I love to travel quite a lot, especially when it is by road and the country is Nigeria. There’s just so much to see on the roads that I’m always drawn to it, each time there’s an event that requires my moving from a part of the country to the other.
Infact, I’m thrilled more by the journey to be made than the event I am to attend most of the time, if not all of the time.
There are many things that make travelling by road in Nigeria unique and interesting and would make a road travellers delight anyday, especially when you do it the way the majority of the Nigerian masses do on a daily basis.
You may decide to travel by the big (even double decker) luxury buses, or the small ‘kombi’ buses. The luxury buses will make much sense if you’re travelling from one end of the country to the other, or if you want to make such long journeys at night.
Night journeys are an option when you don’t have enough to fly, or you’re afraid of heights or you changed your mind about flying after a major air disaster or near-air disaster experience that’s commonplace with travelling by air in the Nigerian airspace with any of the local airlines currently dotting the Nigerian landscape and airspace, and you want to still reach your destination early the next morning to make an appointment.
The small ‘kombi’ buses and cars are other options one can explore, though the small cars are never a choice for me when it comes to long distance journeys, except when it becomes absolutely necessary.
The ‘kombi’ buses are all purpose, as long as they don’t break down on the road and belong to a reputable transport company that’s been in the business for a very long time. They are my preferred choice, whether adequately ‘air conditioned’ or not, as well as with or without audio-visual entertainment.
They give you ample space to freely view the outside world, to see what changes have occured since the last time you made the journey through same place, and compare developments in some area to the other.
You can trust the drivers to ensure you don’t have any sleep (deserved or not), as they make for every ditch available on the road, while throwing your gut about in the process. Only someone, who’s been bitten by a Tse-Tse fly can remain somnolent in the conditions under which journeys are made on Nigeria’s mainly dilapidated roads, as even bus companies noted for careful driving in the past have slightly begun to drop guard over their errant drivers. For me though, the whole journey is always a thrill, good or bad.
The journey starts with the ritual of a prayer (Nigeria is so religious, we pray even before we commit evil) either by one unknown probably faking as a ‘pastor’ praying for ‘journey mercies’ for a few stipends that passengers may be willing to part with. Some of them will appreciate a ‘freewill’ offering, but seeing that most Nigerians have become tight-fisted owing to obvious reasons, they now seem to want to compel passengers to make offering, by offering them envelopes to put their ‘widows mite’ to assist the ‘work of evangelism’ worldwide.
When such pastors don’t show, then one of the passengers takes on the gauntlet. Having to be the one to act as pastor in the bus comes with consequences. It means the so called ‘prayer warrior’ will be at his/her best behaviour throughout the duration of the journey. There’ll be no toasting of a female passenger sitting near to him or if in the case of a ‘pastoress’, have simply killed any chance of being toasted by an interested male for the duration of the journey (except by another pastor, who may then begin to bore her if she was just a ‘fake’ pastoress in the first place).
She will also be left out of some fun things that may be going on in the bus that will be considered worldly, except (s)he wants to be viewed as a hypocrite.
The driver may just start everyone up on a religious note by playing ‘church songs’ or gospel music if that’s what you call it. You’d be fooling yourself if you thought that’ll be the trend for the rest of the journey (save he’s a ‘born again’ driver, which is almost rare to come by these days), as sooner than he leaves the park, ‘church songs’ soon give way to sometimes the most lurid, vulgar and sexually explicit types of music that Nigerian singers have churned out for a time as this. Except in the case of elderly drivers where you can be assured of some evergreen highlife tracks from ‘his’ time (which will bore the young but uplift the older passengers).
Nigerian roads are notorious for claiming lives because of their state of disrepair even though the present government of President Goodluck Jonathan has paid some attention to some of the Trunk A roads while commissioning many others for immediate repairs and expansion.
The dilapidated nature of Nigerian roads, make it expedient and pertinent that drivers of interstate vehicles be road savvy, and Nigerian road savvy at that. The fact that most drivers also want to clock record breaking ‘to and fro’ times ensure that they are doing these dangerous roads at break neck speeds urged on by most of the passengers in a hurry to get to their destinations for reasons best known to them. These daredevil drivers can be at top speed of 180km/hour while making calls with the other hand to their girlfriends or wife.
There are stopovers along the way. These are no randomly chosen spots, but places prearranged by the driver, where he gets a free launch, and his passengers get to then patronize the eatery where they have been brought. It also affords the passengers the opportunity to take a leak at the conveniences provided by these eateries, though it isn’t unusual to find that the queue is longer in front of the conveniences meant for the females than those meant for the males.
Other stopovers especially those made during night journeys across country encourage the indulging in other sinister pleasures by both drivers and some passengers, while other ‘innocents’ slept. A more than casual look at the joints one might decide to have one drink or the other at, will reveal that the same girls that a moment ago were serving drinks, could also be ushered (or be ushering men) to a darkly-lit room just behind the joint for a ‘stepping down’ of already built up ‘agro’ occassioned by the long journey, by men who cannot envision a single night without feeling the ‘wetness between the thighs’.
The time spent at stopovers will then depend on all of these happening, and the urgency most especially of the driver.
There will also be several periods where traffic will literally grind to a halt, giving roadside hawkers the opportunity to display their wares and hopefully make a killing for the day.
For each journey, these and more events take place routinely but with different shades and hue which is what interests the frequent traveller, apart from the changing scenery and the different cultures to be accosted on the roads.
There is a leper colony along Benin-Ore road, the occupants of which invade the roads at several points along the road begging for alms, that alone will give you a glimpse of the state of health care in Nigeria, especially of the poor and downtrodden.
This will make an incomplete piece if I neglect to mention the menace of armed robbery on Nigerian interstate roads. Sadly enough, most of those have been found to occur with the active connivance of the Nigerian police, with a drastic reduction in robbery activities noticed at one time after the present Inspector General of Police, M. D. Abubakar outlawed police roadblocks nationwide.
The negatives of road travel in Nigeria has however done little to persuade the teeming population of road users to abandon it. Not even the revamping of the railways have helped, talkmore the aviation sector which is still elitist in these parts.
Nigerian roads may not be the ideal, or close to the ideal, but Nigerians use it (even when they loathe to so do). For the politicians it’s a ready tool which they are quick to point at when they manage a ‘patch’ as their ‘dividend of democracy’, even when such roads have being under construction for close to a decade like the ‘East-West Road’ that’s meant to link most of the Niger Delta States.
To all those making interstate/cross country journeys ‘pon Nigerian roads, I say, ‘Bon Voyage’!