There was a time when travelling to the East from Lagos was fun. We used to travel at any given opportunity, for burials, traditional marriages, house opening, Easter, Christmas, to hook up with our folks at the other side of the Niger. But now the case is not the same as people travel out of necessity and no longer just for the fun of it.
Things have changed and have gone from bad to worse. We only used to be afraid of armed robbers, mostly Fulani men, from stories told by victims of such robberies. They used to hide inside the bush around the Benin by-pass and pounce on travellers. They rob and dash back into the bush. Once you pass the by-pass without incident, you will be rest assured that you will get home without much incident, besides occasional stealing of phones from the Onitsha miscreants, from passengers making calls while sitting near the window of a moving vehicle.
But these days, since the herdsmen have graduated from armed robbery to kidnapping, with victims released only when ransom is paid, it’s now a herculean task travelling to the East.
When you leave Lagos for the East, you have to be conscious of the fact that you are taking a huge risk. The threat of being robbed or kidnapped is real as you pass through Ogun, Ondo, Edo and Delta states.
With the introduction of Amotekun, the vigilante group manning the bushes in Yoruba land and other groups trying to curb the activities of kidnappers on the express road, the kidnapping menace has been reduced to the barest minimum.
Even with the efforts of these groups, you will only heave a sigh of relief when you get to the Onitsha bridge and make your way into Igboland.
But that will be short-lived because once it’s 07:00 pm, you can’t go beyond Onitsha as the bus drivers acting under instruction from their management will not move beyond Onitsha. The reason is not far-fetched. Armed robbers are having a field day at Obosi, a border town to Onitsha. There’s a portion of the road at Obosi where a bridge is being constructed. That is their rendezvous. They rob, maim, shoot and kill both passengers and drivers.
When they stop a vehicle, they will order all the passengers out of the vehicle and dispossess them of their phones, jewelleries and cash. Then they start to point out the passengers and ask them to identify their luggage. When they do, they order them to open it. Then they will pick whatever that catches their fancy and leave the rest for the passengers.
They do this for as long as it takes them to get whatever they want without any security agent challenging them as none is near that area, even when all and sundry know that that place is a flashpoint. The passengers are at their mercy.
The driver of our vehicle regaled us with tales of how the robbers shot one of the drivers for refusing to stop when they flagged him down four days back.
A day before the day I embarked on my journey, a bus heading to Owerri stopped at Onitsha because they got to Onitsha few minutes to 09:00 pm. He left by 05:00 am the next morning against advise from fellow drivers who advised him to wait until its day. He was put under pressure by passengers, so he left. On getting to Obosi, the bus was stopped and robbed.
The day I travelled, a driver got to Onitsha by around 07:00 pm, he insisted on continuing the journey to Owerri against advise from fellow drivers who had parked. He was shot while trying to evade the robbers. The news filtered in as we arrived the park around 09:00 pm.
We slept at the park and left for home when its light.
The robbers are not the only reason bus drivers park their buses immediately they enter Onitsha any time beyond 07:00 pm. At Ihiala, there is a notorious roadblock mounted by soldiers.
This roadblock produces a very long hold-up as every passenger was ordered to disembark from the vehicle and walk past the checkpoint on foot before entering their vehicle some distance after the checkpoint and the driver made to part with N1,000 before he would be allowed to pass, while car owners are made to part with N500. No vehicle passes that roadblock without parting with money.
I don’t know if that is part of their job description. The authorities, the South East Governors, National Assembly members, Ohaneze Ndigbo and other Igbo leaders really need to look into this matter and stop this insane inhuman treatment of travellers and motorists and extortion.