Our guest writer, John Paul Nwadike shares his experience during a work trip to Ogoni in Rivers State. He is a fresh graduate of Imo State University from the department of English and literary studies. He is an author, a columnist, a poet, a presenter and a strong political analyst/commentator. Read his story below and don’t forget to drop your comments after.
ROAD TO OGONI: MY BITTER EXPERIENCE, MY STORY
On Monday I promised to bring you this piece. Though I have been quite ill since then, recrudescence of Ogoni palava. But the delay is healthy because it has erased the heavy emotions with which I would have written. Nevertheless, I write. (adjusts sit).
On 18th of this month (Saturday), I finished my On-Air-Poetry Show at HOT FM by 2pm and headed straight to Emirate Hotel at World bank road to meet with my friend and long term colleague, DJ TRIGGER whose twin sister will be wedding traditionally at Ogoni and I was to be the MC. After a brief chat, I left for my home to pack my clothes and other accessories. At about 04:20 I returned to Emirates Hotel from whence we moved down to Control Post where the entire family of the DJ were stuffing themselves into an 18 sitter bus, after about 1hour of rowdy arrangement, the bus was jam packed with 37 people with accompanying luggage dangling at the booth and beneath the seats. Myself, another friend, the DJ and his twin couldn’t enter the bus for obvious reasons. From there we left for Uratta, where, after a handful of confusion, the speakers(music equipments) for the occasion were on loaded at the rooftop of the bus. Time Check, 08:35pm, they left for Ogoni through Aba while the four of us left for Rotobi junction where we boarded a Sienna bus to Aba. We left by 09:20pm.
The driver practically flew, for we were in Aba before 10:30 from where we took another bus to Akwete. (Mum calls, worried, I calmed her down). By now, the bus that left with the family members struggled to make it to Akwete under excess load, thank God for the absence of Road Safety Officials. The bus driver had to wait for us to board a taxi because he does not know the road from that point. It was late in the midnight, the park was deserted, we were left with two bunker touts whose bunkering taxi was commandeered into conveying us to Ogoni at the cost price of 7,000. With two drivers on one seat, their two girlfriends at the front, the four of us at the back, lapping some children that were transferred to us from the other bus, we began the Herculean journey, the bus crawling behind us. We stopped severally to wait for the ‘snailey’ bus (excuse that word) until we got to Obehi(the boundary between Abia and Rivers) where we met the first military checkpoint( interrogation galore). We managed to continue the journey at a maddening speed and hit Ndoki by 01:00am. We stop at the unending military checkpoints to answer unanswerable answer, but always moved, nevertheless. At about 01:28am we entered Ogoni, but were met with a roadblock which was quite unmilitary. After horning for some minutes without success, we summoned courage to clear the roadblocks, immediately the drivers turned on their ignitions, a volley of controlled gunfire was opened on us(thank God for those luggage, the shielded us). We sped off amidst ululations and tremblings and got to a point where we diverted only to discover that the bus was missing. We alighted at exactly 02:15am at the designated compound, alerted the local ‘vigilantes’ and hit the road again, in search of our lost comrades-in-suffering. We found them and returned by 03:00am in a climate of recriminations.
We were graced with mud houses (their mansions), so, I kept vigil outside, on top the bus, coz I couldn’t sleep. Many also slept outside due to lack of sufficient rooms. Then came mosquitoes and sun flies. They dealt with us. I cried, I wailed, I wept. At this juncture, my mother’s words echoed in my head when I told her that I’m going to Ogoni, “you’ll regret it”, she said, and I did.
Soon, dawn descended on us and preparations began. I bathed and ‘poopooed’ in the bush, while I was bathing, behold a long green snake, I paused till it hissed bye. I bathed with speed and left the place fidgeting.
Fast forward to the wedding proper. The groom arrived from Jos by 03:12pm and was blocked by the villagers at the entrance to the compound, insisting that he must pay 15,000 naira “marching ground”(pseudo tradition, I guess). He paid 5 and was let in. After all the hassles of bride pricing and payments, the wedding kick started by 04:56pm. I was rushing the programs, skipping so many protocols and avoiding unnecessary delays. Before too long, the bride’s elder sister, a Naval officer, began to pack all the drinks at the high table into sack bags. Reason? “I don’t want these hungry villagers to drink piakam, after all they did to my sister and her husband”. The chairman got infuriated and left while the villagers engaged her in altercations which slipped into exchange of militant blows, tearing of wrappers and bickering. She made her way to the trunk of her Toyota and brandishing an AK 47 rifle, started shooting sporadically into the air. The pandemonium was unrivaled. I took refuge under a plantain tree till it died down (biko don’t blame me). I didn’t even announce the end of the program before we started packing our property into the bus. The groom dragged his bride into their car and fled, the naval officer fled with her husband, while we hurriedly packed. Someone eloped with the bride price, another group slaughtered and fled with the two goats while others made away with tubers of yams. It was horrible.
We left around 07:10pm. The bus left first, then we trailed behind after begging a bike man to carry us for 1,500 to Ndoki. We were now three. He conveyed us with a pistol in his pocket for fear of attack on his way back by hoodlums who had earlier killed three villagers prior to our arrival. From Ndoki we entered Obehi then Akwete then Aba park before locating Owerri by 11:30pm, not without spending thousands in transportation.
However, one thing is striking; Ogoni is evil, wicked, corrupt, undeveloped, stranger unfriendly, lazy, dirty and unwilling to grow.
Aba is the dirtiest place in the world.
Though I learnt a bitter lesson, I regret stepping my foot into that accursed landscape.
Note: Ken Sari Wiwa hails from here and his people are suffering the aftermath of their wartime crimes against Ndi Igbo.