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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

The land of the dead; a traveler’s nightmare

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By Isah Aliyu Ciroma

When hope and fear arbitrate the event, I incline to the hope rather than the fear”.

  -John Milton.

he mind looms out of the landscape of the mountains, traveling from dusk to dawn, with the heart beating faster than usual under the land of the dead. Deep thought burrowed, although I could not have imagined or predicted that the night during my journey will enfold and trap me during those late hours when the cities were sleeping. Yet for me, the events surrounding the journey are a new experience sprouting out from a leaving story. They were to prove one of the darkest days in my errand traveling to the seat of the caliphate. I was just on a battlefield that lay within the compass of my skull, where should I begin?

The night seemed to last forever, then I knew for certain that we are still far away from our destination. It was a spectacularly starry night and we could only catch the glimpse of a few vehicles across the road, their headlights waving at us. And from what I learned from my father, whenever you are driving and the road seemed empty, with no sign of cars passing, then definitely something must be wrong on the way. I saw a practical experience when we were traveling to Bauchi from Abuja. A car was behind us, he wanted to overtake us but he was afraid, the road was scanty. He keeps following us from behind, then it came to our notice that was his first time journeying through that route. That was in a day broad light, then think of how the night kept enfolding and few cars were in our sight.

We arrived in Gusau at 6:50 pm from Bauchi, it was obvious that some of the passengers appears to be at their last bus stop. We prayed at a mosque by the roadside and stretch our legs. We were back on the road at about 7:30 pm. Some passengers never knew the new journey we are to start at this hour of the night. They took much more time than we expected, and it came to my notice that most of the passengers on board appeared to be their first time enrooting towards this part of the country.

From Gusau to Sokoto is a matter of some 3 hours and 30-minute drive. It was alien to their idea that it is one of the most dangerous places to travel during the day not to even talk of the night. And the roads are bad. There was a time I arrived at Mafara around 6:30 pm, our car broke down just close to the welcoming gate of Mafara town as we were bidding farewell to the city, close to a filling station by the roadside. It was already getting dark, and the driver told us he need to go back to Mafara town to get a mechanic to come and repair the car then we continue our journey to Sokoto. Some of the passengers agreed because the driver was not willing to refund any money to board another car that will take us to Sokoto town. I said, “driver could you please open the boot, I want to take out my bag”. It was in 2019, when banditry was at its peak, most especially in that community. I took another car to Sokoto, together with some villagers returning with their goats from the market sitting at the boot. At that time, the type of car did not matter but reaching my destination safely mattered a lot.

In some of the cities by the roadside, you found few people heading home. Driving at night is one of the challenges some drivers face, most especially on a highway like this. We kept driving into the night, hitting some of the holes we could not escape, with our hearts dangling between life and death. This was my worst travel experience coming to Sokoto. We arrived in Sokoto town at 11:20 pm, yes past 11 pm.

Leaving Bauchi early at 7:20 am, we all hoped to arrive early. Our driver decided to take the route from Gumau and burst out to Saminaka. To anyone who knows this road, you will just feel like dropping off the car and continuing your journey with your legs, at least what you ate remains intact. The other time, Dr. AdamuTilde on his facebook  page said, “Next time any of my staff misbehaves I Kuku send him or her to Saminakan for an emergency errand. We must ensure equal distribution of suffering”. I am sure Dr. Tilde is one of the victims of this route, and his expression signifies how bad the road needs urgent attention. This made him call the attention of the Kaduna state governor, as one of his number one fans, to fix the Unguwar Bawa-Saminaka township road, which is not more than five kilometers.

This is from many bad roads in the country, and without good roads, the mobility of carrying out our daily activities, moving across the cities will become an inevitable problem. And when we lack that easy mobility, we found it difficult to access some goods in the market. Because not everyone would risk plying those routes,  which seems to be easier than the longer ones, except maybe the end point of the journey and what you wish to achieve will give you the hope to navigate your way through those routes.

Sometimes when you take a deep breath and think what are some of the projects the citizens in a country like ours are enjoying, it became apparent that very few. Is it the unstable light we are still suffering or lack of access to clean water and not to talk of some of the major elements like quality education and good health care. It appears even the little we are benefiting from is always getting less, and the next generation might not benefit from it. Some of the communities in the country have never witnessed light in their houses, nor a good road that they can navigate to the city hospitals for immediate attention with patients.

When are we going to get those things right, when are our leaders ready to serve and not to cure their needs? The matter is quite simple. We need to take charge of our future and choose leaders who are ready to change those situations. A leader who can provide the needs for his people and provide solutions to their problems. What better preparation can the population need to attain those hopes that can sprout out a new beginning, in a country of ours? As they begin their journey into our cities with their promises, let us listen attentively with ears of wisdom and choose those we think can do the work. The time is now!

Aliyu Isah Chiroma is a poet, essayist and freelance journalist. He lives in Bauchi.

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