WEEKEND GINGER: INSECURITY, TRAUMA AND GROWING PAINS OF PLYING NIGERIAN ROADS

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“Did the armed robbers wound anybody?” my wife asked in emotion laden voice.
I said yes.
“Did they wound you?” she asked, with great consternation showing in her voice.

“They didn’t touch me, but I sustained a deep cut, while I was running into the bush. But they robbed others. A few also sustained wounds”, I further told her on the phone.  I heard took a deep breadth., before she inquired to know, my exact location.
The time was 9.54 pm. The date was Saturday, 17th, January 2015. And I had just left the scene of a robbery operation on the Okenne- Lokoja Highway.

With the way other vehicles sped past, unwilling to other a help to those in need, it was obvious most were no longer in doubt, on the sanctity of life, on Nigerian roads!

I had earlier received an urgent call, in respect of a close family member undergoing some pains in Lokoja, the Kogi State capital. I discussed the situation and because of the dire importance of the situation, and since I was already in Ibadan for the weekend, it was advised I could go by road, from Ibadan. We subsequently bought an ABC ticket for Saturday morning.

May be the ABC Motors has dwindled its services quality. May be the managers have also changed in service definition. But, whatever it was worth, the motor that was supposed to arrive Ibadan at 9 am, actually departed its Jibowu Lagos terminal around 9.03am, because according to those who boarded from Lagos, the big luxury bus which compelled them to be at the terminus before 6 am, was long in showing up. In any case, the bus expected to ply Lagos to Abuja merely managed to arrive Ibadan around 2pm. It made Okenne good minutes after 9.pm

Secondly, the bus marked with an Imo State registration NWA 90 XA had a faulty gear, as it took a lot of headache to apply gear 2; in addition to being aged, and combined with the highly experienced but elderly driver, the bus moved sluggishly on the road.

In other words, by the time we arrived Okenne, the man had been on the wheel, for over 12 hours. He was tired. But the journey had to continue. Thank God, the good conductor ensured excitement by attacking our boredom with the playing of the comedy film, “A night of thousand laugh!”. We invested our fate into comedy; little did we know it was not meant to last!

“Pah!” It was unmistakably the sound of a bullet. The tired driver was definitely not in the mood for East Climtwood or Charki Chan. He marched on the brake in the middle of the road, momentarily switched on the emergency flashers, rose up like a tiger and with unbelivable agility, fled into the toilet and bolted the door at the back. But as he fled, he also instructed the Conductor, to open the doors!.

The conductor not only open the doors, he also instructed every passenger to lie on the bus floor. We complied. From that point, we were all sitting ducks, for the hoodlums! Everywhere went dead quiet. Only two persons were speaking. The comedian who was now completing his now totally irrelevant act. And the conductor who in hush-hush tone, was begging no one in particular, to please stand up and assist in switching off the television.
No body stood up, from our crouching positions. We remained silent, until two armed men, one of them looking like a Buroro Fulani came in, one from the front the other from the rear.
The two ordered us to get up and proceed out of the bus, into the bush. Though both wielded guns, but the one at the front door looked more menacing!

From Seat 9, I was obviously closer to the one in front; but he looked too deadly with his gun. Momentarily, I appraised the one at the rear: he had a gun,  but he was clutching a sharp, flashing dagger!
I made for the rear. The Octogenarian Deacon occupying Seat 5 made same conclusion and followed me.
It was bedlam!
The Octogenarian gave a painful shout, so I assumed he was being beating by the deadly guy, may be for refusing to pass by his side. Baba confirmed my suspicion later.

“Everybody get down, everybody get down now!”, the armed hoodlum at the rear shouted again. One woman with a baby countered, “I am carrying a baby, I am carrying a baby o” . The angry robber responded, “You want to die? You wan die?”. The woman joined the stampede.

Three armed robbers had positioned themselves outside the bus, one of them, shooting sporadically into the air, with a long, local gun. The other carried a club and what looked like a toy, short gun. But I couldn’t confirm as I took a dive into the bush. The third, surprisingly was a woman, she was the one shouting”lie down, lie down;!”
Everybody complied. The woman and the guy with the big club stick were the ones fleecing passengers of their valuables. The two inside the bus, with their powerful touch lights were ransacking the bus for valuables,purses, handsets. One of them found a laptop the ABC was supposed to deliver in Abuja and carried it.

“Bring everything out. Bring everything out. If I search you and I find something, you go die o!”,
Everybody was complying; one handed over a wad of notes, over N50,000. Then, his Samsung tablet. The woman robber was fumbling with the under wear of a passenger, who works with the Ministry of Defence, to sure her victim wasn’t hiding valuable in secret places. She was satisfied and moved to another woman.

The whole operation took about 11 minutes, then their boss a little bit far into the bush shouted: “Sergeant, let’s go! Sergeant, everybody lets go!”.

The guy standing beside me, shooting sporadically replied hi.”Area! I never finished o”. The ‘Area’ responded more authoritatively: “Sergeant, move now!”.
The guy attempted to blow another shot, but it jammed. He shouted something urgently to his colleagues and everyone of them started running further into the bush.

Everywhere went quiet, except for the noise from the little distant television still playing in the deserted bus!

One passenger shouted: “They have wounded me!”. Another asked whether they had gone, and the Conductor who was also like me, lying on his back announced they were gone. He stood up, everybody did same; and we all started rushing back to the bus; except the four year child who was asking the mother,”Where is Daddy? Mummy where is daddy?”
Everywhere was littered with shoes, bags, documents, eye glasses, just name it!
We tried retrieving some of them, even as the conductor informed the to come our, because the coast was now clear. Unfortunately, the bus refused to start. We pushed it as much as we could. We were still pushing it when the first patrol police car arrived; then another, loaded with mobile police men arrived. In ones and twos, we finally made it to the ABC terminal at Lokoja!

Only one thing shocked and disappointed me: in the morning, I was to learn that such harrowing experiences had become so common, they were no longer reported. That the only such was reported was if somebody died.
“Don’t worry, no one reports such things again. You people were only wounded. Thank God, no body died!”, a person who knew better counselled two of us who opined that such robbery incident should be documented

At 5. 25  am, the bus, now repaired, took its passengers onwards, to Abuja, where on arrival, everyone, as it was learnt, simply took their bags and baggage and went their ways!

What a wonderfully traumatizing experience. What a unique way, to learn that whatever they tell you as  crime-statistics is bunkum. What a direct way to learn, that insecurity as a dangerous phenomenon has attained such a deadly dimension. Armed robberies on the highways was now no longer an issue, so far no one was killed! And that, even if anyone was fleeced of whatever valuables, or wounded, the vehicle operators had no liability of any kind!

Only one passenger did not participate in the thanks giving service we had around 1.17 am at the ABC Lokoja Terminus, when the last passengers safely arrived. He was busy asking himself: “what kind of a rotten country is this country?”

Perhaps, he too, by now, also knows!

But, the pains and trauma notwithstanding, goodness knows this is the greatest country you can still find, in Africa!

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