After that crazy incidence at the park in Onitsha the last time I had to travel to Rivers State from there (http://madukovich.blogspot.com.ng/2015/12/naija-tour-9.html?m=1), I totally avoided “clone” parks where unknown intrastate busses hustled unsuspecting passengers who then may spend hours on end before the journey started all in a bid to have the bus filled. Once I alighted from the bus that had brought me from Oye-Agu in the Anambra hinterland to Onitsha, I hailed down a moped taxi which took me directly to the Rivers State Transport Company, RSTC park. I also discovered that rather than blanketly boarding a bus to Port Harcourt, I could go directly to any of the towns I intend to travel to, and not approach same from Port Harcourt, as I used to in previous journeys but last, where I elected to alight before getting to PH, to find my way to Obigbo where I would usually spend the night at a hotel I frequent before business the next day in the city.
For the second time in journeys within eight months I took a seat in front of an interstate bus, between the driver and the other passenger who had the window, against my penchant for avoiding such seats for those at the back, where I figure there should be less chances of debilitating injuries, even death in the event of an accident. That seat in front prior to my arrival at the park, was occupied by a restless female, who said she was feeling somehow about traveling with the bus (though I feel she may not have liked her companion who apart from not looking handsome, was reading some church book), but later decided to make do with one of the seats at the back, as she couldn’t find anyone to sell her ticket to. I did want to leave Onitsha as soon as possible, and couldn’t be bothered by the vain premonition of an uncouth ingénue, besides I haven’t been nudged by any form of unusualness to demand that I botch traveling in the bus, though I’d rather be far from that woman, as much as I could, for which the seat she vacated in front became the next best option.
We didn’t waste much time at the park waiting for passengers, much of the time spent there was of people approaching the driver to ask for his help way-billing their goods, which filled much of the boot compared to passengers’ luggage. Just as we were about to go, Miss Restless begged to quickly go outside the gate to buy food to the ire of some passengers, though I wasn’t in the least perturbed as I always think delays while traveling bear a good and protective omen in contrast to a foreboding. It was however a great relief when she eventually turned up and the driver put us in motion out of Anambra State onto the Onitsha-Owerri Road. Unfortunately, his car-phone charger was the pin mouth type that can’t be used to charge my android phone, which meant that I couldn’t charge my phone that had been down for upwards of twelve hours since the power had been out while I was in the village for more than twenty-four hours. The discovery that the Enugu Distribution Company, EDC which supplies power to much of the southeast of Nigeria is owned by Chief Emeka Offor saddened me a great deal, as I could easily envisage that that regions electricity woes will only worsen, while the people will be made to pay through their noses for power they won’t see. I still had power in my Nokia 5360 simple mobile phone, which meant I could be reached via calls by acquaintances who had that number, but I’d been offline since my android phone went off, a situation that leaves me quite uneasy, making me wonder what life used to be like before social media, though I doubt that my case has become as bad as those South Korean kids I saw on a BBC documentary who suffered from social media addiction and were placed in rehab exhibiting different states of withdrawal.
I was glad to find that a considerable portion of the Onitsha-Owerri road, especially the part including Anambra, and some kilometers into Imo State had been finished. The last time I used it, eight months ago, the presence of the trucks and heavy-duty vehicles parked along the stretches of road made it impossible to guess how much of the work had been done. The stretch of the road from Imo, where the road now becomes Owerri-Aba-Port Harcourt road still had some non-motorable parts, and the absence of construction vehicles and paraphernalia meant that for now, not much will be done on that road. The driver didn’t make me regret sitting in front, because though he couldn’t help my Android phones’ situation, he compensated heavily for that with music, and not just any music but with reggae music, the old school variety for that matter. He had the songs on an MP3 player, from the late South African reggae artiste, Lucky Dube (the only non-Jamaican reggae artiste that could’ve easily passed as one), to Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Nigerian greats like Ras Kimono (whose lyrics for “Under Pressure” I heard clearly this time around, seeing that I was but a boy at the time it debuted on the Nigerian reggae scene, and couldn’t make much out of what he was saying), Orits Wiliki, Majek Fashek, Evi Edna Ogholi, The Mandators, even Ivorian Alpha Blondy came up once a while, with his characteristic clangy voice, and others that memory fails me to recount now. Other passengers bopped their head to the sound, even sang along when the chorus came up. I sang all the songs, within me, allowing only my innards to do the dancing. The rain on the outside provided the perfect scenery for a lively chat amongst the passengers behind us, led by an old man who wondered what happened to the reggae genre in Nigeria, as well as wondering why music has suddenly gone to the dogs, lacking in substance and life changing (for the positive) content.
Our joy was routinely assaulted by men of the Nigerian police, and at one point “customs” officials, who flagged us down almost at every point where they had checkpoints, on sighting the stack of goods in the boot. Twice, we had to disembark so the goods could be searched and linked to their papers (while some of us passengers exploited the opportunity to take a leak), though the true intention was so that the policemen could be tipped, before we could be let off to be on our way.
Interestingly, other buses that had goods like ours, at least of a particular bus company was always allowed to pass at the various checkpoints. Another passenger who also made this observation, claimed that this was so because the management of the bus company in question must’ve “rojered” (bribed) the police bosses overseeing that route, to ensure that the movement of their buses is unhindered, even if they were hauling nukes from point A to B. I counted the number of checkpoints from Onitsha till we arrived Port Harcourt to be about eleven, and except for one spot, the driver paid at least a hundred naira each (sometimes more, especially where passengers had to disembark) at all the checkpoints we encountered.
We arrived Owerri, more than an hour after leaving Onitsha, and I found that it had remained devoid of the presence of being a capital city under construction that I was familiar with a few years back. This was the same situation I met on ground eight months back when I passed through, and the governor (Owelle Rochas Okorocha) had become even further demystified, to become one of the worst in the country for not only owing worker’s salary for months on end, but for showing no willingness at all to salvage the situation, rather fiddling with a plan to reduce the work day week to three, so the workers can go irk a living elsewhere for the other two days, just so he can pay a pittance for the three days the workers spend at work. All these, while making no attempt to reduce the number of his political appointees, many of whom are relatives and/or in-laws or funding foreign trips (such as the one from which he returned a few days back, following rumors that he’d gone to India for treatment after he was slapped by a ghost), in the name of luring foreign investors to the state or to visit with his wife the family of his daughter who had been delivered of a baby in a hospital abroad, because the hospitals in his state had become nothing but “mere consulting clinics without drugs” (a la then Brigadier Sani Abacha coup speech, when President Shehu Shagari was toppled, and General Muhammadu Buhari installed as military Head Of State in 1983).
The only thing you get to see around the state capital, Owerri are hotels, so much so that on one particular road along the Owerri-Aba-Port Harcourt road the hotels are lined up one after the other, as if the government passed an edict that all hotels in the state must be located there. I can only imagine that the number of the hotels there beside each other will mean a fairly competitive price, as well as great services as they move to impress and keep customers. The presence of the hotels dotting Owerri may be aesthetically pleasing but the societal impact may not necessarily be that pleasing, knowing the kind of things that go on in those rooms between government officials and contractors, and business men and women on the one hand, and female students and other vulnerable females in our society, who for the hardships a clueless government bequeaths, consider an option in merchandizing their body to keep body and soul together.
I have come to conclude that the only light in the southeast is Anambra State. Enugu State is largely academic and civil service and not much in terms of economic advancement, though been former capital of old Anambra State, and long been exposed even as far back as the colonial era, it has managed to maintain the infrastructure it inherited from its glory days, coupled with its past as Nigeria’s coal hub. Ebonyi State is the most useless of all, though mainly because it is the most disadvantaged of the lot, plus the tragedy of governors without foresight (the only achievement of the present one been the procurement of hummer jeeps for all the members of the states’ rubberstamp legislators). Ebonyi State, is so sad that there are still larger swaths of areas within it, where there’s no GSM signal, such that the inhabitants of such places can only call when they come to town or the state capital, Abakiliki. Ebonyi people are even looked upon with derision by their Igbo brothers, making me wonder if they won’t be made fetchers of water and hewers of wood should the agitation for a separate country for the Igbo, BIAFRA materialize tomorrow. Abia State has a market hub, in Ariaria International Market, Aba but the state has been plagued with non-performing governors, who find it difficult to separate their states’ purse from their own, running the state like personal fiefdom, since the return to civil rule in 1999. Anambra has market hubs in Onitsha, Awka and Nnewi. The commercial capital, Onitsha is even more popular than the administrative, Awka. Automobile industries in Nnewi and Agriculture appears to have been given its pride of place by the present Obiano administration, not just by having a rice and vegetable farm, and now exporting same, but providing a conducive environment for entrepreneur sons of the soil, like Cosmas Maduka of Coscharis Motors the enabling environment to set up a rice farm at Anaku. Unfortunately, for political reasons Anambra is yet to benefit from the 30% derivation that accrues to oil producing states, even though it has crude oil basins, while Lagos (in southwest Nigeria) was swiftly elevated to the position even before the first barrel of crude was tapped.
We had become accustomed to the good, the bad and the ugly of what the journey was throwing at us, when all of a sudden, the old man pleaded to the driver to stop, so that he could “…. go and shit!” The driver promised to oblige him, once we get to the nearest petrol filling station, as the path we were traveling then wasn’t a safe enough stretch to stop. Eventually, the driver stopped, but not at a filling station, but at a mechanic’s workshop which he claimed his brother owns, and pointed out a bush path behind the workshop where the old man could go do his thing. Another opportunity provided itself for passengers to stretch their legs or go take a leak. I heard the passengers who had seats besides the old man, saying they weren’t surprised that his gut was messed up, going by the variety and combination he’d ingested, and the gracious bouts of farts he’d visited upon them while the journey lasted. When the old man returned, justifying his inalienable right to be allowed to go heed the call of nature, he was largely ignored by fellow passengers. At that time, all we wanted was to just be at our various destinations.
It was the presence of bad roads that reminded us that we had crossed into Rivers State. Fortunately, the rain had eased into droplets as the vehicle groaned it’s way through one ditch to the other till the driver was able to make his way out of the bad main road, into an off-the-road settlement with an unpaved road far better than the Trunk A. We were however held up on that alternative road just as we careered into it, as it appeared that a VIP was also using the road at the time, obviously avoiding the Trunk A just like we had done. I wondered whether the person of interest in one of the tinted glasses convoy of SUVs felt any shame having to use that road, seeing that if indeed it was the governor that was passing by, it was partly (if not wholly) his responsibility to ensure that that federal road was repaired to bring succor to road users in that axis. I quickly waved off my anger at the many failed governments in Nigeria with Majek Fashek’s crooning in the background, in which he was asking the Holy Spirit to take over the world.