A Road Trip and Its Lessons by Austin Isikhuemen – Part 3

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In part two of this series, I shared my Owerri-to-Calabar journey as well as my stay in Calabar and the town’s nuances and little adventure titbits. In part three, this final piece, I share my return trip to Benin City. Read on. Join our Content Creation Academy

The journey from Calabar to Port Harcourt had to be done by PMT bus as the Siena van had issues with air-conditioning as stated in part two of this series. When you always drive your own car, you miss out on life’s multi-faceted experiences and you inevitably get alienated from the lifestyle and concerns of the hoi polloi and think life is just the way you live it.

It is not so, my friends. There is the good life you are missing and you are likely to enrich yours by taking part in the other style, to feel their pains and share their dreams. You may just find that theirs is more colorful than the drab one you think is the ultimate. Just dare and be adventurous and you will find fun in places you least expect!

I booked a PMT bus at the transport company’s main yard and was told only the last row of seats was available. I accepted as that would mean it is just one or two passengers left to fill the bus and we would be on our way.

But I was wrong. After waiting for about 1 hour, we drove to another park with a colonial-type building that couldn’t have been less than 70 years old. It was very elegant in its elderly magnificence. There, more passengers had to be boarded and we spent another 20 minutes only to head back to the previous yard Eta Agbor road.

A few more passengers boarded and the bus was full to capacity. Surprisingly, unlike what most buses loading from Benin and Lagos do these covid19 days, no social distance (in-bus distance if you like) was observed.

Many, including yours sincerely, wore face masks (I prefer to call them nose-mouth masks!) all the way.

The journey to Port Harcourt took about four and a half hours though, within PH itself, it took another 45 minutes to get to the PMT bus park. I received the video of President Biden’s call to a Nigerian family based in Illinois, and was so thrilled by the change in the way that I had to share the video with a young lady in the row in my front. America was changing and Trump was soon to be history.

This was 20th January 2021 and Biden and Kamala were going to make history. I was looking forward to watching the event on television in Port Harcourt.

America still holds an important position, for better or worse, in the direction the world moves, and the last four years were quite uncomplimentary to multilateralism, democracy, and America’s exalted position as the world’s only superpower, to put it mildly.

There wasn’t much by way of incidents on the route to Port Harcourt except the incidence of a young lady who stayed so long in a convenience halfway and someone jokingly asked if she was birthing a baby!

Jeff was waiting at the bus park when I arrived and he took me to his home where fantastic jollof rice prepared by Joy, and chilled Budweiser, kept me company while watching the very reassuring swearing-in of Kamala Harris and Joe Biden to the highest offices in the USA, nay, the world.

The speeches, the very protocol-rich and colorful ceremony, and the flags in place of the crowd due to covid19, all added to the beauty and mystique of this Presidential inauguration.

I was sure Trump would not watch the event else he would have choked on his champagne at his Mar-a-Lago redoubt on seeing the Obama/Michele regal entry and the loud ovation it attracted.

It was a welcome relief to watch the same US Capitol desecrated a few days earlier by thugs, lunatics, and hoodlums brainwashed by those without brains host on its hallowed grounds, an event that made the world exhale in a collective sigh of relief! Jeff and Joy were ecstatic, and so were Anayor and the Mopole with his AK47.

America is back, I told Jeff, Joy, and the security detail and driver sent by my former Guinness Colleague, Anselm Ogbedeh, to pick me up at his house for a much-awaited reunion.

I still had my earphones on, listening to reports from the inauguration, as I drove behind the Hilux pickup to Elenlenwo-Igiruta road. It felt so good.

Leaving PH the next day, I had a choice of two routes: PH – Warri – Benin or PH – Owerri -Onitsha/Asaba – Benin. I chose the latter even though longer, because of the tight security I had seen earlier as well as the concerns expressed by my hosts on the state of PH-Warri road.

I stopped at Immaculate Royal International hotel at Owerri and was able to get my shirt back. The journey to Onitsha was eventful and being alone on the entire journey had its advantages – I stopped where I wanted and took photos and notes.

At Uli, I recalled Nigerian civil war history and the role this town played in it. It was the town that hosted the air-strip that Biafra used to get vital supplies from friendly nations, it was the place where OBJ, then commander of the 3rd Marine Commandos, took that iconic photo where he stood alone with his swagger stick on the macadamized runway – see his book My Command.

I stopped, took a selfie with the Catholic Church at the background and with the signboard clearly visible. The nurse in uniform who I wanted to help me take a photo so that the letters on the signboard would be in the right order, demurred.

She probably thought I was a kidnapper, with a fine car parked on the other side of the road! She quickly took the next vehicle that showed up and may have gone to church to regale her pastor with a testimony of how she escaped a kidnap attempt!

Praise God!! I saw a very old building and wondered if that building witnessed the nightly arrivals of aircrafts welcomed with oil lamps along the edges of the airstrip to guide the planes with lights off arriving Republic of Biafra with vital supplies in the dead of the night.

Did the occupants help in using palm fronts to conceal the runway before daybreak in order to hide it from rampaging federal aircraft that manually hauled bombs onto anything in sight? Uli is history.

Do the kids in the secondary school opposite the church know? Are they being taught? There is a reason for having a rearview mirror in every car. Those who wanted to kill our history will still have their uncomplimentary history written somehow.

I had thought I would garnish this final episode with photos as some of my readers had requested and had consequently taken photos for the same purpose.

Sadly, my phone slipped and fell face down on concrete at Edegbe transport terminal yesterday and the phone screen shattered and went blank. Was told that the S10+ screen replacement would cost N86,000 at the Samsung Customer Care center. I told them I would be back… not quite sure a retiree can so return.

I got to Okija some minutes later. The home to the Shrine Ngige went to in order to become a Governor. It is also the home to the famous Madonna University.

You pass their signboard and gate and all you see is foliage until you drive a couple of Kilometers and, as you turn left, you behold the campus in a distance with beautiful buildings on a beautiful campus tucked away from the maddening crowd. An ideal center of learning, if you ask me.

About 15 km from Okija, you arrive at Oraifite, the home to another University – Trinity University. I cannot remember now if the secondary school here is the one attended by my great friend and course mate – Dr. Peter Manobis Obiefuna who hails from Ukpo in Anambra State.

I was almost going to wonder why the two universities were so close until I recalled that London and its environs have about 40 degree awarding institutions! After all, in Esanland, don’t we also have AAU, Adegboyega University, National Institute of Constitution Technology & Management as well as Loyola University coming on stream in Ewatto?

In Benin we have Uniben, Benson Idahosa University, Igbinedion University as well as Wellspring University. Knowledge is never too much.

Oraifite is home to Blaze FM, a radio station my car radio picked up and it entertained me all the way to Onitsha. Clear crisp signals but their signboard along the highway does that station a disservice.

The presenters spoke Igbo and pidgin in a way that made my ribs want to crack! I was not amused when the presenter said he wanted to play ‘one chance God’ track! During the news segment, he said in pidgin English “Akeredolu say make herdsmen carry all their wahala commot the state”.

I winked knowingly at no one in particular – this was grassroots news at its best. Who in Anambra would claim they didn’t understand what Akeredolu said even though they may not know who the hell Akeredolu is.

Didn’t Nigerian musicians start to soar when pidgin songs became acceptable? What is skelewu? Ask Davido. Or Timaya’s dem mama dem papa! Even Lagbaja sang skentele skontolo….

I hit Onitsha and being a working day, it was bedlam trying to cross the bridge and drive down the ramp onto the expressway near Upper Iweka. The drive to the ‘headbridge’ was problematic with a broken-down lorry partially blocking the road.

It was smooth sailing across the bridge into Asaba with hawkers of all sorts lining the bridge, shouting and sometimes hitting your windows to call your attention. The designers of this bridge did well to include a pedestrian way that accommodates bike riders on both sides.

It was as if those guys were in a different world. Sometimes too, you wonder how the Asaba and Onitsha people can consider themselves Anioma and Ibo respectively just because a body of water decided to intrude into their town. Or is it they that intruded into the great River Niger’s abode?

As you cross the bridge your mind goes to the sacrifice of soldiers who lost their lives on both sides in order to keep Nigeria united. A commander was said to be foolhardy enough to insist on crossing the river in dugout canoes at Asaba in spite of advice to the contrary.

He tried twice and lost all the troupes. He tried the third time and succeeded but at a high cost to human lives. It was said that he vented his anger on all the men and youths of Asaba, called them to a meeting, lined them up and got them a shot.

The leader of the execution team with a street named after him in Ilorin, may have had nemesis on a visit years later. This sad history crossed my mind as I drove through Asaba. Then I saw them.

The three beautiful, unmistakable statues on the road side, that welcomes you to Asaba, the Delta State Capital. There were statues of three men in Anioma regalia. Here in bold relief was another sign of men’s disdain for women and their elevation of even an efulefu over women achievers in society.

Just because they are men and dictate how history is written. It is the same pattern that was done earlier in Lagos on the right side of Otedola Bridge by Warwa Gardens. Where were these men before Maryam Babagida, nee Okogwu, used her charm to get IBB to bring this capital and development to Asaba?

Why is her statue not there? Or indeed the statue of an unknown woman to represent the women of Asaba who are known for their grit and industry, sometimes more powerful than you know who. The gentleman Governor Okowa should address this atrocious anomaly. History matters.

The way to Benin was smooth. As I entered Benin City, I started seeing people wearing covid19 masks. On roadsides, inside buses and at markets. Some kept it on their chins making a mockery of the purpose, yet many wore it right.

I did not see this level of commitment in all the states I traversed – Delta, Anambra, Imo, Rivers, Akwa Ibom or Cross River. The difference is due to a Governor who has taken it upon himself to protect his people and reject the conspiracy theory and theorists.

In Edo State, the speaker (as he them was), and the Governor have both had close shaves with this virus and need no false prophet to convince them that it is real. I have lost a close friend to this rampaging virus and another survived by whiskers.

Why should the South-South as a block not fight this scourge collectively as they pursue resource control, true federalism and restructuring? Is it any wonder, the Federal government seems to follow the footsteps of Edo on these matters?

Governor Obaseki announces lockdown, Presidencies follows; he makes mask-wearing compulsory, and the next day the federal government follows suit. I also hope they would manage any future lockdowns imaginatively as was down in Edo previously so that the average man can have a meal on his table while staying alive.

Otherwise, death is death whether caused by hunger or disease.

Nigeria, is still a beautiful country judged by the flora and fauna, the beautiful hills and the valleys, the sunshine and rainfall. The only ugly things about Nigeria are the people who have turned our joy into sorrow, our greatness into ashes, our potential into an unrealizable dream.

The river Niger still flows and meets the Benue at Lokoja without a fight. The fishes there are not afraid to mix. Why have we chosen the path of perdition? It wasn’t always like this. We can still make a change and return back to sanity and restore our greatness.

I want Ose, my son, to be able to drive to Yola, alone, as I did in 1995. And return back home with pleasant stories of his stopover at Zaki-Biam or Muntum-Biu for hot pounded yam and of the rolling hills of Taraba, stopping to buy fura de’nono from beautiful Fulani maids who just milked their cattle in the ranches by the roadside.

I end this piece with lyrics from 2Face, or 2Baba, following his metamophorsis. The track is called Dancing In The Rain. It captures what Nigeria can be. Still.

Take a seat, enjoy the ride

The unknown I won’t be afraid of

I’m just gon’ relax and enjoy my life

Try to live it, try to appreciate it

‘Cause every breath I take I’ll feel the air

I’ll take some time to smell the grass and the flowers

There’s so much to live for here I swear

I will bask in the sun and dance in the rain

Oh oh oh oh, I’ll dance in the rain

I’ll dance in the rain

Oh yeah, oh oh oh oh, I’ll dance in the rain

I’ll dance in the rain

Take a deep breath and then come alive

There might be so many things you’re missing out of

Try to know it, try to feel it yeah

It’s your life yeah, try to live it yeah

Forget about tomorrow, live in today

Tomorrow will be fine so don’t let your worries

Take away the beauty of today

Just bask in the sun and dance in the rain

Oh oh oh oh, I’ll dance in the rain

I’ll dance in the rain

Oh yeah, oh oh oh oh, I’ll dance in the rain

I’ll dance in the rain

Take a seat and relax you’re my brother man

Love people from other lands and see them as one

If you believe you can fly

Then why don’t you try instead of doubting yourself

Living in negative vibes

Get up and say yes you can

And appreciate the simple things

Like the mountains and seas

And the land and the trees

And the flowers and leaves

Air that you breathe

A wonderful world, a wonderful world!

My travelogue trilogy is here concluded.

Benin City, 30th January 2021 – Austin Isikhuemen

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