I made a phone call to my friend in Benin with strong Okene connections and was able to check into a hotel. I then allowed myself to relax in the belief that I had taken a decision that everyone around me – dependents and benefactors alike – would be proud of. One of the things I was celebrating was avoiding the stretch of robbers-infested Okene-Okpella road at night. Do you know of anyone who regularly plies the road who has no story of narrow escape from, or mishap in the hands of robbers?
It got so bad that the authorities in Edo State had to draft a detachment of local vigilantes from Okpella to police some of the serious flashpoints in the Kogi section of the road. While this has significantly reduced the incidence of attacks on hapless motorists and travellers, it has by no means ended the ordeal.
By around 6 a.m. I was already on the southern flank of Okene to continue the journey. But, lo and behold, as I randomly inspected the vehicle that I had “checked into”, I saw that the tyres were so worn out that their chances of making it to Benin were as slim as a broomstick. I called the attention of the driver to the spectacle.
Then he set about assuring me that the tyres were strong enough to do the trip. “Look, this car went to Onitsha and returned yesterday,” he said, punching one of them to drive home his confidence in the tired tyres.
I told him I was neither impressed with the condition of his tyres nor carried away by his fake assurances. I was able to get the other passengers on my side to insist that we be assigned to another vehicle. I felt sorry for the driver who had to make refunds to the passengers, but I had no apologies for resisting any attempt by anyone to truncate my life or inflict pain on me.
I knew where I was coming from. For much of last year, I reeled in pain from an accident involving one of my own. Just before then, I had been lucky to escape with only slight injuries when a mini bus in which I was travelling from Abuja to Benin collided with an oncoming car before Lokoja.
Indeed, a week before the incident under reference, about 20 young women from my home town were lost to an accident in which a bus in which they were travelling plunged into a river between Ijebu-Ode and Ore, on their way to a burial ceremony in my community.
Two weeks later, another batch of persons from my community got roasted alive when a vehicle in which they were travelling to my hometown went into a head-on collision with another vehicle.
I’ve heard a few people raise issues with Governor Patrick Yakowa heading all the way from Kaduna for the creeks for a private funeral.
Whatever anyone will say about our propensity for celebrating the dead, such occasions are not always without their utility. I can speak from my personal experience. When my father died and was buried in 2006 and my mother followed in 2007, in the notices that I sent out through SMS and via e-mails to friends and acquaintances, I all but advised people not to take the trouble of making what, for many, must have been very excruciating trips to the southernmost end of Edo State.
However, I was overwhelmed by the human traffic to the events, with many of the visitors uninvited. You only need to hear that your friend/relation/colleague with whom you have not been in contact for decades has lost and is burying his/her parent. You just head for the event!
My one wish was for each and everyone who came to support my family at these events not to come to harm.
One of my Abuja-based friends had a meeting to attend on the day of my mother’s interment. He hired a car and headed straight for my hometown. “You mean you still embarked on this trip,” I said in disbelief on sighting him. “So you have to miss that important meeting.”
“Don’t worry about the meeting,” assured. “It will be attended.” After partaking in the social event for less than one hour, he headed back to Abuja. To be honest, I felt quite uncomfortable with the whole arrangement. As if sensing my concern, a few minutes to 8 p.m., he called me to announce his safe arrival in Abuja, in time for his meeting. Cheeky devil!
Another of my friends got himself a same-day return ticket just to be a part of my daughter’s wedding in October of 2010.
Don’t ever underestimate the feeling that comes from “I was there when bla bla bla.” I once drove from Lagos to Awe in Oyo State for a burial ceremony.
I would not know the depth of friendship between Patrick and Oronto. But I know there are a few people who invest so much in friendship they are ready to take all the trouble in the world to support their friend. Patrick did count the cost of embarking on the ill-fated journey to Bayelsa last Saturday.