A road belongs to nobody.
No man builds on her a house and makes a home of it. You come and go. You set your feet, or wheels, on her and follow where she leads. There is a magic about the road trip. Those that dread the open road cannot feel it. They see the fears, the risks, and fly or send an email. For instance, not quite 50 minutes from Okehi you see cars flinging mad U-turns on the A2. This is suicidal, considering the speed of on-coming vehicles. Yet, no one curses the U-turners. Indeed oncoming cars are urging you to turn, screaming: armed robbers on the road!
Armed robbers on the road.
Nigerians love their lives (until of course they reach an altar of corruption – a pot-hole, or a drugless hospital – where they die cheerfully enough). Armed robbers on the road. That cry empties motorways faster than a naked man clears a dormitory of nuns. In no time at all the road is clear of oncoming vehicles. But a detour will add a hundred miles to the odometer. And there is a fuel scarcity. You join more intrepid drivers on the sides of the road. You don’t wait long. These days, you can’t drive ten minutes before being driven off the road by another convoy of luxury cars with escorts from the Nigeria Police Force (which really should be renamed Nigeria Very Important People’s Police Force). A couple of of such convoys arrive, in quick succession. They pull up behind you. They take deep breaths. One group have newish guns and let off a round or two. No birds fall out of the sky, but the robbers would have got the message and they are good to go.
They go ahead, the police troop carrier, leaving their very important people behind till the coast is clear. You follow. All of You the People. The hundreds who had fled their cars and run for cover in the bushes by the roadsides break out now. They run after the policemen serving all of You the People while your interests coincide with the interests of the Very Important People in their charge. This is as it should be, until perhaps another Confab decides the question: Who Owns Nigeria.
At the epicentre of the roadshow is a snarl of abandoned vehicles. The four or five urchins who have bunged up one of Nigeria’s arteries are gone, though shock waves of terrified motorists still reverberate in both directions. As you pass, you piece together snippets of the drama past. The new IGP has (re)banned checkpoints, but there are police checkpoints still, some taking the token from the hapless. These robbers had set up a more disruptive checkpoint and, not unlike the barons of our budgets, taken more than all of You the People were willing to give. You hear stories of an earlier detachment of policemen whose guns had no bullets. But stories like this are cheap. You place no credence on them. There are no dead or wounded, that you can see, thank God. Perhaps the robbers had no bullets either. No cars were taken, you hear. There will be lost phones and wallets of course. There will be the walking-wounded, nursing that sense of violation for weeks and months. Years even.
For the road belongs to nobody, and knave and gallant men pass alongside. Lamb, and marauding lion.
You trip on, fearing the loss of the magic. But The Road is still alive. It courses on, like blood. This is like bungee-jumping. You either love or loath it, and you can feel no loathing for this land. To either side, the impossible colours of mangoes call you to digress. Pyramids of late cashews, black-smoked fish… The bushes that swallowed the robbers are as friendly as any other Asokoro street, housing barons with stolen billions. One day, the police will grow some balls and go from chauffeuring robbers to dinner, to driving them to jail. One day, the budgets will filter down and take the desperate from the ranks of the road robbers, and all of You the People will drive on safer roads. In the meantime, you buy your mangoes and set your wheels once again upon the road you have, to follow where she leads.