He got to the airport and you and I know that in times like that, getting a ticket is more the preserve of the ‘big men’ who are able to part with wads of cash under the table to airline workers, or have the “do you know who I am?” statement written right across their forehead.
My younger brother is 18 years old. Anyone who’s been there knows that’s the phase in life where one’s independence trumps everything else. He wants to be left to do everything on his own. He spends days trying to convince my parents on the need for him to travel alone without any adult supervision. If he’s on holiday, he volunteers to go on an errand, since it’s an opportunity to leave the house. He’s pretty much a ‘big boy’ in his head.
When just under two weeks ago, my Dad needed someone to travel to Abia State and deliver a few things for him from Abuja, my brother Toby was there. My dad wasn’t sure it was a good idea. But knowing that my brother in the last year or so, had become this huge lover of traveling, and had been successful at it every time, he didn’t think too much about it before sending him off with the message. Toby packed up and flew out to South East Nigeria.
The young man landed safely in the east and delivered the message. But he had to wait a few days to receive what he would take back to Abuja (this is starting to sound like some drug ring, right?). Great for him, since it gave him even more time out of the house to chill in a different city without the parents breathing down his neck. Then the day of his return came, but there was a problem. Arik Air, the airline company he had flown to the East, had been grounded and as with everything in Nigeria, nobody was saying anything about when it would be back in the air. Airports were chaotic and the already under-served airspace in the country, was getting even more stretched. He got to the airport and you and I know that in times like that, getting a ticket is more the preserve of the ‘big men’ who are able to part with wads of cash under the table to airline workers, or have the “do you know who I am?” statement written right across their forehead. Not for some random 18 year old who hardly even knows who he was.
The two options were to wait things out and see if the airline would come back flying in a few days, or to travel by road. With the first option, it was tough because precedents didn’t offer much hope, as grounded airlines in Nigeria, never really came back soon enough. The 2nd option seemed like a no-no. But yeah, I was 18 once and I know that feeling you have when you think you have to prove that you can do anything. All my travels via night bus in this country were done around that age. Something I would probably never do again. Toby shrugged it off and said he would go by road. After all, it’s only 7 hours from the East to Abuja. He was even looking forward to it. My Dad seemed to be okay with it. We the siblings were fine. My Mum as expected, told him to charge his battery properly because she was going to call him on the hour (or more) until she set eyes on him. Then he took off from the East at about 7am.
At that time, the news of the flooding in Lokoja had hit national consciousness. But for some reason, the gravity of it all didn’t register with me very well. I figured that at most, he’d be home at 2pm. At around 4pm, I randomly sent him an SMS; “Oga, so you got home and you couldn’t even text.” He replied; “I’m not home yet o! We’re still somewhere in Benue State and we’re not even moving right now.” That was weird. Then it hit me. Lokoja was being avoided and everyone was on the not so good alternative route. I wondered if he was okay, and he said he was fine and even joked that with the amount of prayers being said on the bus, nothing could happen to them. I was a little worried but no way I was going to show it. My Mum had already clocked a 10 out of 10 on the ‘panic-o-meter’ and I wasn’t about to join her in making the poor boy feel more pressure. “Text when you get home sha.” was my final SMS to him.
4pm became 5pm, which became 6pm, which became 7pm and Toby still hadn’t sent me an SMS. I called him. “So where are you guys now?” He replied; “Not sure but the driver said we should be entering Nasarawa State in 20 minutes if there’s not traffic. But there is traffic so I don’t know.” Nasarawa was next to Abuja so that gave me some relief, but that road isn’t one of the safest places to be on at night so it got me even more worried. I also couldn’t imagine the 12-hour discomfort of traveling on Nigerian roads and still not being at your destination. I prayed a little and moved on.
He sent me an SMS at 8:30pm. “We’re in Keffi now.” My Mum at this time, was about ready to send out a helicopter search party, convinced that hearing her sons voice wasn’t enough of an assurance of his safety. My brother was taking it well and sent another SMS; “There’s no more traffic sha but my battery is almost dead.” Hmmmm! I stayed calm; or at least pretended to.
At about 9:45pm, almost 15 hours after my brother set out on a 7 (and sometimes 6) hour journey, my mother called to say he was home. The collective sigh of relief from every family member was pretty loud and the short prayers of thanks to God were endless. It is always a miracle to do a road trip in Nigeria and arrive safely; especially under these circumstances. Thankfully, my brother at 18 had shown more maturity than his country almost 3 times his age.
That is the sort of Nigeria we live in, 52 whole years after Independence! Happy holidays people…
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.