An atmosphere of fear and tension sits over the Jabi Motor Park. About 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, 12 July, 2014, I was at the Jabi Motor Park situated in the Utako district of Abuja, the capital of Nigeria. It is located along a small stretch of dirty road named after Solomon Lar, the Plateau State-born, and Nigeria’s first republic politician. Few houses away from the park is Thisday, one of Nigeria’s leading national newspapers. The complex which houses the newspaper was damaged by bombs on Thursday, 26 April, 2012.
Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal Jihad (or “Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad”) commonly called ‘Boko Haram’ (interpreted as ‘western education is evil’) claimed responsibility for the attack.
Boko Haram is a name which members of the group hate to be called. They were spitefully given this name by the media few days after the death of their leader, Mohammed Yusuf. For the sake of this travel article, I will be using Boko Haram to refer to the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal Jihad. I hope leaders of the organisation should forgive me. Boko Haram was first called the Nigerian Taliban Movement around mid-2002. They were called that because they behaved and dressed like the Talibans of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan which occupies the southern and central Asia. The Talibans keep thick beards. John Weaver, the prolific American writer, in his book, Inside Afghanistan, published in 1982, on page fifty-six, wrote about the dress code of the Afghan men, “...Men wear a loose–fitting pull-over shirt with a long tail front and back...”
Yusuf was born in a border village on the northern axis of Bauchi, but located to the western edge of his Yobe in the early 1970s. He was killed on Wednesday, 30 July, 2009 in police custody in Maiduguri, Borno State's capital. Yusuf and some of his followers were reportedly captured after some days of bloody clashes with security forces. Yusuf's movement attracted a high number of devotees that cut across all segments of the northern parts of the country. Some of the devotees are angry and dissatisfied youths and businessmen mostly from the north-east geo-political zone (Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba, and Yobe States). In spite of the death of Yusuf and others, and also the killings of several commanders in battlefields and some in custody, the group still remains a complex and daring extremist Islamic sect.
In December 2003, the group (‘the Nigerian Taliban Movement’) as they were first called, relocated to the hilly rural communities of Yobe State to practice their brand of Islam. Some of the villagers there had disagreement with them over using of their farmlands and rivers. One of these disagreements was a turning point in the life of the sect. The sect members beat up a woman at a farmland at the Kanamma community in the Yunusari Local Government Area (LGA), some seven kilometres to the Republic of Niger, north of Yobe State. The police attempted to intervene in the matter and few months after the sect attacked the Kanamma/Yunusari police station, killed some officers, and looted their armoury. This was the beginning of the violence. Not up to a year after the Kanamma episode, they attacked Bama Area Police Command and killed the command head and scores of other police officers. Bama is the headquarters of the Bama LGA, south of Maiduguri, capital of Borno State. Mohammed Yusuf assumed leadership of the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Liddda’ Awati Wal Jihad in early 2005, when the group became ultra-violent and wildly anti-government. Yusuf continued to lead the group until his death four years after.
Kaduna State, located in the north-west geo-political zone (comprising Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara) has suffered a lot of attacks carried out by the group. Boko Haram fighters also attacked the complex housing The Thisday, The Sun, and The Moment newspapers in Kaduna the same week it attacked the newspaper house near Jabi Motor Park. Scores were also reportedly killed. The group claimed responsibility of bombing the media houses. It warned that it will continue to attack Nigerian and foreign journalists who write biased reports against them.
The Jabi Motor Park used to be a centre of intense human and vehicular activities, but the scenario is changing. Everybody, including the large number of Muslims doing petty businesses around the park, live in fear. At the entrance to the park were two officials of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW). One held a security inspection mirror which he placed on the taxi-cab I travelled with. The other held a Garrett metal detector (handheld metal detector) which he used to check the boot of my taxi-cab. They opened the bonnet to also check whether any deadly explosive was hidden in it. They were doing same to other cars entering the park. They scanned my taxi-cab, but never searched my bag. I had all sorts of gadgets in it which looked like bombs.
The entrance to the park was wet. The overnight rain had soaked the small refuse around and made them smell badly. The taxi-cab dropped me at a point in the park, after the gate, and I walked carefully to where cars under the control of the Plateau Riders were parked. The Plateau Riders is the Plateau State-owned transport company.
The weather over the motor park was dull. The park was constructed in a big rectangular form with two entrances at the front and back. The entrance had a board hanged over it with the labels, “Project; provision of infrastructure for Utako Motor Park, Abuja. Client;’ Private luxury bus operates/AMAC. Consultant; Ambazz Consultant Limited. Supervisor; Works Department AMAC. Contractor; Igala Construction Company Limited (Building and Civil Engineering). No. 41 Oran Street, Zone 1, Wuse, Abuja”. Houses were constructed on the verge of the park and roofed with corrugated iron sheets. Some houses have new roofs, while some have rusty ones. Cars travelling to various parts of Nigeria have their different sections in the park. At the back gates, security men of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) were stationed.
I was directed to where a dark-coloured Volkswagen Sharon car was parked. By the side was the label, “Mass Transit Plateau State”. A small rectangular box painted in dark colours, and constructed with wood was placed on it. On the box were these words, “RTEAN, ABUJA TO JOS, BAUCHI, GOMBE” written with white paint on all sides of the dark box. Two ladies were already seated in the car. One in the front, while the other sat on second row directly behind the driver’s seat. Two young men had already paid for two other seats and left to get some food, but placed an old, torn copy of The News magazine, one of Nigeria’s leading news magazines, on the empty seat-a sign that those seats are already occupied. I walked to the vehicle, stood for few seconds, thinking of what to do. The small lady in the front seat on the driver’s right hand was in her was in her early fifties; she looked at me intently and after seconds beckoned on me. “My dear, don’t worry, come and seat in front I will go to the back seat. You need to be comfortable. It is a long journey and your legs are too long”. She said, got up from her seat and asked me to take over the seat. I was surprised. I accepted the offer.
I offered to pay her fare later, but she objected, I pleaded her to accept my offer which she did later. I paid four thousand five hundred naira (about twenty-eight dollars) for three seats-one for me, and two for her.
After I paid the transport fare, I came out of the car and stood by the side for some minutes. We were waiting for three more passengers to complete the seats so that we can continue our journey. A young man in his early forties wore a pair of rubber slippers with dusty black trousers and a grey short sleeve shirt, and came close to me with a yellow polythene bag. The bag contained two fat, white-coloured roots from trees I can’t identify. He saw me standing and walked closer and brought out one of the roots and said, in good English punctured with pidgin; “Oga, I have the secret of women’s love. If you take this root and make love to any women, I swear." He knelt down and touched the ground with one of his right hand fingers, which he tried to touch to his tongue tip, with the dirt from the ground. I stopped him.
"She no go leave you. I will give you my phone number, if it doesn’t work call me”. He drew another bottle where he had sliced the roots into bits with some solution. “Thank you, oga; I don’t need it and I have not tried it before,” I replied him. He moved closer to me and said further, “My great grandfather gave me these secret roots and I will share them with you for some small amount of money. I don’t sell it to any person but responsible persons like you who want women to love them. If you take it and hammer your women she will sing for you, I come from Bauchi State”. I refused to buy it. Just about two minutes after the man left another hawker arrived with similar sex enhancement roots (local Viagra).
I didn’t know that the two ladies in the car were listening to my conversation with the local Viagra sellers, and when I cast my eyes at the other one at the back, she smiled cordially at me. But the other lady behind the driver’s seat took it otherwise. She was a younger person, probably, in her early thirties. Her skin colour was chocolate, about average height and plum somehow. She wore an ash-coloured, fit-and-flare dress with a curly weavon hair (or “First Lady” or “Superstar”) as such hair style is called in Nigeria. Her hair rolled romantically to her face and other parts of her body. She placed her new small size tablet computer (iPad) on her lap and on top of the iPad was an expensive Samsung Galaxy Note phone, connected to a white ear piece. She looked different from all of us in the car. She was really hurt by what the Viagra sellers were saying. She roared after the man left “Can you imagine? Women are really suffering; any Tom, Dick and Harry can just insult you because you are a woman. In the next world I wouldn’t be a woman again."
Not up to a minute after the young lady’s outburst, my old cheap Samsung phone which cost four thousand naira (about twenty-five dollars) rang. I dipped my right hand into the pocket of my faded blue jeans to pick it, and answered the call. The lady looked at my poor phone with deep aversion and sighed. I didn’t say anything to her after I answered my caller and later walked away from the car. A military patrol van with the inscription on it “QRG/16” drove into the park right near to us. There were six soldiers at the back of the van who jumped out, leaving only their driver in, before the car could pull to a stop. One of the soldiers was a slim young lady. They marched around the park gallantly, searching everywhere with their eyes. I watched them briefly and returned to my car, which was about to get filled up with passengers.
The young flashy lady’s temper seemed to have calmed down and she was smiling a bit. Music from her phone must have calmed her hot temper. I was happy, because I always feel uncomfortable when people around me are not happy. I got into the front seat of the car and sat down, turned to her and said, “I am really happy that you are fine now."
“Don’t mind me, my sweetheart, it is one of those things,” she said. “Please my sweet, I came to this park at six a.m., can you pay the other seat so that we can go early?” she said.
“Yes, I can. I am getting tired too,” I responded, and paid for the extra seat.
About 8:46 a.m., when we were preparing to travel out of the park she turned to me and said“Thank you, sweetheart, for everything."
I felt a bit ashamed, and said “It is alright."
One of the male passengers said jokingly, “all those love na for you ooo. Oga you dey enjoyooo.” Other passengers laughed. I responded to the man, “all the love is not only for me, but for all of us." Passenger laughed again. It can be really tempting, having stayed away from loved ones for several days as a travel writer, and hearing those romantic words from a fine-looking woman like her.
We were six passengers and the driver. We were supposed to be seven passengers, but I paid for extra seat when we couldn’t get an additional passenger on time. There were two females and the remaining males. Apart from me and the colourful lady who would stop in Jos, the capital of Plateau State, others would continue to Bauchi and Gombe.
There was one slim, tall young man who sat on the second seat with the lady by the right door. He was such a calm man. He comes from a village on the northern edge of Cross River State. He would travel to Gombe, spend the night there and leave the following day to Damaturu, Yobe State capital.
The man in his late twenties was a military officer involved in special military operations there. He had greeted me like a military officer, but I told him I am not one. While talking with him some thoughts ran through my mind. The man really loves Nigeria, but the man joined the army for employment sake, not as commitment to the Nigerian State.
We took off from the park, still travelling westward when the driver politely told everybody that he wanted to buy fuel for his car. I was greatly impressed with the man, a dark-complexioned, short man with a wonderful sense of humour; his native home is in the Bokkos, located on the western frontier of Plateau State.
In the Bokkos LGA, the Mushere, Ron, and Kulere are three key tribes who occupy the area; however, there are few Fulani herdsmen moving about with their cattle. He entered the nearby Mobil Station and purchased fuel of three thousand naira (about eighteen dollars). By the side of the fuel station was a huge board constructed on a giant iron stand with the inscription, “GLO Borrow me credit"," Oout of airtime, borrow now, pay later, Dial Ibu” with a picture of John Okafor, popularly called “Mr. Ibu”, in a fine, dark suit smiling. I smiled when I saw it. Mr. Ibu is one well-known Nigerian Nollywood actor and comedian I enjoy a lot.
“See Mr. Ibu oooo,” I said and smiled.
“Sweetheart, do you like Ibu?” the young lady before the driver’s seat asked me.
“Yes, I do,” I answered.
“That Ibu of a man I have never met him in person, but have watched almost all his films. I have never met him in person, but he must be a mumu (stupid person),” she said.
Ibu became another subject-matter of discussion until one of the male passengers shouted, “Praise Jesus Christ lets pray”, and some passengers in the car closed their eyes and prayed. As they were praying the driver said, “I won’t join the prayer so that I can see where we are driving through. I am with you in spirit.” Some passengers who were praying burst into laughter, and he turned to me and said humorously, “My boss, where are you not closing your eyes, don't you want to see God? I smiled and replied him, “No sir, I want to behave like you”.
The Christian prayer ended and we were heading eastward, when the driver got a call on his phone. He pleaded with all passengers that he need to pick some items from a fellow driver and that he would drop for somebody in Jos. One can’t really be angry with the kind of person the driver was. We all kept quiet as the driver returned to the Jabi park area.
“Who knows, if we had continued the journey, something terrible might have happened? The driver giving us the item to drop in Jos might be an agent of the Holy Spirit," the driver said, and cast a typical smile. Some passengers laughed too. He parked the vehicle in front of the Rukayyat Plaza, close to where The Thisday office was bombed. A man (his colleague) brought a small carton containing computer parts-–keyboard, mouse, and others that he should give to somebody in Jos. The quite military officer came out and strolled around the booth and pretended as if he was just stretching his leg, but watching the content of the box.
We left the place and the driver tuned his radio to Wazobia FM 99.5, Abuja. The station was running some commentaries in Pidgin English, and after that played the South African Yvonne Chiaka Chaka’s song, “Thank you, Mr. DJ”. The driver rolled in his seat like a python that had swallowed a big prey and started dancing. I enjoyed the song and rolled my body like that of the driver too. I noticed that some passengers also enjoyed the music too and were nodding their heads to its rhyming. The song ended and the driver was still dancing. I said to him, “Oga, the music has ended.”
“I know but Chaka is too sweet like your sweet (referring to the lady at his back)”, said the driver, “In fact, if I see Chaka I can marry her as my second wife."
Everybody burst into a long laughter.
To be continued.
Naagbanton lives in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital, Nigeria.