Our ordeals travelling at Christmas, New Year

By Cosmas Omegoh

Many who travelled this season – either by air or overland – say they had a mixed bag of experiences. While some said that their journey was smooth, others insist their experience was next to nightmare.  

Each one, however, is bitter with the security agencies, particularly the police for again ramping up their extorting game on the highways.    

Expectedly, travels during the Yuletide and the New Year seasons present loads of characteristic chaos. Many persons and families hit the roads, the airports or other available means of transport streaming in desperate bid to join their relatives in their celebrations. This surge piles enormous pressures on facilities, and leave everyone with challenges to deal with. This year’s festive period followed the tradition, with travellers facing gruesome delays. There were security issues too. But they never counted the cost though they were many. They were only sustained by the hope of warm welcome and joyful expectations that awaited them.  

For some people who travelled from Lagos to the Southeast region, a week to Christmas or so earlier, the road was seemingly chaotic. Some of them were not able to get to their destinations on the same day. They simply passed the night somewhere when it became obvious that they would not continue on their journey because of the perceived danger on the roads.

“I travelled on December 17, 2021 from Lagos to the East to fetch our children schooling back at home,” Mr Okafor, a chairman of a school Parents Teachers Association (PTA) Lagos branch, said. He added: “The road on that very day was simply chaotic.

“I left Lagos at 8:00 a.m. After the perennial gridlock on the Lagos – Ibadan expressway as a result of the ongoing rehabilitation works, we hit the road to Ore.

 “There were incessant traffic bottlenecks before Ore town, coupled with the bad portions on that stretch. There was also the presence of numerous security checkpoints on the road.”

Mr Okafor said that by the time, he eventually arrived in Delta State, it was already too late for him to continue in the journey.

His words: “We reached Asaba at shortly past 10:00p.m. Having been regular on that road, I knew how dangerous it was to proceed because of the security situation in the Southeast. And because of the road construction at the Oba end of the Onitsha -Owerri road, many hoodlums often cash in on the traffic situation in the area to rob motorists and their passengers. So, I didn’t want to take chances. I had to alight in Asaba and passed the night somewhere.

“My heart fell for people travelling as far as Aba, Uyo and even Calabar.”

A journalist, Chidi, who travelled home with his family on December 25, reported a smooth traffic from Lagos to Asaba, but added that the army checkpoints on the Owerri-Onitsha expressway made the life of the travellers unbearable.

“I left Lagos at 4:00a.m with my family. The traffic on the road up to Ijebu Ode was smooth, maybe because of the time we left. About that time, the road was not expected to be crowded.

“The road around Ijebu Ode is still rough. The contractor is still managing to do major patch up works. So, motorists still stubbornly drive against the traffic in some areas often causing bottlenecks here and there. But we didn’t waste much time at such spots.  

“We went on like that till we arrived in Asaba. It was from there going forward that we experienced real bottlenecks.

 “The traffic on the day from the Onitsha end of the road to Owerri was something else. Everywhere was blocked. We had to be redirected to go into Onitsha and turn. While there, we ran into another gridlock. We eventually survived that after nearly an hour and then headed for Owerri. As we pressed on, we ran into a series of army checkpoints. You know the army and their way of doing things. At every point, they left a little alley for motorists to snake through. On each occasion, they never minded the traffic that had built up behind. That remained the situation until we got to Owerri,” he narrated. 

Mr Daniel Apeleokha, who travelled to celebrate at Agenebode, Edo State, said that he had a great journey.

“But there were numerous police checkpoints on the Ijebu Ode to Benin axis of the road. I later learnt that they were extorting the drivers. But our vehicle was owned by a popular transporter. So, we were not bothered.

“Our journey from Benin to Auchi was equally good. We had no challenges although we had been hearing about ugly incidents of kidnapping on that axis. The police stopped and on each occasion, peered into the vehicle and asked us to go on.”

He said his return trip to Lagos was as free as that could be because there was less pressure on their own section of the road.        

But other persons who travelled on the same road days after said they met a different scenario.

Writing on the chaos on his journey from Lagos to Awka which lasted between December 28 and 29, for instance, a Whatsap user who identified himself as Obiano said: “I arrived in Awka, Anambra State a little after 12 midnight with so many people still trapped in Asaba before the bridge.

“I was moved to tears when I saw children in almost all the vehicles standing still at the same spot before the bridge, most weeping their eyes out because of the harrowing experiences of setting off on a journey of less than 6 hours by 5:00a.m kept in checkpoints mounted not for safety, but for extortion of their parents for hours, hungry, sick and hopeless not knowing when they will reach their destination.

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“My brother, a country that is not sensitive to its children can never get it right.

“When we eventually crossed, I was shocked beyond words to see an army checkpoint immediately after the bridge delaying cars further.

“Most travellers were not just starting their journey at that time after crossing the bridge, especially those heading towards Akwa Ibom, Owerri, Abakaliki etc. Your guess is as good as mine when they will get to their destination.”

Lamenting the numerous security checkpoints, some of them, he said, were unnecessary, he added: “When I saw the soldiers’ checkpoints after the struggle to access the bridge, I nearly lost it and was restrained by my co-travellers from telling them the bitter truth about humanity.”

He further expressed sadness that in the ensuing melee, some drivers trying to maneuver in the traffic maze had in course brushed one another’s car. And sadly they engaged in exchange of bloody punches not knowing who their true enemies are.

Echoing similar experience, a trader, Mr Livi Nwachukwu, said that he left Lagos on December 25, but could not get to Owerri until 9:00 p.m in the evening despite starting his journey in the wee hours of the night.

“We left Lagos at 3:00a.m because we heard so much about people sleeping on the roads. But those tales were not far from the truth.

“We had it all easy until we approached Ijebu Ode to behold police checkpoints. Then from there on, we kept seeing them at every interval of 30 minutes until we arrived in Asaba.

“At every of those checkpoints, they caused us serious delay. They were forcing the drivers to part with N200 each. It was terrible,” Nwachukwu said. 

He said having crossed the bridge into Onitsha, they also had the police to deal with.

“But we suffered much more when we got to checkpoints mounted by soldiers. They  kept delaying vehicles. Then when we arrived at Mgbidi in Imo State, we were forced to alight and trek for about 500 metres with our hands raised skywards. That was humiliation,”  he lamented.           

A lady, Ekaete who travelled to Eket said usually it takes people from that part of the country averagely two days to reach home from Lagos. And so, they usually get prepared for the long haul.

“Every one of us knows that an overland journey from Lagos to home is such a hectic one. So, we prepare for whatever see and meet on the road.”

According to her, she left Lagos at about 8:00 a.m on December 26, but arrived home about 9:00 a.m the next day after sleeping over in Uyo.

“The traffic was fairly smooth until we arrived at the Niger bridgehead at about 7:00p.m. We couldn’t leave Onitsha until 8:00p.m. The driver was brave. In spite of the security challenges in the Southeast, and the unpredictable condition of the roads, he soldiered on. So, we were able to reach Uyo in the early hours of the next day,” she said. 

She called on the government to help rehabilitate the roads and eliminate the numerous army checkpoints that impeded free-flow of traffic so as to lessen the plight of many who travel on the roads particularly during the Christmas and New Year periods. 

However, some people  gripped with fear and who could afford the fares preferred air transport despite the high cost of airline tickets. That also came with its own chaos too. 

Mr Eugene Ohalete who travelled to Owerri from Lagos on December 27, said there was passenger surge at the airport on that day.

“It was expected at this period. There was massive passenger turnout. The whole airport was crowded with passengers seeking to travel. And the ticket price was something else. I paid N80,000 for economy class ticket to get to Owerri. The fare was high, but that helped me to put my mind at rest. I was certain I was going to contend with the terrible traffic situation on the roads and the attendant risks to life.”

A travel agent, Tony Okenwa told our correspondent that airline tickets rose astronomically during the period, especially for flights headed for the East.

“All fight tickets rose sharply this season. For instance, from Lagos to anywhere in the East be it Calabar or Port Harcourt cost between N60,000 and N90,000. Yet, people are going for them,” he said.

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