The person who described the Igbos as traders, transporters and travellers may well be right. Several of my compatriots are traders and many more are also transporters, and many of the traders supply motor parts to the transporters. But those who think that all Ndigbos are traders should just remember Chinua Achebe, Anya O. Anya, Pius Anym, Emeka Ojukwu, Akachi Ezeigbo, Barth Nnaji, Pat Utomi, Osita Osadebe and Kanu Nwankwo. But for the third T, travelling, there are no arguments. Igbos are full time travellers. They travel for meetings, launchings, ordinations, funerals, marriages, chieftaincy ceremonies, land disputes, and elections. Of course, they travel for business, even when these can be settled online or through tele-trading while banks will gladly transfer the necessary funds. But they also travel for trivial reasons: when a hen hatches its eggs, when a new moon emerges, when the rain falls or refuses to fall, when all is well and when all is not well, or even when they want to find out, like Unoka, why their farm yields have dwindled continuously.
This Easter was no exception. Even though I came back from home three weeks ago, I had to travel again. We had to remove my mother’s akwa-uju [mourning clothes]; my niece and two other relations were getting married; there was an in-law’s funeral to attend, an Umunna meeting, a cabinet meeting in the palace; several people were still coming for condolence visits in addition to several other engagements. So, I had to travel. Unfortunately, I could not break the journey as I used to do and so I left Lagos for Igboukwu at about 7am on 29/03/13. Right from Oshodi, Alapere and Berger axis, it appeared as if everybody was exiting Lagos. By the time we turned right at Sagamu, it became obvious that it would be a tumultuous journey. The number of vehicles and the devil-like speed with which their drivers were driving was indescribable. The passage through Ore was relatively smooth but the vehicular traffic heading down east was already intimidating. It was also there [at Ore] that I learnt that there was already traffic madness at Asaba. But I decided to be optimistic and calculated that at worst it would take three hours, as it did in December 2011.
Around 2pm, we were at Asaba, or, to be exact, three or so kilometres from the ageing Niger Bridge. We joined the queue and hoped that our case would be different. Well, to cut the long story short, we crossed the Niger Bridge at about 9pm, 7 whole hours after we joined the queue. There was an absolute hold-up and the vehicles were just not moving. Those who performed all sorts of theatricals, navigated all the bush paths of Asaba and environs, emerged from the bush and attempted to join the queue in front worsened the matter. Many of our ‘new’ vehicles on the road packed up due to over-heating; some ran out of fuel as they had spent more time at Asaba than they spent from Lagos; many ‘kissed’ themselves [minor and not-so-minor accidents] and decided to settle it at the centre of the road, while those who procured black-market police escorts tried to force their way and complicated the traffic situation. Matters got to a head when some selfish and short-sighted fellows – and there were so many of them – drove against traffic and further blocked the other side of the road [Osha-Asaba]. And by this time, the road-safety men were frustrated, exhausted, and overwhelmed. The long and short was that while I spent about 7 hours from Lagos to Asaba, I spent the same 7 hours, more stress, more fuel, more wear and tear and more of everything negative to drive the 2-3km from Asaba to Onitsha. My younger brother who came by public transport crossed the Niger Bridge about 1 am [that is, the following day!] and could only get home later in the morning. He had spent more than 24 hours travelling to the East!
I thank God that I had a driver who saw me through all this. Incidentally, that was his first time of travelling to the East and he was wondering whether going home was worth all that stress. I thank God that my car survived the torture-test and that we did not dent anybody’s car. I also thank God that I filled my tank at Asaba and thus had enough fuel to last the 7-hour ordeal. I was also lucky that my destination was Anambra State and as such, I was home before 10pm. Those who drove themselves, those whose vehicles failed the torture-test, those who did not have full tank of fuel, those who had accidents, those who travelled by public transport, and those who were going as far as Calabar were not so lucky.
The question then is: when will this end? When will one easily travel to the East? Why will our rogue-politicians continue to play politics with the second Niger Bridge even when the existing bridge is so weak that vehicles are now only allowed to ply it in a single-lane mode? How many man-hours were lost and what were the other socio-economic costs of this unfortunate experience which has become a regular occurrence in recent times? And when will our people become a little bit more disciplined and patient whenever there is a contorted traffic?
Will I stop going home because of this experience? Very unlikely! Indeed, in the next few weeks, I will definitely be at home! Burials, marriages, palace engagements and ‘umunna’ meetings will always be there and they have to be attended by human beings, even when some of them are named Muo [Spirit]!
Muo is a lecturer and management consultant in the department of business administration, Olabisi Onabanjo
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