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Monday, 10 September 2018

Imo boys camp at potholes to rob travelers at night.

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My road trip back to Lagos from Calabar on Friday, September 7, 2018, was a really horrendous one. My backside still aches from the experience.
The Odukpani-Itu road has all but collapsed, tankers tilt, fall over and spill contents here and there, articulated trucks can't navigate crater-sized potholes no thanks to their sheer sizes and as we approached Umuahia, one tanker driver decided to bring our journey to a premature end when he attempted a U-turn on a narrow stretch of road.

No one was moving anymore from either side of the road for some two hours. Time check 8pm.

We were only able to leave this spot when another truck arrived to tow the tanker that couldn’t screech its way out of the edge of the road.

By the time we resumed our journey, the clouds had darkened and it was pretty late to continue driving to Lagos. We resolved to spend the night in Owerri and continue the trip to Lagos at dawn.

A pool of water in the middle of nowhere
In a community on the outskirts of Owerri, the Imo State capital, a river-sized puddle had formed ahead of us. Inside this muddy pool were a crop of young boys who were ready to push your car should it get stuck, for a fee of course.

Our driver waited. Two cars that had overtaken ours, now laid comatose in the pool, their engines refusing to roar back to life.

We had two choices at this point: risk the bus plunging into the pool or use an alternate route marooned in the bushes.

As we contemplated our next move, a young man dressed in native attire, whispered from the bushes.

“Dem dey rob for the other road o. Make una no follow that side o!”

There was a youth corp member in my bus. She told the story of how she had plied the road earlier to Calabar and how it wouldn’t be so bad if the driver used the edges of the pool. We could go in and emerge on the other side and nothing would happen to the bus, she suggested.

But she was immediately shouted down in Igbo by a group of boys, one of whom repeatedly chided a gentleman sitting beside the driver for his cowardice and “lack of a liver”.

Taking the alternate route in the bush

“You be woman? Abeg comot for there! You too dey fear. E say dem dey rob. Which rob? Na my town be this. Driver, reverse this bus make we go use the other road”, the Igbo chap screamed at the passenger who was sitting beside the driver and who was trying to talk the driver out of using the alternate route.

He would move close to the driver to bark orders. “Nothing dey happen”, he shouted over and over again.

About five Igbo boys backed the driver and told him to reverse and use the alternate route where we had just been told robbers were stealing from commuters at gunpoint.

After some hesitation, the driver--a young man who looked in his ‘20s--yielded to popular demand inside his bus and went for the alternate route.

Some of us held our breaths at this point. It was the very least we could do.

A den of robbers

“Driver, no stop for anybody o. Dey go..dey go”, came the screams from the association of Igbo boys in the bus. I was as silent as a lamb at this point. I was just too tired to contribute to the discourse and besides, I had little energy to scream above the din from the belligerent passengers.

As our driver sped through the alternate route, we met a bus that had just been robbed and whose passengers warned us not to continue on the route. Some of the commuters of the robbed bus had their trousers pulled to knee level and held their shoes as they stood huddled on the narrow pathway.

But the Igbo passengers in my bus screamed at the driver to continue on the route, because “nothing dey happen”.

“Driver speed, move this bus”, one Igbo chap yelled.

Five minutes after the driver sped through this quiet, eerie thicket in a village in Imo State, someone beamed a flashlight at us from the corner of the road and shouted "hold it there" in a nauseating baritone.

He was a robber with a sophisticated, double barreled gun. Other members of his gang who were wielding semi-automatic rifles, were running to the road with him, bracing up for a night of looting.

“Driver, no stop. Driver move!!!!” came the screams from the now frightened Igbo passengers.

The driver obeyed. As one robber hit the bus with the butt of his gun and made to pull the trigger, the driver swerved to his left.

Hearts raced and stopped.

Passengers were falling over themselves inside the bus at this point. The chap who had been called a coward by the Igbo boys, was almost falling on the driver. But the driver held his own and sped through a barricade of speed bumps, potholes and grasses.

I still wonder why the robbers didn’t shoot at our bus or aim a bullet or two at the tyres. They had us at their mercy for a while.

It took what seemed an eternity for the Igbo passengers to regain their voices and for the lady corper to tell everyone that “I told you so”.

We arrived Owerri in one piece, congratulating ourselves for evading the robbers. But the buses and cars that followed closely behind us were not so lucky. We would later learn that they had all been robbed by the same gang we just evaded, one after the other.
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