• Thursday, May 30, 2024
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BusinessDay

My incredible ‘okada’ ride

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 I never really learnt how to ride a bicycle. An attempt as a seven-year-old put paid to that. It was difficult to pedal and stay focused at the same time. With the benefit of hindsight, I think this may be related to my complete lack of a sense of balance. I am still unable to cross the road unguided and I have challenges crossing gutters or walking on anything slightly above a shrub. As a young girl, I did not consider climbing a tree fun and I still grab the side panels of a car if I think you are going too fast. I think this has to do with my spatial challenge; inability to find my way in a street corner, in a big house, and my penchant for constantly getting lost. So going on an ‘Okada’ could never be for me. The sheer thought used to freeze me out and benumb me.

As a 17-year-old, I had my A-levels at an institution (Murtala Mohammed college of Arts and Science, Makurdi) where we were the inaugural students, so facilities were few and far between. Our school was at least an hour out of the Makurdi city centre and 30 minutes of that stretch had to be by commercial motorcycle. I was mostly holed up in school except my parents came to fetch me for a weekend. It was desolate but the fear of the motorbike kept me in check. The only time I took the motorcycle in desperation, I fell, and swore never again. Thirty-four years later, I am about to regale you with how I took an Okada against my will last week.

I arrived at my daughter’s school at 8am. The school, a missionary school ran by reverend sisters, is in the back of beyond in Abuja; beyond Gwagwalada, a fringe of the area council, a cute little place called old Kutunku. She was receiving a new name in the Catholic Church, re-engaging with her relationship with the church. She chose Alexandria, a truly defining name. I was proud. But I could not stay for the ceremony. It was World Communication Day and I was delivering a lecture at a church in town same day, on how to be a better communicator. It was a commitment and a duty. I therefore hugged my daughter, gave her a gift and left her with her big sister and dad for the ceremony. Then I began to wait for my driver who had gone on an errand. After waiting for 20 minutes, I began to run late. Please note that the nearest neighbours of my children’s school are nomadic Fulani who arrived after them and with whom they shared jokes. Cars don’t randomly come to the school except it has an official mission or it’s a visiting parent. Taxis are also not available. Even Okadas are hardly available except you get to the junction 3 kilometres away from the school. Stuck and nervous, I asked the security man where I could get a taxi. He looked at me with bemusement. “Not possible,” he said with a chuckle. “Even Okadas are hard to find.” I called my driver to no avail. The security man who told me how he had watched me on TV all his life offered me a ride on his motorcycle. It was difficult to refuse and I became 17 again. The fear was palpable. I held onto the security man as if my life depended on it. The wind in my eyes, my hair flying about, I ducked every time a familiar car zipped past, possibly a parent on his way to see the child. I hoped that a newspaper journalist won’t be in the vicinity. It was unlikely in the unspoilt hamlet of Kutunku. I wondered what my family would think if they heard as I did not go back and ask for help. The security man leaned forward, afraid to touch me, and I, scared out of my wits, leaned forward in order to stay steady. The speed bumps were unforgiving and twice I thought I would fall off. I imagined Okada accidents and became a little afraid, but the road had no cars on it. So I relaxed.

After a while I began to enjoy the fresh air, the houses flying past and the interesting look on faces. I thought about all those who have no other alternative but the Okada. Then suddenly he stopped. We had reached a junction where I could get taxis, and I felt blessed. It was good to be in their shoes for 15 minutes. It was a duty, an adventure and empathy. I must say, it seemed suddenly enjoyable.

By the way, I made it to deliver my paper but I kept mute about the ride. I did not want any sympathies. No, it’s unlikely that I will try it again soon. And my children have not stopped laughing. I did not want any sympathies. And yes, my driver caught up with me in the end. You can still see him doing frog jump, his hand pulling his ears and constantly apologising!