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Aba by bus

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  • When bus ride became adventure and entertainment

By Richard Ihediwa

Recently, I had an urgent need to travel to Aba, Abia state.  I had just received the news of the death of my godmother and needed to dash to the village in the outskirt of Aba on a Saturday to organise things for the burial.
I did not have enough time and somehow there was not enough cash flow for me to take a flight so I decided to go by road. Most times I drove in my car from Abuja to Aba, but this time being fatigued, I felt it would be suicidal for me to drive and decided to go by public transport.
I woke up rather late and by that time, the luxury buses going to Aba had all gone. So I decided to patronise one of the mini bus companies loading from Kubwa in Abuja. When I got to the park, I was told that the bus to Aba had already gone and that I could only take the bus going to Enugu, from where I would take another one to Aba. I agreed.
I went to the ticketing office and they told me that the fare to Enugu was N1.700. I could not believe my ears. How come they are charging N1,700 when luxuxry buses and mini buses in the city center are charging close to N5.000. I decided to check the vehicle going to Enugu and to ask about the sitting arrangement.  The vehicle was good and the sitting arrangement was fine. So I paid and was happy that I had some money to play around with. I recharged my phone and started calling my relations over some issues concerning the deceased.
At the park, people were selling all sorts of things including alcohol. Some group of young men were having a good time over shots of spirits and cigarettes. I noticed that some of them were smoking something other than cigarettes. I asked a young man who was helping arrange our luggage about the group and he told me they were “washing their eyes”.
In a moment the young man called out to the passengers. We all assembled and he started charging for the luggage. There was no technical way to determine the price for each, just the whims of the “loader”. He will just look at your load and your face and tell you a price ranging from N300 to N1,000. He looked at my hand luggage and told me N400. I paid. Then he got to a group of young men, which I later got to know were members of the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) running from the northern states because of the Boko Haram problem, and told them to pay N800. The boys outrightly refused to pay. They said they did not have any money left on them. The “loader threatened to bring down their luggage and they in turn threatened to beat him up. A heated argument ensued. Eventually another “official” of the company came and brokered peace. He suggested N300 but the corps members refused. At last one of them said they had only N100 for the load. The “official” collected the money and gave to the “loader”, who was still fuming or appeared to be fuming with anger. After a time the “loader” calmed down and started teasing the corp members. “How can you say you will not pay for the load, is it your fathers vehicle? If you don’t pay, what shall we eat?” Everybody laughed, but I felt cheated. I have lost valuable sum because I did not put a resistance pay. After all the corp members luggage was far bigger than mine. I have learnt a lesson.
By that time we have lost a lot of valuable time. Many of us were already complaining. Suddenly one of the young men washing their eyes went to the driver’s seat and started the vehicle. He was the driver! I raised objection but some other passengers and the elderly official asked me to calm down that the driver merely sat with them but did not wash his own eyes. But I could bet he did. As we were making final preparations for departure, a young girl had a call on her phone and jumped down from the vehicle announcing that she had to see a niece. She ran across the street and disappeared and we started another round of waiting. The lady came and rendered no apology.
I thought it was time for us to move but no. A middle aged man came to the door of the bus clutching a bible. He started preaching about the wrath and mercies of God after which he entered into a session of praise and worship before bursting into prayers for safe journey. When he finished he asked the passengers to bless the “messenger of God”. People gave him money ranging from N50 to N200 before we left the park.
On the way, I noticed that the driver was speeding excessively possibly to catch up with lost time. People cautioned him but one passenger said the driver knew what he was doing and an argument started.
When we got to Lokoja, a passenger suggested that we should not stop over but to continue so as to get to Enugu on time. There was a consensus but the driver would hear nothing of that. He stopped at an eatery and asked everybody to go down. We all came down and waited. It was then that a passenger hinted that drivers stop there because they are entitled to free sumptuous meals for bringing customers. I decided to check and when I got inside I saw the driver in the midst of other drivers devouring a huge plate of pounded yam with an assorted soup laced with fresh fish and cow tail.
As we moved on I found out that I could not help but started sleeping. When I woke up we were at a joint police and military checkpoint near Enugu. A driver was being drilled for an offence. He was doing frog jump while his passenger waited. When we got the point, our driver greeted the security men and we passed. I wondered why he did not give the usual tip I saw other drivers giving. Somebody said that minibus companies settle the higher authorities in advance so as to avoid delays.
One of the corps members was telling a story of his ordeal in one of the northern states. He said he was nearly killed. The story however veered off from that of the attacks to the issue of women. He said he was posted to the remote parts where young ladies go about without tops. Some male passengers became interested and asked if he was able to get one of them. He said he could not try because they would cut one’s hand if he touched a woman. That sparked off another argument with some saying he was exaggerating. The corp members however continued and told us a lot of other interesting stories about the village. But the issue of women would not go away. Another corp member “running” from another northern state told us a story of how prostitutes in that state harvest semen from customers for ritual purposes. He said after the deal, the prostitutes will take the condoms as if for disposal but divert them to a ritualist, for various charms.
One male passenger, who had been silent all the way suddenly became interested and asked what would happen to the unfortunate men. I sensed that he was afraid for something and I volunteered an answer. I said the person will never do well in life and will live in abject poverty and will become sick and die later because the charms will be drawing spiritual energy from him. He asked what the solution was. I told him I cannot discuss that in a bus.I said those just for the jocular, but when we got to Enugu, the young man came to meet me seriously on the issue. I smiled and told him I did not have the solution and advised him to go for prayers if he was afraid.
At the terminal, I went to board the bus to Aba. This time I have learnt a lot of lessons. When the “loader” came to my luggage, he charged me N400. I promptly told him that I was not going to pay. He became furious and asked me if the bus belonged to me or my father. I asked him the same question and he became seriously annoyed. Some passengers and other officials told me to pay that I was bigger than the money or that I should at least bargain. I  told everybody to mind their businesses and demanded that the bag should be officially weighed before I would pay. I was enjoying the drama. After a while, the “loader” came and asked me quietly how much I had. I told him N50 and he said I should bring it.
The journey started with the usual prayer and offering taking. There was the usual over-speeding and near reckless driving. The roads were also very bad. The journey was a hectic one. My complexion darkened due to the heat and sweat. I swore that I will never use small commercial buses for long distance journey again. It was indeed a tale of adventure and entertainment for me.

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