THE journey from Lagos to Onitsha, Anambra State in South-East (East), Nigeria has not reached halfway but over 30 checkpoints have been crossed. All manner of security and law enforcement agents, from Police to the Army, Customs, the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), revenue touts and task forces besieged the highway to bully road users especially, vehicles heading towards the East for money.
Along the route, scenes of people having security men stand in front of them with gun and watching them strip to their pants in the name of ‘searching’ as well as fully-loaded vehicles being unpacked as the armed men with pistols and rifles deep their hands into personal effects of the cornered travellers in the name of the ‘searching’ which usually ended in the victims paying more money under compulsion or getting arrested or booked if they ‘prove stubborn’ emerged in scores.
Joined to the usual intervals of bad spots on the roads, the result was a very slow and frustrating journey that lasted over 14 hours instead of about six hours. The Sunday morning mission that ordinarily, should have been less encumbered, inclement weather and smoother turned so nightmarish that even the unbiased could note the nauseating impact of the checkpoints, rude cops and bad terrain. As at the time the travellers who left Lagos at about 5: 15am got to Bridgehead, on the boundary of Onitsha and Asaba, Delta State, late they had passed through 48 unfriendly security stops. Interestingly, 45 of such points were mounted in Ogun, Ondo and Edo states.
The difference in harsh conditions on the various parts of the route was very glaring. It was so conspicuous that it spurred discussion on the possible intent of whomever or whatever caused the many checks elsewhere and fewer somewhere.
“That tells how they want to punish the East and people heading for the East in some parts of Nigeria. They are doing this to extort our people and treat us like outcasts,” said one of the passengers, Okwy.
“How do you reason this way, Okwy, a very educated man like you,” retorted his friend Joe.
“Forget this your education thing, Big Joe. That’s what makes most of us, you and I, not see things clearly. Reason, just reason – some guys just hatched a plan to smartly demarket traveling to the East because they know that Easterners depend a lot on those journeys for their trading and businesses. They just want anybody who does the journey once to hate the experience so much that he would not want to do it again. Think, my brother, think deeply!”
“That’s one problem with you. You read too much (sic) meaning into everything… even where there’s nothing serious. How would all the Police, Army, Road Safety and Custom people sit down one place and plan to outwith the entire East or is it Ndi Igbo? Is it possible?” queried Joe as at the time their cab got to a military post that had concrete-stuffed metal drums stationed on the expressway in obstacle formation.
Their banter stopped as they got to the soldiers after over 30 minutes of lulled traffic. Less than four minutes after crossing the army barricade they encountered a patrol team of over half a dozen FRSC officers who like other dozens of teams of cops and traffic marshals earlier in the long route asked for every imaginable document, barely short of requesting for the manufacturing certificate of the vehicle from the driver.
Less than one kilometre from that post some saucy policemen waved down the car. Okwy would have it no more.
His refusal to alight from the back seat where he sat tired and angry made the cops delay the vehicle for at least 15 minutes. Back in the cab after they released them, Okwy was livid. “You see what I have been saying?” he asked no one in particular. “They just want to show their power because they have guns and bullets bought for them with our money. They point guns at us and do anything they like – in our own country. Well, that is if this is still our country.”
At the last question, Joe who seemed to have an unusual capacity to soak in all jolts and interruptions on the road, interjected: “Very soon you will come with your “there was a country” discourse as if you are Chinua Achebe. Please, let there be peace in this motor. We already have more than enough stress by uniform people, even woman wey hold gun don chance person in this journey!”
“You get me now! That’s just because you are heading to the East. Simple!” said Okwy. This attracted the participation of another commuter. The young lady said: “Bros Okwy, forget that. No be woman or no woman matter. Whether na young or old woman or small pikin sef, anybody wey carry gun stop you, you must surrender o! Else, na “story that touches the heart’ be your case o!”
“Sista Chichi, forget that one. It is better that my fellow man took advantage of me than woman chancing me.”
All the while the banters rumbled in the vehicle, the cab’s driver, Sege kept mum but when he found himself held by long bad stretch of the road at Benin Bypass at about 6.30pm. He let out a deep sigh and uttered in exhaustion thusly: “If only, I had listened to my wife, I for no go this journey. When are we going to reach Onitsha today? And I must commot (leave) East before 11pm today.”
As the concerned commuters quizzed their suddenly vocal driver, Sege’s deep worry was unearthed. The driver is a Yoruba man of South West, Nigeria, unlike all his three passengers who are Igbo of South East. He disclosed that in his 18-year commercial driving career, he had taken delight in making trips from Lagos to the East. According to him, he so loved Igbo people and “the way they did business” that he almost married an Igbo girl from Nnewi.
During the chat, the cause of Sege’s worry emerged. He kept saying: “Me, I must leave the East this night. Lai-lai, I no fit sleep for East, even if na midnight, I de commot!”
It turned out that the Ekiti State native driver’s fears, despite his seasoned endeavour on the East-West route, is caused by recent reports of protests, violence and massive headiness from the East. A plethora of harrowing reports of streets, cities, states and the entire South-East one lockdown following the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPoB) call for action has scared the young man in his early 40s. Worst are sensationalised reports of the outcomes of the recent sit-at-home every Monday prescribed by IPoB in the zone. Telling the tales in obvious awe, Sege disclosed all the bloodletting, arson, mugging and wanton destruction he had heard or read about the sit-at-home development and IPoB generally.
The very harried driver was so startled about the whole thing that he kept sighing, hissing and cursing himself till he reached his terminus and turned in return like Formula One racer. Urged to wait a while he yelled in reply: “For what? So you brought me to die here? I cannot come and die here. Lai-lai! I hear say IPoB go get riot (his words instead of ‘sit-at-home’) tomorrow (Monday) and Tuesday, and you want me to stay make them kill me, Olorun o ni je (God forbid).”
He zoomed off at about 9pm and never looked back.
Sege is just one identified case of one friend or should one say, business associate, Igbo has lost to the current headiness. While in the Lagos to Onitsha journey, he asked his Igbo clients a question that seems to be boiling in the minds of most friends of Ndi Igbo which majority may not have opportunity to express openly. “Abeg, when Igbo people begin follow politics reach the level of closing business for days? I never see am before since I de follow Igbo. A bi the riot people de carry gun point for them head to close shop?”
Indeed, socio-politically, things are not good for Igbo, in Nigeria but the people are still faring far better than their foes in enterprise. However, Ndi Igbo are currently, threading on a delicate line of their slim edge. What they need is to guard seriously, against losing their life wire which has always been, and still remains, active participation in business and industry which the current tendency to close shops, even for brief moment threatens. A very critical study of things, developments around the South-East and environ would show a hidden glove punch to weaken Igbo’s foundation in merchandising. The people must not make themselves handy prey to their unrelenting hounds through ventures that clamp down on their businesses and the freedom of movement…
Any initiative that cages Igbo hinders Igbo.
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