Welcome Tosin Osunlaja, our guest commuter for today. I call her a woman of many costumes. From satin and dancing shoes during her days as a choreography director at KNUST, she went on to suits and stilettos in a bank for her National Service, and exchanged them for overalls and boots as a field engineer at Baker Hughes. She knows the ins and outs of Port Harcourt, and brings us a riveting tale of a commuter’s life in Nigeria. Share it, and comment as usual. Have fun.
If you happen to find yourself travelling along Okporo Road in Port Harcourt, you’d gracefully eliminate driving as an option and let your sixth sense decide on walking. Or taking a keke.
Okporo Road, one of the busiest in Port Harcourt, links the very major Aba Road with the major East-West Road, a highly commuted federal road in Nigeria. On my normal day out, I use Okporo Road, no matter where I’m headed. Whether downtown or to the city, it’s my only exit. Unfortunately, the state of this road can only be described as pathetic, and with the advent of the rains, it’s only got worse. Recently, a company was awarded a contract to fix it, but as always, they’ve taken more than the time it took the Israelites to journey from Egypt to the Promised Land to get it done.
Getting out of the house, I walk out of my street to the road and down to the junction to get a cab that plies the East-West road, my way to work. Fortunately at this point, I only walk a small distance of Okporo Road to get out of it so I’m usually not affected by its horrible state.
Until one day I had to go in the opposite direction.
Approaching the junction, I saw a crowd of people standing in anticipation of these little yellow three-legged ‘no-door’ machines driven by questionably insane individuals who believe the entire road belongs to them. Ever since the government banned the okada, literally overnight, they replaced those annoying motorcycles as the next best thing for quick public transportation, aggressively manoeuvering through the tiniest space to get along. That’s a keke. Your average keke seats three passengers at the back and two in front, including the rider. Ideally.
As one keke approached, I was shocked at the convoy that followed right behind it: a line of desperate folks chasing it and hoping to jump in after completely eliminating the enemy: the next person trying to get in. The scene looked like a rugby match, one I had no strength for. I watched on. Another thing I noticed was, as each keke loaded, it carried six people instead of the usual five. There was one unlucky person desperately hanging with half his behind out, squeezing as much space as the driver could afford to spare – one of those don’t-try-this-at-home stunts. Before I could finish praying that this wouldn’t be my portion, one keke rode by, just enough for me to jump in the front seat as its previous passenger alighted.
The journey for the most part was uneventful. Even smooth. I was only scared that our illegal sixth passenger would be brushed off by an oncoming vehicle or dumped in a ditch with all the potholes the driver loved thumping us in. As we approached the end of Okporo Road, it seemed to deteriorate every centimetre till we got to THE POINT. I watched in horror as each car appeared to sink into the earth like the ground had swallowed it, and then rose again with a big bang as the exhaust and bumper hit the road hard. I don’t know who felt the pain more, the car or the driver.
From the other side, another car dipped so low into a crater, but unfortunately didn’t rise victorious from the grave. Its front tyres got stuck while the rear was raised so high that any form of movement was completely impossible. The scene of the car’s driver banging his steering-wheel in frustration will forever be seared in my memory, as other drivers hooted uncontrollably like he intentionally struck the pose. Our keke, trying to make it to the other side, plunged into the watery hole with its three little legs. I gasped, thinking we’d topple over. All we could do was raise our legs high enough to avoid getting drenched by the muddy waters below.
And yet, having made it to the final drop-off point safely, there was already waiting for us a swarm of desperate commuters hoping to elbow us out of the way to take our places for a ride back. I barely made it out with my clothes or life. Still, the keke seemed the best bet for anyone at this point. After all, who would want to be in a car suspended halfway in the air?
After my day’s activities in town, I returned to the infamous Okporo Road junction. With the mere sight of the crowd struggling for kekes, and two cars hanging in separate potholes, I dug through my bag for my iPod, plugged my ears, folded up my jeans and whistled past the chaos before me. I’d settle for a jolly thirty-minute walk back home any day. I no fit shout!