The fear of visiting home

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in Sunday Punch, Nov. 22, 2009

It was my boss, Azu, who amplified the congratulatory messages I got for returning safely to Lagos from the East. “Thank God you escaped the kidnappers,” he enthused.

The journey had elicited sympathies and prayers at the same time. “Please don’t go home. You are a prime target for kidnappers,” became the refrain of some of my friends. To some close relatives, I must not travel without spiritual fortification.

 And that was how I became familiar with some spiritual oils like olive oil, St. Michael oil, Back to Sender oil and Mustard seed. The belief of those who use these items is that they protect one from many dangers. For instance, whether one puts St. Michael oil in one’s bathwater or rubs it after bath, it is believed that it could ward off any spiritual attack. Back to sender oil, as the name implies, returns any evil attack to the sender.

What bothered me was that nobody assured me of the protection of the joint patrol team of the police and the military. People kept telling me, “Anambra! That your state sef. Please be careful o!”

 Careful or not, I took the first flight to Enugu en route to Abakaliki, the capital of Ebonyi State on October 26, 2009. I didn’t really have time to tour Enugu as such, but for the few areas I visited, the roads were okay. I’m talking about roads because that’s one visible thing Nigerians appraise their leaders on. Every other thing may not be working well, but once people see bulldozers and the resultant tarred roads, they say the governor is trying even when the roads may not withstand the test of two rainy seasons.

 My trip to Abakaliki was to see my father who resides there and to commiserate with the family of my maternal uncle, Chief Andrew Onyeguili, who died early last month. Regrettably, the Enugu-Abakaliki Road is not only narrow, it is bad. The only sign of work in progress on this expressway was a few wheelbarrow pushers filling some potholes.

 Being a capital city now, Abakaliki boasts of a few infrastructural changes. For instance, the roads in the city are far better than what they used to be. But to my surprise, the major road in the town hitherto known as Ogoja Road is now called Sam Egwu Road.

Sam Egwu is the Minister of Education. He was the immediate past governor of Ebonyi state. I don’t really know the wisdom behind renaming the road after him. But it goes further to show that for every little thing some Nigerian leaders achieve, they would want to imprint their names on it. We used to have Orji Uzor Kalu mass transit bus in Abia. In Kogi State, the former governor of the state, Abubakar Audu, named the state university he established in 1999Prince Abubakar Audu University. In some other states of the federation, governors relished naming one monument or the other after themselves.

In Anambra, I didn’t see any monument bearing Peter Obi’s name. I observed that the man has some achievements to showcase in terms of road construction and rehabilitation. I also noticed a big billboard at Ekwulobia roundabout announcing the rehabilitation of Obizi/Aguata regional water supply scheme. According to the billboard, such towns as Akpo, Achina, Ekwulobia, Uga, Oko, Isuofia, Igboukwu, and Umuchu, now have potable water. “His Excellency, Mr. Peter Obi, thank you,” the advertisers concluded.

My town is one of those listed as benefiting from this regional water scheme. In the whole of my village, I did not see any pipe or any indication at all that the town is benefiting from this water scheme. I asked around, but nobody seems to know who the beneficiaries are. It is either that people are not aware where to go and fetch the water or there is some deceit going on.

The governor, who I have a lot of respect for, should tell us where to fetch this potable water from. Or tell those who mounted the billboard to remove it without further delay. I had actually wanted to go to my town’s special convention held on October 31, 2009 to complain about this, but I was reminded to play it cool to avoid the wrath of kidnappers.

 Though I didn’t consider myself a prime candidate for kidnapping, it is worthy to note that the day Pa Simeon Soludo was kidnapped was the day I arrived in my town. One of my reporters who felt concerned sent me an SMS saying, “Prof. Soludo’s father has been kidnapped. Please be careful.”

Being from the same town with Soludo, I became more careful, restricting my movement only to the compound where my larger family had a week-long burial ceremony. I also noticed that many wealthy people in my place are averse to visiting home these days. Some of those who brave it keep their visit secret while some go about town in chartered cars.

 In all this, what nauseates me more is the level of poverty in the land. The greatest ceremonies people attend now are burial ceremonies where, at least, they are assured of a meal and a drink.

 It’s this poverty, I suppose, that triggered the rumour that there were people going round to buy old television sets, wall clocks and ancient beds from those who still have them. The amount ranges from N3m to N15m. I was around when the agents of the purported buyers came around for inspection of the old National TV, which is one of the remaining relics of my father’s property. With a mobile phone handset, they searched for the so-called mercury that would fetch millions of naira if found. They wasted their time and left without locating the mercury.

 On my return to Lagos, I deliberately decided to go by road to see if there was any improvement on the Lagos-Benin Expressway. The reason is to see if I could bring my family home this Christmas. Of course nothing much has changed on the road. For 10 years of democracy, we have been talking about rehabilitating a particular road without success. Billions of naira had been budgeted for the road. Yet no improvement!

I remembered that I had warned on this page before when this kidnapping thing started in the Niger Delta that it would come to a point nobody would feel safe anymore.

It has come to that point and now that our ranking has slipped from 121 to 130 in the corruption perception index, many Nigerians may continue to sing, “Lord of mercy and compassion, look with pity upon me,” for a long time to come.


1 Comment »

  1. 1
    tope Says:

    Casmir, why do our Governors name projects after their own name? They often forget perhaps due to their mediocre mentality, that it is OUR money they used to implement this project. Oga Casmir, I don tire ooo!

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