It was a total gridlock, bumper to bumper, not even an inch of space for any soul to walk past. The roads were terrible. It had pot holes filled with water. It was the rainy season and there was no bypass. This was the only road that led in and out of Akuoye and politicians capitalized on the fact that they could easily gather mammoth crowd on this road to listen to their readymade lies. They didn’t need to hire any special place for their campaigns in Akuoye. Election in and election out; they used this road for their electioneering fête.
“As soon as I get elected, the first thing I will do is to award the contract for the rehabilitation of this Akuoye highway that connects Idorin and Udoeye towns”. This sentence always seemed well rehearsed, up to the point that even in his dreams any politician vying for the most coveted seat in Akuoye State, the governorship post, would recite it without a hitch. All the citizens of the state had witnessed the same promise being made every four years for the past two decades, but nothing was ever done about actually reconstructing the road.
In the first 100 days after swearing in a governor for either the second term or a fresh tenure, caterpillars and all sorts of heavy duty equipment will be mobilized to site and there will be such a momentum of work force that one would think that within twilight, the whole road would be finished. There was always this initial joy that welcomed the mobilization of the work forces to the site for visitors but for those indigenes, who had witnessed similar mobilizations in the past, it was just a political gimmick, so they usually just exhaled and waved their hands over the manipulations. In fact, there was this expression that was often used in Akuoye when trying to find out the date of an event that was planned around an election period, the invitees would often ask, ‘before or after faKcon?’ Fakcon meant fake constructions!
Within two months, the whole project would be abandoned. The heavy duty trucks, caterpillars and bulldozers would decamp and leave the road in a far worse off state than when they first met it. What exactly was the jinx about this road that could not be broken? Different governors and governments gave different versions as to why the road was in such a state, yet this was the singular most important road that connected to three towns that were the economic lifelines of the state.
The rubber plantation was located at Idorin. There was well over 200 hectares of rubber plantation there that supplied latex for export, which brought in foreign earnings for the state, yet the road was in such a dilapidated state! The big trucks that transported this latex was constantly making the road to become worse off and they were also a major source of traffic and road mishaps. What sort of a government would be so indifferent to the infrastructural decay of the source of economic earnings for the state that they looted; and lived such luxuriant lifestyles from? The grief generated by this terrible road was unfathomable.
One certain time, a popular journalist from Akuoye tried to pry into the office of the state statistics to get the figures of the death and accident cases on this road. His name was Mr. Ikunni, but Ikunni just disappeared one day after work before the figures could be made public. He was on his way back from work when he was abducted by gunmen. The police were informed. His people visited the police station countless times to see if there was any update on the case, all to no avail. His colleagues in the media houses made fortune from his disappearance, but till date nothing has been heard about him. Mr. Ikunni’s children were rendered fatherless; his pretty wife who did not know what to make of the situation resigned to fasting and praying for her husband to return home. The outgoing state governor visited her and comforted her in the presence of gentlemen of the press. In the night he sent one of his drivers to go and bring her to the state house.
“I will do everything within my powers as the executive governor of this noble state, to ensure that we find your husband and the perpetrators of this dastardly act will be brought to book.”
“Thank you your Excellency” Mrs. Ikunni whispered.
“In the meantime, if there is anything, anything at all that you think I can do to be of assistance to you and your family in this trying time; please do let me know.”
“Thank you your Excellency. Actually, since the disappearance of my husband, I have been finding it very difficult to sustain my family because he was the sole bread winner as I took time off work to be able to support the children. Now we are barely able to feed. His establishment has not paid his wages, so please if you can intervene and prevail on the establishment to pay my husband’s wages, then we should be fine.”
“Not to worry my dear. I shall talk to the MD of the establishment and get back to you.”
“Thank you your Excellency.”
“In the interim, take this and manage it till we can resolve this case and hopefully all this shall be a thing of the past. The police commissioner has assured me that he will get to the bottom of this.”
A brown envelope was handed over to Mrs. Ikunni. When she was dropped off at her home by the emissaries of the state house, she counted the money and she had a whooping sum of 10,000USD in the envelope. When she converted it to their local currency, it was well over 4 million Jaras. What a surprise! At first instance, it was a moment of temporary relief. She thought of the immediate needs that the money could solve – school fees, house rent deposit, and food. She reasoned that before the need arose for more money, her husband would be back; God would bring him back. His wages would be paid by the media establishment and then they would be okay. But she suddenly remembered that, her husband had said he was doing some investigations on the activities of the current administration, especially the governor’s new scheme of trying to perpetrate himself in power by sponsoring a stooge in the oncoming gubernatorial election. Then she became suspicious. What if this was a trap? How could a state governor who owed workers over six months salaries and allowances give her such a monetary gift? Her mind turned into a battleground. She was having a headache. She prayed hard and wished harder that her husband would just re-appear so that she could put all her troubles to rest. He was her backbone; he always knew how to handle matters no matter how difficult they were. A wave of caution rushed through her, and she made up her mind to return the money. Two weeks later, she booked an appointment to see his Excellency again.
“Very good to see you again” the governor sounded nonchalant.
“Thank you your Excellency.”
“What brings you here today?”
“Your Excellency, Sir, I came to inquire if you’ve had any word about my husband and if you managed to speak to my husband’s office yet?”
“In fact madam, the police commissioner was with me yesterday and he told me that they have gotten some very useful leads which they are following up and hopefully soon, they shall be able to get to the crux of the matter.”
“Oh! My God” She lamented
“What is the problem my dear? Do take heart.”
“The problem is that it’s been six months and his kidnappers have not even asked for a ransom, your Excellency.”
“That is quite unfortunate my dear, but never mind, things like this do happen to good people” He said, stroking his long beard.
Then she broke down. She could not carry on like this anymore. This was the same story they’ve been telling her since the event occurred. She missed her husband. Her children missed their dad. The situation was getting from bad to worse. Feeding was a struggle and maintaining her home without her husband was a grind at the mill. Her husband’s establishment would not pay her any benefits as the case was not yet concluded.
“Iksa, I promise you this, that I will do everything within my power to ensure that we bring the perpetrators of this act to book.”
Her heart skipped a beat. “Bring the perpetrators to book?” What about her husband being rescued alive? Does this mean that there was no hope of ever finding her husband?
She wept again and the governor asked his aides to leave them for a moment. He stepped over to where Iksa was sitting, lifted her hands and swore that he will do everything to make sure the case was concluded. She went back home feeling very sad, and in her grief she forgot to return the money to him.
Two days after Iksa’s meeting with the governor, a tanker overturned on that same road in the middle of the night and burst into flames. With no street lights and with rains pouring nonstop, six other vehicles were caught up in the inferno and twenty five lives were lost that night in an avoidable death situation. The government issued a statement as usual and commiserated with the families of the departed, promising that the road would be fixed as a matter of urgency. The statistics hiked and yet no one dared to say anything. Mr. Ikunni’s disappearance was still fresh in the minds of the people and journalists. They obviously loved their lives and didn’t wish a repeat of what happened to Mr. Ikunni on them.
“Lies, lies, lies! That is all what they keep telling us. My husband’s disappearance will not be in vain” Iksa vowed within herself to continue with her fight against these lies.
It was another session of a gridlock jam. It was usual to have this gridlock between 5pm and 10pm. Makeshift bars and beer parlors were set up along the sides of the road. It was common to find drivers leaving their vehicles to grab a beer or two and some pepper soup while the traffic lasted. They would often times pull their vehicles to the side of the road and worsen the state of the traffic situation. Nicosa had been in this traffic jam for the past four hours, the cars were not moving at all. The average distance he had moved over the past four hours was probably a quarter of a mile. A set of hoodlums called ‘Area Boys’ went about redirecting the traffic to favor their teams and friends and those who gave them money. They stood in front of cars and stopped them from moving, just to allow other vehicles to move or change lanes, when the opportunity arose. These were society’s miscreants and nobody wanted their trouble.
As though a whirlwind had just started, the traffic began to ease and there was a sudden mad movement. Horns blared, tyres screeched, people yelled, some cars were scratched in the process, others were hit and some people ignored theirs but some crazy commercial drivers jumped out of their vehicles and got into a fight, thereby making matters worse. In the midst of this scramble, the Area Boys came in front of Nicosa’s vehicle and stood in front of it, beckoning on another vehicle to enter Ntafiong’s lane. Ntafiong, Nicosa’s driver kept inching the car forward and those miscreants came and banged on the bonnet of his vehicle. Ntafiong came out and asked them to move away from the front of the vehicle. They were about seven in number. They swore at Ntafiong and asked him to stop for a minute for the other vehicle to make an entry to his lane. Nicosa came out from the vehicle with his pin striped suit, brown suede shoes and bowler hat. He was exhausted; he had had a very busy day at work and just wanted to get home in peace.
“Don’t hit the car again” he announced to them.
“We will hit this car anytime and anyhow we want to and you cannot do anything to us” they said in unison.
“Turn off the engine” Nicosa instructed Ntafiong.
Ntafiong went inside the vehicle and switched off the engine. That lane was completely stalled now. Not a single movement. The people who were in the cars behind the Mazda 6 ultrasport car, came out and cursed and swore at everybody. Some begged Ntafiong and Nicosa to please ignore the miscreants and move their car so that they could all leave the scene; others fueled the anger in the protagonists and antagonists of the drama.
As the situation was unfolding, a wailing siren could be heard from behind. One of the supposed big shots was driving by with his entourage. Everybody scampered off the lane to create space for them. Nicosa stood his ground. Their vehicles came closer to the impasse and grinded to a halt.
A short chubby man, whose shirt could barely cover his large belly appeared on the scene with a service pistol in his right hand. He identified the Mazda car as the cause of traffic obstruction.
“Who owns this vehicle” he barked.
“Me” said Nicosa.
“Move this vehicle now. The big boss is on his way and he needs to pass quickly.”
“I am not moving the vehicle” Nicosa said calmly.
“If you don’t move this vehicle now, I will call my boys to arrest you and impound your vehicle”
The Area Boys began to chant and raise a whole lot of furore.
“We have been telling him since to move the vehicle and he refused. Now you have to move this vehicle.”
The Area Boys went wild and made loud indiscernible noises and they began to bang on the bonnet of the Mazda and to lift the Mazda out of the way.
The short chubby man fired a couple of shots into the air, brought out a radio and called for backup. People scampered helter-skelter.
“I am not sure you want to start what you cannot finish” Nicosa announced.
Nicosa flicked open the boot of his car and brought out two AK 47 assault rifles. He held one on his right hand and other on his left hand. He fired shots into the air and sprayed the short chubby man and the Area Boys with bullets. A more intense pandemonium broke out. A Hilux military truck had managed to creep into the scene now with armed police escorts paving the way for the big shot. Ntafiong opened the boot and brought out two AK 47 rifles and began to spray at the truck. It was fire for fire.
A lady could be seen crouching from her old dated car towards the Mazda Ultrasport. She opened the boot and took an AK 47 rifle. She ran straight across the road towards the convoy and began to shoot at the military truck and the cars of the big men. Drivers of other vehicles saw that this was the golden moment they had to grab. They took the rifles and guns from the fallen policemen and began to hunt the passengers of all the convoy down. Iksa opened the door of a black gleaming Mercedes and dragged out its pot bellied occupant.
It was the outgoing state governor, Chief (Dr) Elder Ntutue. The people had gone mad, his security was breached and he was completely helpless. Six of his aides laid dead on the street in the pool of their own blood.
“Mrs Ikunni, why? After all what I have done for you?” He asked with an injured air.
“Put your hands up in the air” she yelled.
“What? I am the executive governor of this state, or have you forgotten?”
The uproar died down and the crowd became still. There was absolute silence.
“No, not anymore, you are now the criminal and I am the executioner. Where is my husband?”
“But how do you expect me to know? He was abducted by unknown men”
Iksa cocked the gun and put it on his temple. “Now, for the very last time, where is my husband you freaking bastard!”
“Please don’t kill me, okay, okay, I will talk, he is dead.”
“Who killed him and for what offense?”
“Err, he, I, you know.”
“Oh, so you’ve lost your tongue? You killed my husband because he wanted to expose the truth about your maladministration, and you sold lies to the entire public. Shame on you; beasts like you should be given a special corner in the zoo to live in.”
“No, not so my dear, you see, the state could sponsor some executions at times. Nothing personal you know.”
“Oh; really? Very well said then, because this state is about to sponsor your own execution.”
The crowd could no longer contain themselves. They descended on the governor and his remaining aides, stripped them naked and marched them down the road that had claimed the lives of several innocent citizens of the state. Iksa was at the front leading the march while Nicosa and Ntafiong and the rest of the revolutionists marched on the side of the single file that the governor and his aides were forced to take. The gentleman on striped suit and suede shoes chanted, “Aluta Continua” and the enraged crowd replied, “vitória é certa!”
Uwem Mbot Umana©2019