As the Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway gets messier in traffic gridlock due to the dilapidated nature of the road between Oyigbo in Rivers State and Asa, in Abia State, where I shuttle most time, I resorted to riding my own ‘Okada’ to work.
Any motorist that had experienced the severe traffic jam on this road would attest to the fact that, even the ‘Okada’ was not saving. Vehicles block everywhere. This does not allow easy movement of any kind. In the eventuality there is ‘no movement’, I do carry my motorcycle in the hand till I get a scarce access to continue my journey. Other Okada riders do this!
This happens any time: In the morning, afternoon and night. Many travellers have slept on this road. Motor fare has skyrocketed indiscriminately, because of the bad nature of the road. It is better imagined than experienced.
Dressing neatly and gorgeously is no longer on the Enugu-PH expressway.
Not minding the suffering of people on this road, no fault of theirs, if you are coming from the Aba area in Abia State, you will count over four police checkpoints, as soon as you pass the Imo Bridge. Yes, they ‘stop and search’ some vehicles, even at the peril of motorists and commuters, who had expended their energy and strength in the tiresome traffic jam.
I observed that using SUV otherwise called Jeep on this road, police have phobia for it. For ten vehicles flagged down for check, SUV is nine.
However, for some of us who are now ‘Okada riders’, crossing the Imo Bridge from Oyigbo, heading to Aba, has become a nightmare in the hands of soldiers stationed within the Oil Serve premises.
The soldiers make it mandatory that every Okada rider approaching their checkpoint must stop at about three poles away, come down and roll his motorcycle by the hand.
Sorry, if you are a newcomer, who did not know that that was the soldiers representation of democracy.
I do not want to say that authorities should investigate the soldiers stationed on South-South-East zones; they make tollgate of the roads. Every truck that passes the roads, the civilian tax collectors, mainly young men, the soldiers employed, run after the driver and collect.
Any driver that refuses to pay, you might think he was a common criminal in the hands of the soldiers. I do not also want to say that the soldiers have marked faces; some of them are the appearance of herdsmen. I’m not sure when the people of South-South and South-East started having such tribal mark on their faces.
The other day, while it was raining heavily and I was drenched while on my Okada, the soldier that was at the checkpoint mandated me to roll my bike by hand. When I buttonholed him and told him that I’m a writer coming back from work and he should see the mud Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway is, coupled with the rain, he commandeered me to abscond or risk sitting in the mud.
Some Okada riders, who out of necessity, not curiosity, violate this military law, are either forced to sit in muddy water or cut grass.
Whenever I encounter this ‘military law’ on this road, I murmur that the government that was supposed to be ourselves is now that of the soldiers over us. They are now the ultimate rulers over us, not us the voters and taxpayers of this country.
Our so-called democracy has made me to remember the statement once made by a Charles Bukowski, which states that the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that in a democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a dictatorship you don’t have to waste your time voting.
I had thought that if the soldiers think that Okada riders pose security threats to them, it behooves them to know that information of intelligence capacity is shared, not forcefully derived. I think these soldiers lack information and they resort to malevolence.
Some of the soldiers are below 24 and may be suffering from youthful exigencies than exhibition of military enlightenment. They make the military a facade of the behaviours of touts and street urchins. Then I wonder if this is the behaviour of the military in other spheres. Or, is it only in Nigeria?
It is high time the authorities made the Nigerian soldiers to ruminate on the fact that the total safeguard to our mankind and democracy is diplomacy, not debasement. Yes, it is true that the country is experiencing security challenges. But these soldiers ought to understand that a taste for a society of peace can never be achieved through violence, when the situation is totally in absence of war.
The soldiers have violated my fundamental right to freedom of movement severally on the Enugu-PH expressway. And if I was a man of violence, then it would have been eye for eye later and, the whole place would collapse.
The authorities should re-orientate them to understand that this is democracy. And in a democracy, no section should be autocratic. That was the reason one A. P. J. Abdul Kalam once said that in a democracy, the well-being, individuality and happiness of every citizen is important for the overall prosperity, peace and happiness of the nation.
Odimegwu Onwumere is a Poet/Writer; he writes from Rivers State.