Monday, February 22, 2016

NAIJA TOUR (13)

By the time I got to the park in Waterlines, Port Harcourt (South-south Nigeria/Niger Delta) it was past one in the afternoon, and I had already made up my mind to take a raincheck on going to Anambra State in the Southeast. Waterlines seemed the only part of Port Harcourt where you could find commercial transport buses painted in other colors besides the usual light blue and white colours (understandably because most of the buses there ply interstate routes, bearing the colour of their parent companies, sometimes even states, as with state owned commercial buses and saloon cars) which is the states' official colours, even as the states' TV station, Rivers State TV- RSTV shows. I have found that in most states bordering the water bodies like lagoons, rivers, or the Atlantic in Nigeria, the colour of public transportation, sometimes even state emblems include the light Blue colour, like in Lagos where the official public transportation colour is yellow/orange with two black stripes, you find that most of the ones plying the Island route are painted in the white and blue.

Though it is considered late to be deciding to go to Lagos at the time of day I decided to so do from Port Harcourt, it seemed to the right thing to do, especially as I had achieved all that I had intended to businesswise. Besides Lagos is one of the few places I could arrive at at any time of the day or night and not feel lost or fear any evil come to me. I in fact scare people when I come upon them at so late an unholy hour. I reckoned that as I still live, I will always have reason to go to the east, to counter the guilt I was beginning to feel for cutting off that part of my itinerary because of the protest by the pro-Biafra agitators in Onitsha when I first intended to go to the east a few days back. When it comes to travel however, my instincts have never proved wrong, if it said to go to Lagos (despite the time), then to Lagos I should go.

That was how I boarded the minibus to Lagos as the penultimate passenger. Sitting in front beside the driver appeared to be the better option, though it wasn't what I would ordinarily do, particularly because a seat belt wasn't available for any passenger intending to sit there. I wouldn't even consider the  window side seat in front even with the seat belt (for the very obvious reason that in the unfortunate occurrence of a road traffic accident, those who sit in front stand the risk of more injury, even death). My seat of preference is usually way back in the bus (window side) two rows behind and same side of the driver, when I am early enough to choose, otherwise any where else besides the front will just about do it for me.

Luckily, the gear stick was such that is located on the dashboard, just beside the steering wheel, totally eliminating the discomfort due to the passenger in my place, when placed beside the driver and the passenger in the middle, where the driver's hand would hit the passenger's thighs routinely as he makes to change gears. That positive though didn't remove from the fact that the lack of a seat belt for the "middleman" meant that each time the vehicle jerks I be the only one to have to lurch forward, and hence I had to be very conscious and awake to ensure that I didn't jump outta the vehicle after shattering the windscreen, when the driver makes a dangerous swerve on speed in his attempt to be in Lagos before, or at least not too long after dusk.

Finally, after about an hour since I arrived at the park, the bus waltzed out of the motorpark, out of Waterlines road into the persisting traffic of the Trunk B road on our way out of Port Harcourt. It was the day before the gubernatorial elections in neighbouring Bayelsa State and from precedence I was aware that movements would be restricted on elections day, which would've meant traveling to Lagos via the Southeast from Port Harcourt, which is way longer than via the Niger Delta/South-South. The way elections are taken in the Niger-Delta is quite unlike the rest of Nigeria, as contending parties give it all it takes, including the kidnap of opponents or members of their families, and the attendant killings, just so that the winners can gobble up funds accruing to the states into private pockets, evidenced by the paucity of meaningful development despite massive accruals in tandem with their status as Oil Producing States, from Federal Allocations.  

Years back when the Niger Delta was base for me, I had asked an elder why the region always went in the direction of the government at the centre, he replied that it was the only way prosperity could be assured the people, to which I responded by pointing to the squalor around us then in Finima, in Bonny Island, Rivers State. I mentioned to him Lagos State (in Nigeria's Southwest), which prospered despite not only been in opposition to the central government but even had Local Government allocations denied it, for having the guts to declare new Local Government Areas, LGAs which later became Local Council Development Areas, LCDAs. This was in 2007 before Goodluck Ebele Jonathan from Bayelsa State became President.

Interestingly, on the day I was making my journey to Lagos from Port Harcourt last December, Bayelsa State was in the throes of an election to maintain it's status as a People’s Democratic Party, PDP state, now in opposition while Rivers State was awaiting a Supreme Court ruling that will maintain it's PDP status if it upturned the Appeal Court ruling that had decided in favour of rerun of the gubernatorial elections, which the opposition All Progressives' Congress, APC celebrated, even though they'd have preferred victory awarded them by the court. That election in Bayelsa State will be declared inconclusive and reruns held in Southern Ijaw Local Government and a few polling stations in other local governments, and PDP will go on to win eventually. The Supreme Court also went on to rule in favour of the PDP declaring that the PDP candidate wasn't given fair hearing by the election tribunals ab initio amongst other reasons. In the end, all but one of the six Niger Delta states are now controlled by the opposition, a change brought about by the fact that their party which once controlled the centre, and till a few months ago, led by a son of theirs lost the centre to the opposition. What seemed out of place in 2007, has now become the order in the Niger Delta in 2016.

I have always felt that if Lagos that boasts of no natural resources, without special derivations from the federal allocations, despite its status as a former administrative capital can do it, Niger Delta states being the home of Nigeria's greatest foreign exchange earner, with an expansive shoreline, despite federal allocations tilted to and in their favour, with some ingenuity and sincerity of purpose can do far better than they are presently doing. It is disheartening to find a Niger Delta State amongst those owing staff salaries, with several abandoned projects dotting the landscape, not least of which is the MONORAIL project embarked upon by the immediate governor of Rivers State, (Rt. Hon.) Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi


THE NOW ABANDONED MONORAIL PROJECT IN PORT HARCOURT, RIVERS STATE, NIGERIA

who incidentally is the Transport Minister in the present President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government, making one wonder when antecedents ceased to be used as criteria for apportioning portfolios, even if he must be made minister, and that's besides the heavy burden of corruption hanging over his neck, which the Economic and  Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC has conveniently elected to overlook, as it intensifies its anticorruption battle (spearheaded by the president) against the opposition PDP.

Yenagoa, Bayelsa State capital looked quite peaceful when we passed through, but I could sense the tense atmosphere, in the way posters of the two top contending candidates for the guber elections were intentionally pasted on top of each other, in layers after layer, with the last person to paste been the winner for the day. I surmised that the job of putting up the posters, either on a tabula rasa, or over that of the other candidate would be a job for the night amidst armed guarding by the pasters' peers to forestall "accidental discharge", from thugs of the opposing party or group. The Niger Delta replete with cult groups, militant groups and the likes are war zones during elections, though their activities continue brazenly before and after elections, only that they are better funded by politicians during the electioneering periods.

In the elections that took place the following day to when I passed through Bayelsa, and the rerun that took place much later in January this year, lives were reportedly lost in clashes between the varying groups, during attempts at ballot box snatchings and attempts at warding miscreants off polling booths/units, while it was reported that security agencies contracted by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC to maintain peace and order, took sides. Unfortunately in Nigeria, deaths from clashes during elections, as with clashes amongst cult groups in the Niger Delta, like those at the hands of marauding Fulani herdsmen nationwide (though with particular emphasis to Nigeria's Northcentral region or middle belt), or at the hands of Islamic Fundamentalist Groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria's North East, naturally go uninvestigated by the police, and perpetrators many times walk the streets free, till maybe they meet their waterloo at the hands of a revenge team/squad by those wronged by their former activities (who are then sometimes arrested by the police, and freed if they can make the police an offer they couldn't reject).

Though the Rivers State portion of the East-West Road was uncompleted as at the time I passed in December. The part as you enter into Bayelsa and onwards was well paved and made the journey seamless. Most of what happened with the Rivers State section of the road was political, due to the no love lost relationship between the then Governor Amaechi and former President Goodluck Jonathan. It will be interesting to see if Amaechi who is now Minister of Transport can prevail on his friend and former Lagos State governor, and minister of Works, Power and Housing, Babatunde Fashola (who also has an unenviable record of abandoned projects in Lagos in the Housing Sector- Lagos HOMS, and like Amaechi in a Light Rail project that is beginning to also look like a white elephant project) to look favourably on that road, most importantly ask his former Commissioner for information, Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, who now heads the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC to commit to the building of that aspect of the road, or allow his seeming hatred towards Governor Nyesom Wike to stifle development in his home state. I wondered if he will attempt to rejuvenate the monorail project he started as governor, but has now joined the list of Nigeria's White Elephant Projects (by governors looking for enduring legacies to massage their megalomaniacal egos), now as minister even routinely inspecting the rail projects initiated (both completed and almost completed) by the immediate past President Jonathan's regime, nationally as we made good speed through Bayelsa onwards Lagos, making me believe that we may in fact make Lagos before dusk!

'kovich

PHOTO CREDIT:
- http://www.africaupdates.com