It was easy to believe, with the way we set out, that at the other end of the road a festival awaited us. Jude Anogwih did not help matters; he flagged down a Nescafe retailer and paid for coffee for everyone (later, while in the bus, we received an encouraging SMS from Jude. He is a sweet guy!). Then there was loud music, a lady who interviewed us from the Nigerian Television Authority (who said we had to begin our suffering right there), and the filming of our entry into the bus. Thinking of this in retrospect, I have come to believe that our journey to Abuja was a festival, a celebration of the first lap of our journey, a celebration of the beginning of a long, unpredictable journey.
Unpredictable, well, because, we set out behind schedule – few minutes before 10.00am. While setting off, Amaize warned the driver that the normal route would be heavy with traffic, advising that he go through Epe. He did not listen. We, who started out late, soon found ourselves trapped in Lagos traffic, which stretched into Ibadan.
I should point, right away, that we arrived our place of abode in Abuja at 1.45am. So, I am charged with the responsibility of telling what occurred between 10.00am and 1.45am. I find that it is easier – given how tired I feel while writing this – to make markers of the journey. I am hoping that this recording will create snapshots of the journey, for even the most able of eyes cannot see it all.
Sanni: Heedless driver
The bus, a blue Hiace bus, hired from a company which travels Lagos to Accra, had evangelistic adverts on its windows, and we grumbled that it would be impossible to make photos from the windows. But this was to be the least of our worries, as the driver soon proved very James Bond, slamming his brakes, making surprising moves. At a point, I felt I was being thrown into a pothole.
Jumoke and I were most vocal in our complaints. There were several excuses, which we were not going to accept – the roads, we were behind schedule. We argued that Sanni was a bad driver. His colleague, Charlie, repeatedly asked him to oblige us. He did not. After nightfall, our complains stopped.
Sanni had his way.
Which leads me to an interesting fact – Sanni and Charlie are Ghanaians, from Northern Ghana, and they spoke Hausa. Well, Charlie said it was pidgin Hausa, second to the one spoken in Nigeria. We mimicked their accent. I am hoping this does not become our ‘exchange habit’; we would certainly encounter more accents. Aside the improbability of being able to mimic each accent, there is the question of propriety – who wants his speech pattern mimicked, anyway?
The Guy who studied Mass Com
Ibadan, as always, was flung across seven hills, like broken china in the sun. The dirt of the town has always struck me as a leech-like feature. Who can predict when Ibadan will be separated from her dirt? Today’s Ibadan was really broken, and the people seemed in flight, tottering and grasping for some essence, which I presume arose from the coming holidays.
Ibadan slowed us down.
We stopped – Uche, Emeka, Amaize, Chidinma, and myself – to make photos on the road, while the car crawled at snail speed. (I am already making photos!) Uche and Emeka were at his best, squatting, running, bending. Which was why it was easy for a guy to accost Emeka, for reasons which I did not understand, speaking in a language that was equally imperceptible, declaring that he understood what we were doing, for he had studied Mass Communication. His peers, with cigarettes between their fingers, rusty voices, and reddened irises, advised us not to mind his words. I wondered what had led him to this point, where accosting strangers had become fashionable, cogent, rewarding.
There was another guy who winked at me twice while I made (or thought I made) photos. I took his wink in good faith; work had begun.
The Akara misdirection
I thought I knew the Ife-Ibadan expressway so well that I could be sure of the Akara joint. And just like me, Emeka and Jumoke could not tell which was the right joint, so that we ended up in a joint that promised akara in seconds, but had nothing ready.
It would not be until Akure before we found something to eat. That would be our last misdirection; thank heavens.
The Diary Room, Questioning Art
One thing led to the other.
There was a long conversation between Uche and Jumoke on God and Christianity. Really, the conversation was too long to reproduce; it went the same way all God talks go – there’s a person who is not living the full Christian ‘life’ (Jumoke), and there are others advising her to push her spirituality (Uche and Amaize).
A few hours later, Amaize requested that the cameras come on, he wanted us to make a video recording. It is useful to point that Uche had already borrowed the idea of Big Brother’s Diary Room, such that we get to bare our mind in front of cameras daily, as we progress in the journey.
Amaize began with Jumoke, asking about her life and artistic practice, which went without event. But when it came to Kemi’s Q and A, things changed. She made a point about the absence of an encouragement for the ‘new’ in Nigerian photography. Emeka picked on her, stating that it is consistency, not labels (of classics and new) that defined and determined the career of a photographer. We all added our voices – Amaize being the most vocal, Kemi trying to defend her claims, Tom arguing in Emeka’s support, I saying something about how this was the same argument in the literati, Jumoke being asleep, Chidinma saying nothing.
Our interesting argument livened the journey somewhat, and I agree that it was essential since the clarity of our vision as artists is ensured by the clarity of our minds.
We have ID Cards that describes/defines us as artists. This is the first time in my life I have an ID Card as a writer. I am unsure about ‘artist.’
We left Lokoja at few minutes before 10.00pm, having arrived an hour earlier. We had been warned of robbers working ahead. I like to use ‘working’ because, truth be told, robbery is work. It is like saying: Stop Now! Men at Work!
The mystery surrounding our stop, as Amaize pointed out, was that no telephone calls were exchanged. Our bus was flagged down by someone (?), and Sanni reversed the bus, and we joined other passengers at the Lokoja park. There was small groove – D’Banj’s Oliver Twist played thrice, and I wished I could dance with only my legs.
Lokoja, from my earliest memories of travelling to Abuja, has always demanded stops. And we heeded its call, armed robbers or not.
There was no fanfare. We had been offered a place to stay by a friend, Akachukwu. He is, I must note, a great friend. Hotels are expensive in Abuja. A house for free is a miracle.
There is sleep to be slept.
Did I mention that Ray made me sit beside cakes? His birthday was last week and we had to travel with cakes. Seriously, Ray, that was torture, sitting beside cakes I did not eat.