By Wale Odunsi
I have since time immemorial fancied investigative articles. Not only does it depict a detailed story, it provides the reader graphic description of the circumstance.
Aside from that, it causes varying reactions, which usually leads to intense deliberations among family, friends and colleagues.
My mentor is the award-winning super-writer, Musikilu Mojeed. My admiration for this genius date back many years. If truly the country’s national merit award is meant individuals that have distinguished themselves in their chosen fields, I recommend Mr. Mojeed for such recognition. But he may never get it and I will give reasons to buttress.
One, he is a courageous and forthright journalist whose stance mostly embarrass the high and mighty ‘big men’. By this, I mean he is a thorn in the flesh of the ruling class. Two, the award is nowadays irksomely politicized and I stand to be corrected; anyone who thinks transposed should send on a rejoinder. I will publish.
The morning started as normal, but this one had a loaded package wrapped. It turned out to be a day I finally would get a chance to do a modicum of what I perpetually marveled at.
I am hardly on a road intersecting three amalgamating States. I journeyed from Federal Capital Territory through Nasarawa state to the food basket of the nation, Benue state. Its capital, Makurdi was my destination.
I arrived at just about 2pm and was received by my host. He was doing a research and aware of my flair for content development, invited me for brainstorm. I gladly obliged, it was the little I could do for a good friend. Besides, the title of a private consultant on a study was itself flattering.
I had an appointment the following day and so decided to leave Makurdi that evening. I could not get a direct bus back to Abuja so I joined a cab to Lafia with the hope of joining another to the nation’s capital.
I reached Lafia quarter pass 9pm. It was late whereas I remained optimistic. The loading cab was a grey Peugeot 505 wagon, it takes nine commuters but we were just four yet. The driver assured we would hit the road provided that at least three more joined up. We did not get one.
The time was few minutes to 11pm and the prospect of moving dashed. I stepped out of the car to look for someplace to have my phone charged. The battery was by now all but drained; the music player was on all along.
Luckily, one was not far-off. The kiosk was situated where one could easily get a wide view of the vicinity. The owner is a young man named Chuks. He is of Igbo extraction but speaks English and Hausa fluently. He works from mid-day through the night. With him sat a little boy of about twelve. I wondered what a kid of that age was doing there at such ungodly hour. Before long, I realized he was Chuks assistant; you can imagine how miffed I was.
In a little while, I began a tete-a-tete with my new friend – solace from the clutch of an infuriating stopover. My humble mien must have fascinated him. We chatted at large, from the perceptible unemployment that forced him to his present occupation to the gloomy insecurity in the land. He spent more time-sharing his experience and how dependent siblings count upon his financial assistance. From all he said, it wasn’t difficult to deduce that he’s a workaholic who must make ends meet.
Then he deviated and lightened up the chat by inserting ‘pidgin English’. “Hmm my guy, no be small thing dey happen for here at night-o. No worry, I go gist’ you well well. All you need do is hang around, you will see for yourself. In fact you no need go far sef, a short walk around will reveal things” he assured. “The atmosphere is peaceful’’ continuing, “Though not totally free of unscrupulous elements.”
I became interested in his suggestion. The invitation was honestly hard to refuse; a clear opportunity to do an unintended investigation presented itself.
Midnight crawled in. Poor me, exhausted and famished; eyes were heavy too. Without delay, I arose and asked for where to get abinchi (meal). Pointing to the other side of the road, Chuks directed me to a well-lit stall. I crossed over walking at a snail’s pace, my legs as heavy like limbs of mahogany.
The soft local music from the transistor radio welcomed me. Having lived in the north for thirteen months, I understand the basics so I exchange pleasantries with the maishayi (male cook) and sited customers in the indigenous dialect. I requested noodles, fried egg and hot tea and in less than thirty minutes, my order was ready. And with just N300 only, my tummy gauge read ‘full’ from hitherto ‘reserve’.
I left after relaxing awhile but did not return straight away to the parking garage. I made a detour to the livelier adjoining street – a harmless stroll at 1am on chilly night didn’t seem like a bad idea.
By the sharp bend of the route were some young adults; the oldest must be my age. They gathered round the bonnet of an Opel Vectra. Atop were bright-colored papers with powdery stuff on it, which I presumed was an illegal substance. The illumination from their handsets gave them away. Out of sheer curiosity, I brought out my other phone, dialed my second line and positioned like I was making a call. They snuffled one after the other, intermittently exploding in jeers and laughter; this went on for till I proceeded seven to eight minutes later. It was obvious; they were high on hard drugs.
I thought of scolding the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency then I paused and weighed it. In fairness, the bureau cannot be all over the place.
Moving further, what clearly was another shocker was waiting for me. Strolling in between some vehicles, I heard inaudible noises - soft moan precisely. And having masterly performing my dramatic art earlier, I trusted my skill so I made another faux call. The faint sounds grew loud; I ogled, with utmost attention. Much to my disgust, a public transport-vehicle, the same we embark during the day was made a mobile brothel!
My friend had disclosed that drivers, traders and park workers engage young girls – some married – in illicit sex every night. “I have doubts they use protection”, I asked rhetorically. He smile derisively and jokingly retorted, “Maybe you should ask them, they sure have the answer”. Instantaneously, we broke into a peal of laughter that engulfed us for roughly twenty seconds or so. “Well, I guess they do but not constantly because sometimes, the men openly admit they don’t”. “That’s awful”, I exclaimed, “My brother you can say that again. The girls charge N200 for one round of sex, it is very cheap. They actually charge higher for unprotected intercourse”, he added.
I went back to the park to ensure my belongings were intact. Quickly, I perceived an offensive smell coming from my west. Four men sat on a bench, leaning their backs against a bus. I alighted from the car and also leaned.
Enter a middle-aged man who equally distributed can drinks and bottled-syrup. They opened the drinks, carefully poured a small quantity of the syrup and drank even as they smoked grass. I was stunned. If men who ought to be custodians of morals and role models for their offspring are indulging in such unlawful act, then the crux of parenthood is trounced.
Morning was drawing nigh. I visited Chucks for the last time paying N50 for the full-charge of my handset. He took it out from a wooden locker he fought to unlock. “Why this stress” I queried “Bros, you see sometimes when I forget to bolt this thing I end of having a case of theft. But what can I do” his restrained voice crammed with pity. “Please, don’t be careless with your luggage, a con man might just be lurking around” he concluded.
I felt the chills down my spine, coupled with the pain of missing a life and death password. The warning came rather late; knowing my personal effects might be at risk abruptly ended the thirst for more of Lafia fiction.
At last my expedition recommenced; a relief to long intriguing hours of darkness. As I left the district where obnoxious characters are always on the prowl, where daytime traders turn prostitutes at night and where boys and men freely take hard drugs as though it were NAFDAC approved; I held a minute silence in my heart because I fear for the tomorrow of this country.
A man must not swallow his cough because he fears to disturb others. We must assiduously talk about the ills of the society while seeking out ways to tackle; it is real and must not be overlooked.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”-Martin Luther King
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