At the mechanic workshop I heard loud roars of cannon from one of the nearby villages. I turned to the man, and said “It is not gunshots, but cannon”. “You are right, there is a burial going on in one of the nearby Igbo Etiti villages as we are talking”, he replied me. “Just yesterday (Friday, 27th September), the burial of Justice Regina Nwodo of Court of Appeal, Abuja took place at Ukehe community near here (he pointed his fingers in the air in the direction of the community). All the big men and women in Nigeria were here. They blocked everywhere with their big cars and security men with big guns. You are lucky today, ”he added. Justice Regina, wife of John Nwodo, Nigeria’s ex-minister died in a London hospital of cancer in early August. Diseases like HIV/AIDs are increasingly reducing the Nigeria’s population. Muslims who were our passengers had converted one side of a filling station under construction there into a mini mosque. They faced the east to chant their prayers and had prayed three times before six o’clock.
After my extensive interview with Jacob Ngwu Paul, I disappeared into the Igbo Etiti area to go in the direction where the sounds of the cannon came from. I eventually found the village. I returned to the mechanic workshop minutes after six p.m. and was told the Plateau Riders driver came with a wheel bearing with oil seal which didn’t fit the car. The two young newly recruited soldiers came to me at the Ogbede junction where I was standing like a disgruntled traffic police officer, watching moving humans and cars. One of them gave me another military salute. They never believed that I was not a military officer. “Sir, when our driver comes, you should allow us to beat him,” they said to me. ‘I don’t think the man intentionally did it. He is an old man and humble. He is working for somebody, lets endure he will come soon” I said to calm them down. “Okay, Sir”, they chorused deafeningly in a special military way.
I later followed them to the workshop side where some of other passengers were talking angrily about the driver. I didn’t want any person to beat up the poor driver. I appealed to them. I looked at my watch and it was twenty minutes before seven p.m. The driver had just arrived with another wheel bearing with oil seal. This time, it was the correct one. Jacob, the auto mechanic had promised us that he won’t shut his workshop until he fixed the car no matter the time. He kept his promise. In less than twenty minutes, he fixed the car. Dark clouds had started falling like a waterfall from the mouths of hills, mountains and trees around. The driver apologized to all and charged us not to fear and that Allah will lead us through the night to our destinations.
As we entered the bus again, we had sailed for about two minutes when I told the passengers that I wouldn’t travel by night and would stop over at Obollor-Ofor. Some of the passengers were not happy. Few of them expressed their desires to do so, but they didn’t have the means. They had used all the monies to pay the fares. Travel writing is not just about the pleasures or displeasures of traveling, but that about correctly depicting conditions, geography and environment at a given time. I needed to know where I will travel through. I took phone numbers of some of the passengers. I enjoyed traveling with them. They were conversational and humorous. I said to them that if they encountered any trouble on the way, they should call me.
Twenty minutes after we left Jacob’s workshop we passed Umuana community, Asaba and Nsukka junctions, on the far north, the road to the university town. At the Kpokpo junction ahead there was a vertical container of burning fire placed on sandbags. Members of the anti-terrorist squad of the police called ‘Counter Terrorism Unit’ (CTU) had raised an instant checkpoint for the night. The Red Beret police as the anti-terrorist police are usually called moved slowly around the checkpoint with their Kalashnikov assault rifles checking vehicles. After there, we stopped at a filling station to fuel our vehicle. The strong smell of fuel from there was nauseating. The night seemed to make the odour stronger. As we approached Obollor-Ofor the driver started over-speeding. I warned him to drive carefully. I dropped off few minutes after.
I strolled to No. 1, New Markurdi Road where I found a two-story hotel called the Obollo Lodge Limited. I paid two thousand naira (less than fifteen dollars) for a room on the last floor for a night. The stairway to my room looked like a path to a barren rock top. A dark, narrow corridor littered with cigarette filters and ashes from it led to my cubicle. The small room also smelled of cigarette smoke. Obollo-Ofor is a border town. There are two Obollo-Ofors, one by the roadside and another traditional community whose natives are prosperous farmers and traders located off the road. I was at the Obollo-Ofor by the roadside; a much-loved district for tanker, truck, trailer and bus drivers as well as commercial sex workers (CSWs).The Obollo Lodge is the kind of hotel that befits that kind of rough neighbourhood. All over my hotel sides and beyond were brothels with half-naked, gorgeously costumed multitude of CSWs dangling their stock in trade to attract their potential clienteles. Obollo-Ofor is one of their havens.
It would have looked suspicious to be carrying my big black bag around the area, so I dropped off my bag in my hotel room. I used my security padlock in addition to the hotel’s padlock, to lock the door. It was time to explore the Obollo-Ofor exclave, not for nightly enjoyment but to satisfy the curiosity of an adventurous travel writer. I took a motorcycle and sailed through the old Obollo-Ofor town. My distressed t-shirt, jean trousers and shoes were soaked with the red Enugu dusts and I looked more like one of those drivers of huge vehicles (trailers, truck or tankers). After that I returned to the new Obollo-Ofor by the wayside. I visited few brothels and joints. At an alcohol joint located a kilometre to my hotel, was a brothel behind. A small radio set was playing the Nigerian born Iyanya Ft Wizkid’s “Sexy Mama” song- “Let’s go! Sexy mama—/see the sexy lady/she blow she blow my mind/ this girl she one of a kind/her nyash dey make me mega/Baby shake it—–.”Apart from Wizkid’s tunes, other erotic records by some new generation Nigerian musicians were played too. Several sex workers dressed in sexually provocative attires were pouring in the joint like flood to purchase monkey tail and hunt for ‘customers’ (men). Monkey tail is a concoction of kaikai or ogogoro, (a highly alcoholic locally brewed gin derived from palm wine) mixed with fresh marijuana leaves and seeds in a bottle. Monkey tail was sold on demand, as it wasn’t among the gins displayed there at the joint.
I sat at a small dark corner with two guys who were smoking cigarettes and same time had a cupful of monkey tail in their hands, discussing in Pidgin English. In my hand was bottle of water mixed with Coca-Cola to give an impression that I was taking something similar to monkey tail. Those guys were trailer drivers. They were chatting about how to siphon fuel from trailers and sell to make money that they will spend in December. One of them offered me a half glass of monkey tail. I thanked and told him that I would have to take pain killer medicine when I get to my room. While there four sex workers came to our side, one whose eyes shone fearfully like a restless lioness, seemingly in her mid-thirties, tall in height, dark and slim came towards me. Her lips were heavily painted and she wore a transparent spaghetti dress with a mere pant on which exposed her hips and breasts. She was drinking some monkey tail from a plastic glass cup. She danced briefly in front of me just to impress me. She later walked up to me and offered me one full cup of it. I thanked her, and said am taking something too. She said that I should take monkey tail because men who took it performed miracle in bed.
I take moderate alcohol but not monkey tail and not in a crazy environment like Obollor-Ofor by the roadside. “Cus(short for customer) come make we go to my room I go do you fine . Not too much money give five hundred naira(less than three to four dollars) you go enjoy me”, the CSW pressed her mouth to my ear and told me in low tone. “Don’t worry, make we stay here”, I replied her. The trailer drivers later left us, leaving me and the lady. She initially said her name was Rose. I knew that’s not her real name. It was an adopted name for the business. She later told me her real native name and more details about herself. I knew the part of Nigeria she comes from. At intervals, I kept vanishing from her sight to take notes and check my tape recorder under the guise of urinating. She was the third child in a family of nine and dropped out of secondary school in junior class because her poor parents couldn’t afford it. She has a five –year-old baby girl who stays with her mother and she has to be cared for from proceeds from her commercial sex work. The Nigerian economy has been too harsh; it has pushed her citizens into all kind of monkey trades for survival’s sake.
I left the sex worker for my room. The hotel generator was switched by twelve p.m. I had put on my small rechargeable lamp to illuminate the small dark room. I slept for about three hours (from twelve pm- three a.m.). However, woke due to the noisy footsteps of men and their sex workers on the cemented corridor floor and echo of chewing gums from their mouths, and vehicles either heading down south or north on the road and gunshots. I don’t know whether the gunshots came from the nearby CTU checkpoint or elsewhere. I couldn’t sleep again. I was studying maps of Nigeria and the various places I had sailed through, and places to travel through again and also checking my notes and coordinates from my Global Positioning Systems (GPS). Around four fifteen a.m., one of the passengers in the nocturnal Plateau Riders called me to say that they had just arrived Jos, Plateau State capital safely. There is no dull moment in the life of Obollo-Ofor town by the road. HIV/AIDS infection will certainly be high there. Obollo-Ofor is in the Udenu Local Government Area of Enugu State.
Six fifty-five p.m., on Sunday, 29th September, I woke up from the small bed in my hotel room with more determination to sail to Lafia. I pushed aside the dirty, torn curtains on the small window to have a spectacular sight of the Obollo-Ofor vicinity. The cold September Obollo-Ofor breeze kissed my heart. I drew out my bigger Fuji film camera to take a snapshot of the aerial view of some shanty settlement within. I took a cold water bath. I left the hotel later and walked some two kilometres away, to a spot where a white Hiace bus written all over, “Udenu Local Government Mass Transit” was parked. There were scores of young girls and women with several metal and plastic trays and basins on their heads, containing ripened bananas, palm oil, pears, and coconuts; cooked groundnuts (peanuts) fried cashew nuts, oranges, paw-paws. They had overtaken the roadside and sometimes spilled into the main road, hawking their goods. They ran after cars making a quick stop over to either buy fuel at the nearby station or purchase their goods.
I was the first real passenger to arrive there and sat inside the vehicle. Though there were four men in the vehicle, but they were not real passengers. They were part of the transport company. They sat there to give the impression to incoming passengers that the car was about to fill up. I knew the tricks as I had seen it in several motor parks, mostly in southern Nigerian. One of the fake passenger’s face, stomach and legs were swollen. He had an elongated moustache which spread to cover his wide mouth. I am not a doctor, but I guessed that the middle-aged man must be suffering from kidney, heart or liver diseases. I sat beside him in the vehicle. The aggressive odour of kaikai was radiating from his mouth that early morning was irritating. We spoke extensively and I advised him to see a doctor. He said his problems are not medical as he had visited various hospitals and they couldn’t diagnose anything wrong with him.
He said that both Christian prophets and priests of the African Traditional Religion (ATR) had revealed to him the cause of his problem which was his senior brother. He accused his senior brother of having used black magic to inflict the sickness on him. I advised the man to sell one of his lands in Obollor-Ofor since he said he inherited many from his father, and use the money to get better medical treatment and also obey medical advice and stop drinking kaikai. His condition was quite critical when I saw him. Such is the misfortune of a superstitious society like Nigeria.
By ten thirty a.m. after paying one thousand five hundred (less than ten dollars) we left Obollo-Ofor. We were fourteen passengers. The driver, a dark, muscular man with rolling eyes, and a very energetic and humorous person, was in his mid-sixties. The man was a Biafra infantryman during the tragic Nigeria-Biafra war (1967-1970). Because of that he was nicknamed, “Old Soldier” by his colleagues at the motor park. We made a quick stop over at a filling station to buy some fuel. The man had collected money from another passenger and put his load in the vehicle’s boot. He was to put the man in the car when we stopped at the fuel station, but I stirred up resistance to that. The young man was made to join another vehicle. The Udenu Local Government Mass Transit was overloaded too, with goods of passengers and the boot couldn’t close, but it was not as horrible as Plateau Riders. The driver avoided traveling on the northbound Obollo-Ofor – Utukpo Road. He didn’t want to be caught by either police or officials of Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) on the road for over-loading the car.
The youth-looking driver took us through one un-tarred bush path through the Amala village on the northeast. A big vulture had descended from the skies to snatch a rotten bush rat in the middle of the road, but our advancing bus chased it away. The driver slowed down a bit, and spat his saliva in the direction of the fleeing vulture. “ Tufia!” He exclaimed. The wind pushed parts of his saliva into our faces. “Tell them you didn’t see us”. ‘No shaken. I have destroyed his powers’, he said while tossing his head. I couldn’t hold back my laughter. I shouted, “Old Soldier”. Other passengers burst into a prolonged laughter too. That must have been one of Old Soldiers’ comic performances. Few minutes afterwards, we were in the Orokam area in Benue State, one of the states of north-central Nigeria also called the Middle Belt State. Some Benue people preferred to call their state Greenbelt because it contributes a lot to the country agriculturally. We passed by the Orokam Police Station and diverted south-east. The vegetation on both sides of the new, but poorly tarred road was fine, a mixture of tall trees and grasses. It remained just thirty minutes before twelve noon.
A tall, lanky man who introduced himself as a member of the Deeper Life Bible Church, one of Nigeria’s churches cried,” Brethren praise the Lord.” Three passengers sluggishly responded, “Halleluiah…!” “Jesus Christ is coming soon.” He stammered. “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow/because he lives, all fears is gone/because I know he holds my future/—.” The preacher raised his right hand to the bus roof, while using his left hand to clench strongly his small dark-coloured Bible and opened his mouth widely and sang fervently.
Few more joined him to sing the chorus. After the “because he lives” song, he led another, ‘ I love the man of Galilee/For he has done so very much for me/He has forgiven all my sins/And send down Holy Ghost to me/—.’ After the songs, the man asked everybody to close their eyes to pray. I and the driver didn’t close our eyes. The real preaching followed after. “Where will you spend your eternity? Will I see you in heaven on that day or only in this bus?” he said while shaking like one suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
‘Please come to Jesus I can see him in this bus. Heaven is real and hell is real too.” The man preached for about forty minutes and ended as we approached the Ogbadibo zone. We passed Aifam, Okoga and Ugwu-Okoga communities. It was noon and the weather was releasing hot air and I was feeling it through the bus window. The journey continued until we got to the Okpokwu Local Government Area. Nearby here, were signs on the road, “Slow down Bump Ahead.” There were several holes on the road.
We passed Adum Akpo Otukpo, heading northwards of the state. Around there, some young men, numbering about fifteen sat under a big tree were drinking some alcoholic drinks which looked like Kaikai and shouting at one another. There were lots of elephant grasses on both sides of the road ahead, no settlement. About ten minutes after we were at Otobi-Akpa, some few metres into the town, the driver suddenly pulled the car to a stop on the right opposite the Federal Government College.” If you want to pour water (urinate), shake your legs and bodi. Do so now ooooo,” he announced in Pidgin English, in his strong Igbo ascent. All the passengers got off, and did as Old Soldier said. Old soldier brought out a small rounded brown container which contained snuff, a dark-coloured, crushed tobacco substance and beckoned on me to his side. I walked up to him. He dipped one of his right fingers into the snuff container, took some quantities and pushed into one his nostrils and raised his head to the scorching sky and inhaled it. He turned his face to me. “. Hope you nor angry for what happened at Obollo. We are colleagues, but I am your senior. Which barrack are you?” He said, while extending the snuff container to me to have some snuff. I smiled and said,” thank you old soldier. I nor get problem with you. You be good driver. I nor dey take snuff. Just drive us well. Thank you, Old soldier. You are my man,” I said to him and he smiled.
There was no radio in the car. The bus was an old one. The speedometer was not working. He drove at high speed, but we don’t know the speed level. The driver like most commercial drivers in Nigeria usually doesn’t fix their speedometers. They don’t want any person to know the speed they drive and caution them when they over-speed. We later drove out. The road through Obollo-Ofor – Otukpo highway would have been shorter but for the corners we took to avoid law enforcement operatives. We passed by the site of the Otukpo multi-purpose dam project, a few metres away was a police checkpoint but there was no police officer there. Around Asai Otukpo was tiny water channel by the roadside, about ten women and their children overcrowded there, bathing and washing clothes. Ahead on the right along the road was a massive compound painted white, and with the inscription, “25th Way Resort.” There was a young man, apparently mad and wearing dirty and torn shirt standing opposite it. He was dancing and clapping his hands and laughing loudly under the hot Benue sun. We got to Alade Road. Some parts of the road were bad. There were sign boards, “FERMA Project – Federal Road Maintenance Agency.”
There were policemen on the road, few metres away was a Hilux jeep, on it was written, “Operation Zenda”, some soldiers stood by the roadside. A few minutes later, we were at the Taraku community. There were lots of bad spots. On both sides of the road were many houses and people. A truck drove past us; at the back was the label, “No Standing- Holy wood”. I brought out my camera, shot my head through the car window by my side and snapped it.
Naagbanton lives in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital.
• To be continued.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters