Crossing Our Seregenti II, Ndigbo Story -Kelechi Deca

By Kelechi Deca on 28/12/2019

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...Why many Igbo people love to drive home during Christmas

Kelechi Deca

During a discussion I had with a friend last week, he asked a question many non Igbo Nigerians also find puzzling. Many have asked similar question.

Why do so many Igbo people love to drive home during Christmas, (enduring the strenuous 10-12 hour road trip) even though they could afford flight tickets. The answer is that to most Igbo, the annual ritual starts from the road trip. It is an unmissable part of the ritual. It is important to note that Christmas for the Igbo starts on the eve and ends first week of January.

Spending few days preparing. Hitting the road early in the morning, meeting other families on same route, even making friends, and few enemies along the way. Stopping over to eat, drink, rest, and continuing. It is an invaluable racy experience that is intrinsic to the Igbo.

From a sociological point of view, I am not in a haste to dismiss that it has nothing to do with their intenerant nature, compounded with the fact that in the last 100 years, they are probably the only African ethnicity with a history that has been brutally punctuated by several ugly exodus from their places of residence to their homeland starting from the 1945 Jos massacre of Igbo, to the two major bloodthirsty Pogroms, the Biafra experience and its attendant genocide, to uncountable bloody riots in parts of northern Nigeria targeted at the Igbo, and the Oso Abiola.

I am tempted to believe that these negative experience aided a social mutation that has invariably led to a lure creating a controlled positive experience from it.

It is like all these negatives crossing the line of equation have become positives. And they now do this on their own terms being in the driving seat and enjoying. I think those more educated, and knowledgeable than me need further research on this hypothesis.

It is a common sight of men driving very expensive top of the range luxury cars with their families and friends, some in a convoy of three to four vehicles heading down to their villages. Some of these guys have what it takes to pay entire tickets of a B737, yet they drive. Why?

The Igbo are a unique people. Their uniqueness reflects in the way they do certain things unlike any other. And irrespective of whether they're from Enugu, Delta, Imo or Rivers, same attitude or should I call it traits could easily be deciphered.

In crossing the Seregenti, the annual rituals marking the great migration, animals of all hues and colours make the often treacherous, but communal migration taking them hundreds of kilometers, in surging droves as is answering to a call from a beating drum somewhere.

Not even the Lions and other predators that lay in ambush, crocodiles that wait at the Mara River, dangerous terrains they had to endure, can stop that movement. Along the way, they have different spots where they stop, commune, inspite of differences, before continuing their journey.

There's something about our annual exodus to our respective villages that we feel deeply inside the core of our very being which others cannot comprehend. There's a pull that drags us eastwards, like a gravitas.

It is strange that along the way you see hundreds of broken-down vehicles, few accidents here and there, but when you interact with the victims of such misfortunes, you'd be shocked that non of those events could dampen their resolve to be in their villages at Christmas. Oftentimes, they joke about such events.

My maternal grandfather who survived two pogroms in Northern Nigeria, Kaduna precisely where my Mother and all her siblings were born narrated to me that even as they run home for dear lives, not knowing what awaits them on the road, they meet Igbo from different parts, bonded by collective insecurities of fear of impending death, which comes in a blink, that they also found time to laugh in mourning. And joke about the unthinkable things they did to escape lynching.

Same circle is observable with the negative experience of some of our people on the way. They carry their crosses without bitterness.

I met a youngman who had an accident which rendered his SUV a scrap. He was happy that he and his friends were unhurt. Cooling his mind with a can of chilling Guiness Stout, he told me that his mother would be so happy to see him. That he wanted the car to be a surprise to everyone at home so he never told them he bought a car, but as they didn't know about it, he won't spoil their celebration with his sad tale. He was optimistic that by next Christmas, God will provide another. That's quintessential Igbo spirit.

They absorb their misfortunes with such shocking philosophical equanimity as if it is a race for heaven, where seeming misshaps are accepted as part of the journey. How can one explain such unshakeable attitude?

Stopping over at Ore to check my headlamp connection which I discovered the relay and charger were draining power making the car to slow run. I saw arrays of exotic cars packed at one of the popular restaurants, with families gobbling all types of delicacies, and buying fruits. Driving through Ore without buying Banana is a sacrilege.

I met a teenager with a really expensive Canon camera shooting everything in sight. He said this is his first visit to Nigeria, and he's having a swell time already. He asked me if village would be this cool, I asked him the name of his village, he said Anambra, I smiled, and told him Anambra is like North Carolina where he lives. He was carried away by the brazen energy everywhere but complained about the incessant checkpoints.

Thinking about Ore, the Ondo State government can, with the help of private investors turn that place into a true travellers experience centre. The business transactions that take place at that stopover town is enormous.

A well designed stopover park, with shops, eateries, well organized food courts, mechanic garages, and recreational parks with even hotels for those who may need to sleep over can be built around the buzz in that area will create a more engaging traveling experience, create employment, and contribute to economic growth.

But do government people think possibilities?

There are different types of checkpoints on the road. Some are absolutely unnecessary, capturing the disdain the authorities have for the people. From Okada to Benin has the most per meter. Every 500 meters I think. Irritating!

There are the regular Police checkpoints. They are dramatic in their enforcement, they struggle to get drivers to stop, demanding for papers, lisence etc. At the end they demand for money.

The Mopol, wave you down and brazenly wish you merry Christmas and demand for Christmas money, no preamble.

SARS simply point where you should park, they may leave you fuming for few minutes before attending to you, and demand for money. The SARS guys are unforgivably dirty in their dressing.

FRSC pretend to be controlling traffic. They stop you where and when they can. And wish you Merry Christmas in low tones.

The Army checkpoints cause traffic situations that are about a 700 meters to a kilometer long. In some places they sit down at their shades and allow vehicles to drive through, no questions, but the traffic caused takes about 20 minutes wait.

Then from Asaba into Head Bridge takes the longest. Well managed by the FRSC.

As soon as one crosses the Benin Bypass, the first sigh of relief is eased out. But from Umunede, you feel home. Asaba gets you relaxed. My grandfather had similar feeling when they got to Obollo Afor. He told me they had the first meal in three days at Opi.

In 2003, I complained about giving the Onitsha-Owerri dualisation project to an unknown CCC construction company instead of established names that bidded for the contract. But Kema Chikwe and Obasanjo did us abracadabra.

When it became obvious that CCC couldn't deliver, Julius Berger was brought in to handle the Imo State side of the contract while CCC handle the Anambra portion.

Like everything Nigerian government does, Julius Berger was paid more than what they bid for the entire contract two years earlier, just to complete half of the job.

You could see the value of quality. Most deteriotion on that road is happening along the stretch done by CCC.

Owerri seem to have the highest number of female traffic personnel in Nigeria. Roughly about 80%. But 75% of them are busy begging for Christmas gift than controlling traffic.


Posted on December, 28 2019

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