Apparently, some officials of the National Union Of Road Transport Workers, NURTW were keeping watch over activities of drivers who refuse to come into the park to pick passengers, and had speedily overtaken the vehicle conveying him and other passengers to LAFIA, just a few seconds after he boarded the cab. They were intent on punishing the driver for picking him rather than moving on, leaving him no choice than to go into the motor park, but after arguing here and there the NURTW officials let the driver be, but not after the latter had to part with some change.
The journey didn’t feel like it did when he traversed the same road the first time years back. Much of the space he knew back then, with the Guinea Savannah Grassland had given way, in some places, to houses for residential and business purposes, there were also more Petrol Stations along the way. About two kilometres to AKWANGA a near tragedy occurred when an oncoming vehicle suddenly made like it was about to turn at top speed, then veered into the bush by it’s side, and remained upright. They stopped (as other vehicles that were about at the point in time) to see if anyone was hurt in order to render help. Fortunately, none of the four occupants in the car were hurt, but the old man at the back caused a stir when he staggered out of the car, fiddling with the ropes of his trousers, and rushing off to take a leak, leaving many of the onlookers who made to help him thinking he needed one, in fits of laughter.
He resisted the urge to stopover in Akwanga, and feel the town even if it was just for a few hours, then enter Lafia late in the evening, but he thought the better of it, electing rather to assimilate for the umpteenth time, all he could about the town in passing through it. It didn’t look too different from Keffi, atleast the part close to the road. There were a few storey buildings and the length of the area now occupied was longer than the last time he passed by, before they once again encountered the space of aridity with guinea savannah for kilometers on end, that’s synonymous with travelling by road in the north, a reason why census result in the North is always a bone of contention as Nigerians from the densely populated South cannot understand how the seemingly sparsely populated and arid North manage to present the numbers they get when censuses are carried out, in contrast to the more feasible statistics with a country like Australia whose huge landmass isn’t directly proportional to her population. However, a twist to this controversy, that lays credence to the assumed large population in the North, lies in the fact that the average Northern family, especially of Muslims, consists of the Man, three or four wives, and about twenty children (many of whom, in the case of the very poor, are given away to Muslim Clerics/Imams even to far-flung areas of the North, under whose tutelage the children learn the Qur’an as students, and popularly called Al-Majirai, spend the day with plates begging for food and money), and that is widely conservative, compared to the South were the norm is of four children in a monogamous home.
These Al-Majiri are also ready and willing tools at the hand of mischief makers, bigots and religious fanatics who use them to not only forment trouble, but even carry out the destruction of lives and properties during ethno-religious crisis that often bedevil the North of Nigeria (even before the advent of Islamist Fundamentalist Groups like Boko Haram came to the fore). They are also used by politicians and irredentists in like manner as alluded to by former Governor of Kano State in Nigeria’s Northwest, now senator who after this years’ General Elections, in reaction to the former first lady’s comment about the penchant of northerners to “Born Troway” (have children without a care as to what happens to them afterwards), stated thus:
“Look at what his (President Jonathan) wife was saying that northerners are this and that; how could you say that to northerners? You can’t insult us and think that you will get away with it. This is democracy – a game of numbers, and that is why we went back and put Almajiris together to get about two million votes.”
The issue of population in the North is also associated with the hampering of governments’ and International Aid Agencies, like the BILL GATES FOUNDATION’s effort to finally eradicate POLIO in Nigeria as most northerners refuse to make their children available for immunization for fear that it is an agenda by the Christian West to reduce Nigeria’s muslim population, citing the drug/vaccine trial in the 1990’s involving an international pharmaceutical company that resulted in deaths and debilitation of children who partook in it in Kano, as an example. The opposition to vaccination was vehemently proclaimed at some point when some vaccinators, targeted by unknown gunmen in Kano were shot and killed a few years back. It is also for this reason that government programs targeted at population control through the Planned Parenthood Federation and other local and foreign NGOs only find listening ears in the South,and operating mostly underground in some parts of the North.
As they began to close in on Lafia, about two hours after he left Keffi, he noticed that the windy road through hills, surrounded on a side (and sometimes both sides) by valleys/gullies which was notorious for swallowing heavy duty vehicles conveying goods (as well as other classes of vehicles whose drivers aren’t used to navigating that terrain besides mere happenstances), have now had incorporated to it metallic railings to prevent those vehicles from falling overboard, even when they find themselves in reverse motion, when climbing uphill becomes a tad difficult.
The usual sight of street lights that welcomed one to Lafia, was a familiar sight he felt happy to see again, the only difference this time around been that they were now SOLAR POWERED, with the Panels attached just above the lamp holders, to ensure that the facility isn’t affected by the epileptic nature of power supply in Nigeria. The last time he was in Lafia, what constituted the whole of the capital was just in that one road, while the rest outside of the one road consisted of pockets of villages. He noticed, as they burrowed further into town, that some of the roads leading outside of that “one” road had been tarred. Once he alighted from the cab, he made for MILLIONAIRE’S QUARTERS where he stayed (and infact lived for a while after his National Youth Service Corps, NYSC program, in search of a job) the first time he visited Lafia less than a decade ago. Interestingly, though he applied for a dentist’s position at DALHATU ARAF SPECIALIST HOSPITAL, he was never called up for an interview despite the fact that the clinic hadn’t functioned for a while as they were short of dental staff. He wondered if the clinic had now been resuscitated and if it had, the criteria in which those employed were selected, because sources close to management back then, told him that he wouldn’t be called up, talk more interviewed as he wasn’t an indigene of the state. This was even worse than in Jigawa State, Northwest Nigeria where non-Indigenes were employed but only on a two-year renewable contract while full employment with benefits was given to indigenes (who are usually fewer in number and easily rise to top positions in the state or federal civil service, requiring therefore that their space be filled by others in the hospitals as doctors), other Northerners and Asian and North African Expatriates, especially with whom they shared similar cultures and language, like Islam and Arabic.
“Millionaires’ Quarters” now truly reflected it’s name than what he used to know it as, from the last time he was there. What used to be bare space had been taken over by magnificent buildings that seemed like they sprouted from the ground overnight, with choice foliage allover the place. He figured that it must’ve become extra-expensive to live in such a place now. He hailed an ACHABA (moped taxi) to take him to BUKAN-SIDI which is the other side of town so he could see what Lafia looked like, before retiring to a cheap hotel. His rider showed him the governors’ house along that same major road. It was a one story building that appeared modest, though tasteful compared to those around it, with a high wall and no visible security personnel, though he could see the CCTV Cameras in obscure places. They also rode past another “TA’AL MODEL E-LIBRARY” (more expansive than the one he had seen in Keffi) as well as a “TA’AL MODEL SECONDARY SCHOOL”, before they eventually arrived at Bukan-Sidi, where he elected to walk rather than be biked into the village just so he could see if there had been any changes.
Bukan-Sidi had changed, new houses as have come to be norm has been built, but the roads here remain unpaved. He knew that this was the kinda of place one could get the true feel of how average citizens and masses of the state coped. After walking a few meters off the road, he walked into a small shop for some soda and cookies, while observing his surroundings, mobile and immobile. He was impressed by the industry of women from Nigeria’s North Central region, of which Nasarawa State was a part as evidenced by the women working at a MELON MILL directly opposite the shop where he had taken temporary shelter.
After the melon had been de-chaffed by a machine meant for the purpose, the women would then take advantage of the wind later in the evening, to blow off a major part of the chaff from the melon spread out on the ground, while the rest is then manually removed from the melon seeds in shallow baskets by the women much later. He knew that there must be a machine that will not only de-chaff but incorporate a part that will also deliver the melon seeds raw and ready to use, but he thought that if the women working at the method he had just witnessed could afford it, they would’ve done that already. That business remained an area government assistance, or that of MICROFINANCE BANKS could come in handy.
The middle-aged woman running the shop who had been observing him quietly for sometime, decided to strike up a conversation with him. She eventually turned out to be quite talkative especially when she learned that he was visiting for a few hours to see what had become of a place he once knew. Most of what she told him about developments in Lafia and Nasarawa State were things he already knew or had gleaned since setting foot in the state, except for the refugee crisis in the state following the sacking of some EGGON villages by rampaging FULANI whose actions many suspect was to bouy up the governor politically, and whip the Eggon into line before the last elections, to ensure that a percentage of the ethnic group’s population are in a position that will make it difficult for them to exercise their franchise, than vote their own running for governorship in the opposing People’s Democratic Party. Unlike the refugees and Internally Displaced People, IDPs affected by the activities of the insurgent group, Boko Haram in the North-eastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, currently under a State Of Emergency, yet with arrangement to ensure that they voted, such wasn’t the case with the IDP’s in Lafia from neighbouring villages now residing in places like Bukan Sidi with relatives and friends and in town, at IDP centers (equipped with mobile clinics) set up by the government in a bid to deflect suspicion from a population that views it as responsible for their predicament.
She opined that apart from that sore point on the part of the governor, one could say he had performed relatively well to deserve a second term.
Just when he thought his day would end quietly, and while looking for a perfect excuse to escape the owner of the shop, whose conversation has now turned to relationship matters, probably from sighting his wedding band, his attention was called to a whistling lady coming in the direction of the shop by a passerby. He couldn’t recall who she was immediately, but she reminded him once she entered the shop that she was the teacher at SANDAJI INTERNATIONAL NURSERY AND PRIMARY SCHOOL, who had been his neighbour while he was still job hunting at the house near the Monday Market after he had to leave Millionaires’ Quarters, on the relocation of the friend he was squatting with at the time.
That was when it came to him, Mercy for that was her name, didn’t even want to be associated with him then, and had this air around her, which was why beyond introducing himself to her and the occasional “hi” and “hello” greetings, he interacted very little with her, unless he found himself in a position where it was of utmost necessity, and no one else could solve his problem, like getting a BOILING RING during winter to boil his bath water.
She told him he had changed and it looks like life had been kind to him, he replied in like manner even glowingly, though he lied. Her presence, served as avenue to rescue himself from the shop woman whose clutches were beginning to go round him with unwanted familiarity. Once they were out of the shop, Mercy offered to host him for the night rather than have him go waste money and buying expensive food at a any of the posh hotels (which is what he would ordinarily not do) in Lafia. On their way to her place aboard a KÈKÉ (Tricycle, which was different from those in Lagos, because it like many of the ones he saw, had doors, and had been gifted many of the riders by the governor, thus branded “TA’AL KEKe”), as it was evening at which time the ban on motorbikes and moped taxis was in force across the capital, She told him she’s been married but her husband a business man had died two years ago at the hands of terrorists during a business trip to Yobe in Nigeria’s Northeast at the height of the insurgency, the sadness and depression that enveloped her, cost her her pregnancy for what would have been their first child, and she had kept to herself since then.
After he had bathed and rested at her place, they both went out for a walk later that night and ended up at a Pepper soup joint. He ordered GOAT HEAD MEAL for both of them, a plate for him, and half a plate for her on her request, for almost half the price of what he pays for same in Lagos. She requested for a bottle of beer, while he settled for water having gone sober. He was shocked at the size of the meal put before him when the waiter arrived with their order, and he did well to request for a take-away container when he found that he couldn’t go beyond half of the offering.
Back at Mercy’s, after some exchange of tired words they found comfort in each others’ arms and warmth and sweetness between each others’ legs. At that point, nothing else mattered to them both.