He hadn’t been to the North of Nigeria for more than five years, though before that he’d frequented it for one reason or the other, ranging from academic, personal and familial, service to the nation and business. Infact he avoided travelling there since the Boko Haram insurgency took a more dangerous turn, after (now) outgoing President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan won elections four years ago, and many linked the rising spate of insurgency and insecurity in the North to a threat by some sections of the Northern elite to make his government ungovernable, should he win the said elections.
It will be the first time he would be traversing Nigeria by night since he got married four years ago. As a teenager, and on to young adulthood, it had thrilled him a great deal to travel by night, as he couldn’t fathom wasting a whole day on the road to make the ten to twelve hour journeys required to move from one end of Nigeria to the other by road.
There may not be much to see at night, but he relished the opportunity to see the stars in the clear skies that accompanied him in his journeys as he looked out the window, a rarity in the concrete jungle that is the Lagos where he was born and bred and still hustles in. The sights (both clandestine and non-clandestine) of the twenty-four hour economies, in places where the buses make a stop for light refreshment or for answering the call of nature were and are to look forward to. The best Kebabs (known in local parlance as Suya) are found also at these stops, tastier than any one could’ve tasted anywhere in the neighbourhoods where one lived. It seemed to him like, there were some benevolent spirits who do rounds at night to season the kebabs, giving them their very distinctive taste, that made them even mild to the Gastrointestinal tracts that he never had stomach troubles after tasting them, neither has he heard anyone make complaints in that light. Also, fellow passengers are usually asleep at night, enabling him to gather his thoughts together, and not the rambling situation that is associated with day travellers.
Not much had changed since he last went to a luxury bus park with plans to travel by night, infact since he’d been travelling by day, he had not had cause to travel using the long luxury “MARCO POLO” buses. One thing intrigued him though, and that was what appeared to be an embrace of ICT by the transporters. The interstate transport by road in Nigeria is dominated by transport moguls from the Eastern part of Nigeria, and over the years these ones have appeared not to be amenable to change, but he could easily attribute the change that is now being witnessed in that sector to the influence of the offsprings of these moguls who in many of the cases have taken over the day-to-day running of the business from their forebears, and subsequently introduced the changes that is tandem with the realities of the time.
Unlike in the past when ticketing was manual and laborious with so much human contact, he noticed that the transport company he was about to use has a website, where tickets could be purchased online. Touting has been to a large extent eliminated as well. He remembered how the Jibowu area of Lagos where there are large concentration of transport business, were normally besieged by touts, who can sometimes force passengers against their will to board a bus they didn’t intend to in the first place. Now, some of the transport business have Twitter handles and Facebook pages to garner feedback from their customers, and even treat the passengers better than before, though the food is still crap, and in-the-bus entertainment has been totally taken off night journeys, as is the heavily armed escorts that used to be a constant feature at some point when travelling by night was considered suicidal (and it even thrilled him to travel by night back then), though checks with metal,detectors was conducted before passengers boarded, and all manner of luggage regardless of size (save for laptops) went into the compartment below, but within the body of the bus. The changes he observed was a welcome development that brought smiles to his face, seeing that it was the last place he expected change to occur. He seemed optimistic that one day too, the counterparts of these ones of the Igbo stalk in Commerce will also adjust and adapt their business to suit the realities of the time.
Business has been hampered heavily by the recent fuel scarcity that he felt rather than sit by his shed and watch the day slip by, he should travel to the nations’ capital to see how the week preceding the handover from the dominant ruling party to the opposition (the first time in Nigeria at the Federal level, after the Tsunami of apocalyptic dimensions that swept the former out of power), was going besides engaging in some small business on the side. He had been informed by friends that since General Mohammadu Buhari (from Nigeria’s North West) won the presidential elections, the major streets of Abuja, and high brow hotels have been besieged by “Baban-Riga” wearing politicians, in exchange for the Niger Delta attire which was the feature when and while GEJ (as the president is popularly referred to online, and in daily conversations) held sway. Not even the high cost of transportation could sway him to make him change his mind, especially as his hosts were lining up entertainment of various kinds for him, and visiting Abuja as usual was always going to be some sort of homecoming for him, though he could never envisage himself living there, he proceeded to secure the window seat that was always priority for him whenever he travels by road.
His desire for a female seat mate and companion didn’t materialize, infact he didn’t (like a few other passengers) have a seat mate, as the bus was short of passengers going to Abuja, it appears for obvious reason of the Fuel Scarcity situation, and the resultant high cost of transportation. Interestingly, while listening to the news in the bus, he learnt that the striking bodies that had brought the country to it’s knees in recent days have called off their strike and distribution of fuel, and supply of gas to power stations are to resume in earnest. This gladdened him, seeing that the situation in Abuja will be smoother, but then pained him because he wouldn’t be able to maximize the opportunity that such change in situation will afford his business back in Lagos for the week he’ll be spending in Nigeria’s capital and adjoining towns. On the flip side though, he wanted the break, he had always looked forward to the opportunity to be whisked away out of the hustle and bustle of Lagos for a while, to a place where he wouldn’t have to think about the situation or condition that is Lagos and all that it represents, nor his hometown where there is always something to do or be involved in, no matter how much one wanted to be disconnected from the goings on around.
As usual in the bus, the preacher that gave some words of exhortation came by, and had his crowd to wow, but the preachers’ treaties didn’t buy him at all with his ineloquent message capped with a prayer for a safe trip, ending with the soliciting for funds to help grow the “work of dah Lor-“, to which he looked away towards the adjoining road from his window, as the preacher made to pass him his envelope. Once he alighted at Magodo, towards the outskirts of Lagos the journey proceeded smoothly, he then took the time to call all concerned as many a Nigerian about embarking on a journey was wont to do. He knew it will be a long night, and he will be there, all the way with the driver, the conductor and a few fellow passengers to keep vigil till Abuja appears in the horizon, all things been equal, by YAHWEH’s grace, in the day.