"Owerri, Port, Aba," the conductors repeatedly cried out like a song put on repeat, when the bus finally made to stop over at the ever bustling Upper Iweka area of Onitsha, the commercial nerve of Anambra State.
And apart from this sound, the other common way to be welcomed to Upper Iweka is the unrepentant harassment by hawkers who would persuade anyone carrying a bag to buy something from them.
“Okpa ebe a” “Brother, plantain chips dey here” and many more ‘calls to action’ were being spilled by people, mostly teenagers, trying to sell their wares by the roadside right at the heart of Onitsha.
The ever-active business-like men in Onitsha will also not leave you be, as they will keep dragging your luggage, and atimes force you to even board a vehicle you never wanted to.
“Onyeisi! Port? Aba? Owerri?” “Ebee?” they would say, with their gazes fixed on anyone who looked like a traveler. Someone once advised that when you’re in Onitsha, you have to be careful with your luggage, especially inside the garage, because of some street urchins in the area.
Thus, the trip to Afara, the home country of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in Umuahia, the Abia State capital, commenced officially.
It was a fact-finding mission to unravel the truth about the recent alleged raid of the freedom fighter’s house by the Nigerian Military during the Operation Python Dance II exercise in the south eastern part of the country.
Reports had it that the house was allegedly pelted with gunshots by the soldiers of the Nigerian Army, with HRH Eze Israel Kanu, the father of the IPOB leader and his wife, also declared missing since the incident which has left many Nigerians with several unanswered questions.
Away from thoughts about the mission, the enthusiasm on the faces of the Agberos (as the men who called passengers to board vehicles are referred to) in Anambra, was enough to catch anyone unawares, as one may practically fall in love with the zeal and the (apparent) honesty on the faces of the hardworking men.
And contrary to reports that the south eastern part of Nigeria had been turned upside down by the Nigerian military following the Operation Python Dance II which was carried out in the area, there was a high level of calm everywhere.
Of note was the presence of occasional military checkpoints with one young military officer (in most cases) manning these posts, to ensure that there was no eruption of violence in the region, but this was not even anything compared to the media reports that there was tension everywhere.
The trip from Onitsha to Owerri which transport workers confirmed should not be more than 45 minutes, lasted approximately one hour fifteen minutes. The driver would not stop complaining about the terrible state of the road.
“This place don spoil finish. No road for the whole east, even Lagos to Abuja no be small wahala. Government just abandon people for this side, Nna na wa o!” the bald driver who was dancing to buzzing Umu Obiligo’s Udo Ga Adi which was blazing from the bus’s stereo, lamented in pidgin English.
To confirm the driver’s lamentations, the roads leading to Asaba from Benin City, the Edo State capital were (and still are as at the time of filing this report) really appalling. The side tracks on the road were in a sordid state, with road users having to wait for a minimum of 20 minutes before being able to access the other parts of the road leading to the bye-pass.
And seeing the state of the road en route to Owerri through Oba, Okija, Ihiala and Mgbidi, the driver was right to call the people’s attention to what had become of the road which was once the pride of the easterners.
Fast forward to a few meters before getting to the heart of Owerri, the Imo State capital, every vehicle on the right side of the road had to go through an ‘unlawful’ one way because of a mound of thrash which had constituted nuisance (it has been there for over one year or more) on their lane.
When the bus driver eventually maneuvered his way to the beautiful capital of Imo State, the passengers who were already by now, worn out due to the terrible spots on the road, were greeted with another form of hustling and bustling, but there was yet another unprecedented intrigue (at least for a first timer).
Traffic jam was limited and road offenders minimal, but all of these may have been possible due to the effectiveness of the traffic wardens, all of them female!
This was a sharp contrast to what was obtainable in several other parts of the country where men are believed (and rightly so) to champion the cause of traffic jam control. The fairness of the ladies and the satisfaction on their faces further proved the ease with which they did the job.
But one thing that cannot be taken away from drivers in the east is their recklessness. Even though this is not peculiar to the transport workers in this region, theirs is miles ahead of what road users in other states may be experiencing.
Having seen the grey areas in two of the five states in the region in less than 24 hours, one may be tempted to agree with those agitating for a country of their own. Even though there were no signs or memorabilia indicating Biafra on the roads leading to the east, the angry looks and intermittent anger being displayed were enough evidence that the people have a deep resentment towards their leaders.
The recent Operation Python Dance II did not make matters any easier. The trip to Aba and then, Umuahia, would later reveal the true state of things after the dawn to dusk curfew ordered by the state governor, Dr. David Ikpeazu, in the wake of the unrest.
Even though night was beginning to fall and the body starting to tire, the journey continued from Owerri to Aba, before which a detour to Umuahia, the final destination, would commence. But how terrible could Aba be?