I looked forward to making up for that by attending for THE LAST GREAT DAY on Monday. Communing with family and friends, and later scouring through town for some Balangu (Mutton Kebab), since concerns for my heart meant that I have to stay away from Beef kebab (Suya), which I gratefully washed down my gastrointestinal tract with some refreshingly bitter and cold stout, accounted for how I spent the rest of that day before retiring for the day, ahead of my main reason for making the journey, the core of which was to be initiated the next day.
When I travel elsewhere that’s not the North, waking up early was never a thing. However in the North where I did my National Youth Service Corp, NYSC Program, and where I frequently visit, I tend to be more active early because of how sunrise comes up earlier there than in the Southwest, where I reside. That Sunday morning I decided to take a stroll in the cool morning breeze and to have me some Vitamin D from the rays of the sun, I was sure by the time I’d have done with my gig in the afternoon, I’d have grown a tad darker if not tending to blue-black from the heat of sunshine. I soon came across a collapsed mudbrick structure while strolling. The builder obviously hadn’t come across the blog post “https://madukovich.wordpress.com/2015/11/28/owning-your-home-in-nigeria-2/” I made concerning using mud bricks for building, where I warned that such shouldn’t be undertaken during the rainy season for obvious reasons. The ideal is to finish the mudbrick structure during the dry season, and have it plastered over with cement and roofed before the rains set in.
A bath, breakfast and brunch after I returned from stretching my legs; a few more guests, pleasantries and drinks, and I was ready for business. The heat from the sun was so much, that after walking a few meters to my destination, I retreated into a pub for a cold bottle of beer. Interestingly, when I called the people I was meant to meet up with, they were also inclined to have the meeting moved up for later in the evening, a time for which a free ride into town would’ve become available for me. While at the bar, I was inundated by calls from friends and family in Lagos who wanted to know if I was caught up with what was happening in Jos.
I had come upon some bit of news about some killings there, on my way to Abuja, and I was disappointed that despite the deployment of soldiers to that part of the middle-belt, the violence there seemed to be unabating. However, the dimension the latest killings took was what alarmed those calling me, since they were aware of my proximity to Plateau State, which I hadn’t planned on visiting even though I also have very close relatives there, and had visited severally in the past, when I make my rounds in the North. A recently retired Major-General, Idris Alkali had been declared missing a few weeks back, and his last known location was said to have been somewhere around Dura Du in Jos, Plateau State, where there’d been attacks by Fulani Herdsmen, against indigenous farmers, who had also on several occasions resorted to self-help seeing as the government was paying lip service only to apprehending and bringing suspects to book. In the week before I made my journey, the Nigerian army had happened upon a pond formed from an old mining site in the same Dura Du area, and began retrieving vehicles and motorcycles from there, including the car in which the missing retired General was travelling in. Some bodies were recovered from thence, except that they were not his, save for some clothes (a T-shirt bearing his name) and military fatigues and boots, which doesn’t make sense considering he was retired and shouldn’t be travelling in military attire, but what do I know?
It didn’t take long for the demonization of the Berom people, who reside in that area, to begin on social media, especially seeing as the natives had protested the intention of the military to wade into the pond in search of the missing General. It was gathered that the women of the town had protested naked, against the plan of military authorities to drain the “artificial pond“, as they considered it sacrilegious and harbinger of evil should such an activity be embarked upon. The arrests of several inhabitants of that area wasn’t unexpected, following the discoveries, but what followed that, despite the blackout from traditional media was why my phone was abuzz while I waited at a bar for the midday heat to subside, with a cold beer. Apparently, kilometres away from Dura Du, at a student’s hostel of the University of Jos, students were attacked by men dressed in military fatigues the night before, killed a few, and injured many. Some armed men came upon another community and shot sporadically at distraught people running helter-skelter looking for shelter and cover from intended and stray bullets. The state government responded by declaring a dusk to dawn curfew, but the vilification of the Berom continued on Twitter, especially by those who felt that the Berom were always quick to play victim of Fulani attacks, when they were always attacking travellers through their lands and doing away with those they suspected to be Muslim, and Hausa, and/or Fulani.
By evening, I had allayed the fears of my well wishers, assuring them that I was in a safe area, my ride arrived and we proceeded into town. We came across an aspect of the road in Tudunwada beside Mosalacin Idi as you make for Keffi Town in Nasarawa where a portion had caved in following heavy rainfall of some days back. It had given way immediately after that rainfall, but nothing was done, till it caved in afterwards, and considering the cacophony that’s of politics in the air, it didn’t look like the state government, or legislative representatives at both state and federal levels, including prominent personalities from that area will be interested in fixing the bad portion of that road that’s currently threatening to cut off the people of that area from the rest of the country.
By the time I returned from my business meeting, it was already late, but I decided to still hangout a bit more. This time, once again with Balangu and with a cousin as escort we headed to a club close by for some drinks. I’ve always loved the way clubs, pubs, bars and the likes were set in very obscure places in the North, unlike the opulence associated with such places in Lagos and in Southern Nigeria. Except for muffled sounds from outside such “caves”, you couldn’t tell that beyond the walls something bacchanal could be happening. Such places in the North suited me so well, even though I might not get about some of the excesses that such places condoned, they served as an opportunity for anthropological expedition for me. I have noticed travelling about Nigeria, that there’s this air the Lagosian possessed, such that even if there was someone else ready to spend more money at pubs outside of Lagos, once it is known that a particular person is from there, s/he draws audience more readily. I’ve seen this happen many times when I travel out of Lagos, even though in Lagos I’m but a nonentity.
It was the eve of Nigeria’s Independence Day Anniversary, the 58th and the whole place was agog with activity. The pattern of Independence Day Celebrations across Nigeria is such that it is more in the North were inhabitants consider themselves more Nigerian, closest to that will be in the Niger Delta regions, as the day was another opportunity to revel, just like in the Southwest though with a few thinkers feigning indifference, while it is mostly subdued in the Southeast where the Igbo think they’ve been hard done by, by the lie that Nigeria represents. I’d noticed how everybody seemed to be in their Sunday bests and had initially attributed it to that day been Sunday, until the evening showed its hands, and the girls showed up in their skimpiests and started making their way into the obscure places around, accompanied and many times not. It never comes to me to want to try myself with any of the girls I see in the clubs or pubs in the north “these days”, not because they aren’t as beautiful as their southern counterparts, but rather it has to do with the ease with which they take drugs, everything must be experimented with like they were suicidal, leaving them with an altered sense of responsibility such that just about anything could be tried and done with them, with reckless abandon, and that’s definitely not how I want it. I left there after it was announced that a female dancer from Lagos was going to take the stage, and show the clubbers the latest moves from the “centre of excellence”.
It was a wise decision to leave, because sooner had I arrived at our family house, than it began to rain. It rained the way it does in the North, accompanied with thunder and lightning, with the raindrops pelting the roof with vengeance, but we didn’t have to fear flooding because we were located on a highland, though we did notice that some of our crops didn’t survive the battering that was visited upon them the night before. The rains, coupled with the fact that I was inebriated also meant that insomnia wasn’t going to play into how my sleeping pattern will pan out that night. I had accomplished a major part of my reason to have journeyed that far, but I still had just one bit of activity to cover for which a return to Abuja became unavoidable.
The next day, of course starting from the evening before it, was the Jewish last festival for the year, THE LAST GREAT DAY that immediately follows seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles. I went with family to the Sabbath mission they attend. Nothing out of the ordinary, though everybody, from the one singing with the microphone, and those accompanying with sounds and beats felt that the best way to pass their message across would be to do it at their loudest. Besides that let down, it was pretty much elevating, and I was glad I was able to fulfil all regarding Jewish feasts this year, to the best of my ability. By 2pm we’d closed, and I had to return home to freshen up and start on my journey to Abuja.
Arriving very late into Abuja was my intention, I didn’t want to be bogged down by Independence Day revellers, though I felt the vestiges of what might have been when I ubered into town to see a friend and associate. I wasn’t impressed with Abuja this time. Nothing has changed much in terms of government presence there, in fact social amenities are on the decline and the only thing that might stop encroachment from the outlying conurbations that are no less slums, would be a push back of the city gates into those areas to ensure that amenities enjoyed by residents of the main city, extends to those parts. Private investment into real estate in Abuja remains very enticing and the great jobs some Nigerians have embarked upon there makes for much joy. I visited one of such marvels in the many estates dotting the landscape of Apo Dutse and was accommodated in yet another, reminiscent of those British homes of the upper class a few kilometres from that. These were well serviced homes with constant power supply, hot and cold water running in the pipes, with state of the art gadgets installed for security purposes, well paved streets and lawns, street lighting (that’s now becoming difficult to maintain by government in the city), with the downside of having heavily armed military personnel stationed not necessarily in the open, but not too out of way that you couldn’t see them. Though it is understandable that the wealthy inhabitants of these estates should have them around, considering the present security situation in Nigeria, and also if you consider that months back, some policemen were killed and their weapons taken from them, in their patrol van right in front of one of such estates.
I did some sightseeing Tuesday, with some business on the side before lunch with my host at Amala Place in Mabushi. Eating there was a delightful experience, and I recommend you do too anytime you’re in Abuja for business or pleasure, and interestingly it is all of that for a reasonably inexpensive price. All done, I was at the terminus in Utako for my journey back to Lagos. Fourteen hours later I was in Lagos, this time a combination of bad roads, and what I attribute to careful driving by the driver as responsible. It would appear as if there’d been a direction by the owners to their drivers of the formers’ reluctance to readily approve funds for immediate repairs of vehicles that suffer breakdowns because of the prevailing economic conditions in the country. I also surmise that the speed breakers that the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC had insisted that commercial and interstate drivers install in their vehicles may have played a role. Whatever might have been responsible, I miss the days when you travelled by night across the country, and be at your destination hundreds of kilometres away in the wee hours of the morning, to make your appointments, and not have to cancel them, to and fro, like it was for me this time.
Back home in Lagos, the political tsunami had occurred, and I glimpsed on TV Governor Ambode’s concession speech to Jide Sanwo-Olu who’d just won the party primaries to fly the flag of his party during next year’s governorship election in Lagos. I had watched Ambode’s Rant of a Press Conference while I was in Nasarawa State on Sunday, and felt he’d done himself in when he went beyond telling Lagosians to give him a second chance to disparaging his opponent, even to the extent of questioning his mental capacity.
The fears I expressed for Ambode in “https://madukovich.wordpress.com/2018/09/12/ambodes-headache/” had come to pass, and he had offended the people so much that they couldn’t even stand with him, they way they stood with his predecessor Babatunde Raji Fashola, when the same godfather, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu attempted to thwart the formers’ second term bid. I had my bath, ate a little and headed for work. It sure had been some long Independence Day weekend for me, sadly nothing along the paths I threaded suggested that Nigeria @58 wasn’t more than 5years and 8months in terms of all round development, peace and stability. The pictures Promise Bona posted on her Facebook Page to celebrate the day did justice to Nigeria’s situation and condition 58years after independence, and I couldn’t agree more with her.
– Promise Bona on Facebook
– Nigerians on Twitter
INDEPENDENCE DAY ODYSSEY https://madukovich.wordpress.com/2018/10/08/independence-day-odyssey/
Published by m'khail madukovich