Road watch: My confidence soaring!!

By Frank Meke.

From East to West, North to South of Nigeria, insecurity is one verb, so geographically spread like cancer. It is so scary to the extent that even mere movements of fuana resources in our forests, rightly expressive of their right of way, became a source of worry.

If you think it’s an exaggeration, the not too recent protest of road transport operators in Enugu who blocked the highway to draw attention to kidnappings and robbery on the highway linking the state with Abia, was not a tale by the moon light.

From Abuja to kaduna, Jos, Bauchi to Biu, it used to be the same crazy suicidal mission, but like food, man must travel.

Yes, travel is one innate gift of God to man. Abraham had to leave his village, his people to fulfil lifetime destiny expectations. Mungo Park and his lying expedition party claimed they discovered the River Niger, a river our ancestors used for Olympic swimming and fishing competition.

Just like culture, travel is a way of life, and when brutally confronted by insecurity, breaches unbelievable, or made to wear the garment of impossibility, then man will die gradually

In the past eight years, the spirit of Nigeria as a travel nation died wholesale. The unknown gunmen, fulanin cattle herders, and satanic agitators turned our highways into cemeteries.

Those still bold enough to dare, took to flying, but the deceptive colouration bears the fangs that one must still hit the roads, no matter the flying distance.

At a point, it was like nowhere in Nigeria is a safe zone. We are even afraid of those paid to protect us. The highways are lonely places with their own spiritual ethos, their language, unmistakable body odour, and if violated, the consequences are telling and brutish.

Those who turn fellow men to games on the highway usually do not live to tell the story . They are usually devoured by the spirit of the highways and surrounding forest ecosystems.

Don’t believe this tale, but I will urge you as you read to think hard about it. Recently, Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority ( NCAA) told us a growing traffic of delays and flight cancellations by Nigerian domestic carriers but fell short of giving us why the development has become epidemic.

Silently becoming our new travel pattern, those who had avoided the highways now have an option, but the fear of notorious cow boys making a fiefdom of the highways trends with trembling road users.

Now to my real gist, and to which I spent good quality time, praying through the night, the urge to dare the strangers on our highways tickled.

Nigerian Tour Operators Association Annual General Meeting must be held in Ekiti state. I had received calls from several big wigs invited to the program, and their major fear is the security of the roads. We must dare, I told them!

About two weeks ago, I was at Ojude Oba festival in Ijebu Ode, a trip of about two to three hours drive from lagos. I slept through the trip because of the privilege of security cover, my second road trip in over three years.

In January this year and to OYO, an accident nearly scared my dream of travelling by road again to bear witness to the richness of Nigerian virgin landscapes. So I was very circumspect, having mapped , first the lagos ibadan highway, through Osun and Ekiti.

My sister and President, National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies ( Nanta), Mrs Susan Akporiaye, is an intrepid travel company anyone can ever have. She’s completely fearless, would never discuss fear factor, but would prefer fruits in season and gourmets offerings along the highway routes.

Secretly, I was forced to man up , after all, na we get Niger, and what a way, to console myself. From lagos ( something needs to be done urgently about the construction of the Berger axis of the road), we spent quite some time, held to snail traffic, and trust me to shut one eye.

Through the sector of the road and determined to overcome fear of unknown, we noticed a well policed highway to ibadan. It was a huge presence, determined assurance, and gracious.

Indeed, I became more awake to this reality and its very powerful impact on road safety measures and revival of road transportation economy.

However, the National Drugs Law and Enforcement Agency’s road checkpoint before the old ibadan toll gate must wear the symbol of civilization and avoid a showpiece of militarism. All the menacing brandishing of automatic weapons looks to me as “shakara”rather than an Intel backed approach to addressing illicit drugs trafficking through our highways.

Anyway, anyhow, Nigeria must deal with drug merchants and their sponsors. Through ibadan, connecting ife , ilesha highway, we made headway, navigating through the rain-soaked ife highway, luxuriating fresh mint forest breeze.

This is a season fresh farm yields and we longed for fresh corn. We had a long stretch of local corn vendors and stopped to feel the tempo and stretch legs. Vehicles upon vehicles were turning off the highways, stretching kilometres long, all for a bite of fresh cooked, and hot corn.

Brisk road trip business, and the villagers with big smiles on their faces. At 0pote ilesha junction ( by Oduduwa University), the Akara village beckoned.

We stopped to top power steering oil, and that was a mistake as we were suddenly swallowed by Akara and bread vendors. I stole a mischievous look at Susan. There is no deal for Akara, and I am sure the cabs from the corn must have arrested the hunger pang.

We soon detoured to our left into iwaya Ekiti, and the landscapes, beautiful and surrealistic environment began to emerge. Susan groined in pain at the neglect of the tourism values of the green environment, wondering why our leaders are blind to investing and promoting these natural resource values.

I chose not to interrupt her thoughts and misgivings about our lack of ambition to harness our tourism space. I was just far away in my own thoughts, too. At Efon Alaaye, the stupendous hilly landscapes emerged . A scenic beauty unimaginable. It’s was heaven on earth and Efon community, so blessed by nature, yet its economy illusionaryly confounding to the people.

I politely forced our vehicle driver to stop, and i clicked away. This beauty must be brought to the marketplace of our green biosphere. I remember the theme of natop confab in Ekiti, zeros on the green values. Is Ekiti really serious about the tourism business?

We got ikogosi, and the resort was completely restored and wearing an inviting face. We thought the conference would hold at this nature’s coven, as earlier announced, but we must do another one hour to Afe Babalola University in Ado Ekiti where lodging accommodation was reserved.

Famished, we thought of pounded yam, and to which the Ekiti nation is proud. We visited one or two restaurants in Ado but settled for Iya Tawakalitu , somewhere off the stadium.

We were lucky as the hot sizzling poundy is just about being heaved off the mortar. Served with vegetables and melon soup ( egusi) and well cooked offals, the story of a complete secured road trip adventure in Nigeria is about to begin.

At Abuad, Natop President, Mrs Ime udo was handy. The place, a 150 bedroom guest Inn, tells a story about how rich Nigerians should invest in tourism infrastructure.

Though a university community, Chief Afe Babalola, one of Nigeria’s brightest and leading legal luminary who celebrated 60 years at the bar few days ago, has gifted Ekiti state, a choice education tourism destination and to which ime udo led tour operators must package differently.

Back to my road watch narrative, I can perceive that peace and tranquillity shall return to our highways soon and gradually. Our army chief, major General lagbaja ( not related to mask wearing music icon lagbaja), has promised a hard time for “Ndi highway” ( igbo slang for kidnappers operating on the highways. Some of them, particularly the females, do not carry gun sha)!!

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