From Abuja, I headed to Keffi in Nasarawa State, hoping to reach Kaduna State via that route. Reaching Keffi just before 9pm, I considered staying there for the night, but decided to move on. Locating an Akwanga-bound vehicle, I sat in harmattan breeze-tempered amazement for the approximately one-hour journey to Nasarawa’s northern border.
I have been in overloaded vehicles several times. What I had never seen was a vehicle with four persons in front, two on each seat. A petite lady shared the driver’s seat, with another passenger and I sharing the other front seat. I watched as the driver struggled with the gear stick. The driver definitely had much skill in driving, but his seat was not designed for two.
When we reached Akwanga, I found a taxi “loading” for Gwantu in Kaduna State. Thanks to a lack of passengers, the taxi did not leave until 11pm. In the meantime, I filled my growling stomach with water and “kilishi” (dried meat) that I bought in Lokoja. As we left Akwanga, I was happy that my journey was almost over. I planned to stay at the NYSC Guest House in Gwantu before heading to my host community the next day. Satisfied that I had intimated the driver and other passengers of my destination, I dozed off. You can’t cheat nature; I was tired.
A loud shout and a fast U-turn by the driver suddenly terminated my sleep around 11:30pm. As I regained awareness, I was informed that we had just run from a band of armed robbers. As God will have it, the driver and a passenger had sighted the criminals’ roadblock, and the driver was fast enough to turn quickly. Luckily, we were not within range of the thieves guns, so they didn’t bother shooting at us.
As we sped off, the driver slowed down each time we came across any vehicle heading towards our prior destination. “There are thieves ahead”, he repeatedly said in Hausa. More cars, buses and trucks turned back, and we formed a conclave on both sides of the road. It was time to seek help. I checked my phones—one had no network signal, the other was connected. Unfortunately, the one without coverage was the one having airtime. I used another passenger’s phone to call the number of the Divisional Police Officer in Gwantu to report the robbers’ location. The man calmly informed me that he had been transferred out of Gwantu. Apparently, that information has not reached the local government’s NYSC officials.
Since I couldn’t call the police directly, I used my connected phone to dial 112. After several disconnections, I was linked to an emergency line operator. He took my name and relevant details, and promised to contact the police. We waited for almost an hour, hoping to hear the siren of a police or army contingent. As we waited, I started to shiver, as I had left home without a sweater, not expecting to be out in the cold harmattan past midnight. The remaining passengers alongside the driver and I then entered the cab to keep warm.
Suddenly, people started running along the road and into the bushes. Our driver sped off immediately. Due to our efforts in warning other road users, the robbers had noticed that vehicles were not coming their way. Since the mountain refused to come to them, they decided to come to the mountain. Their increasing proximity triggered our flight.
It’s almost 3am and I’m writing this article sitting on a bench in a mini-park back in Akwanga. This is my way of staying awake until daybreak. I cannot sleep because I trust no one here. As I write, I hear the driver of the cab I had earlier entered, recounting his story to those around him. He sure is somewhat a hero. He saved many persons from being robbed, saved my money, phone and PC. When the day breaks, I’ll head to Gwantu. Then, I will say I used more than 24 hours to move from Port Harcourt to Kaduna. It’s been one hell of a journey, but it’s just another road trip. There are more to come.
PS. This article was typed inside the safety of the NYSC Guest House in Gwantu, Kaduna State. I surely couldn’t have typed in the park.