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Edo Women

Traveling home is a journey on a rough road

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By Austine Aghenta (update 29-07-2015)

Most people who see the above headline would readily assume that I'm refering to the bad state of the road. While that still remains a problem, this is actually about our friends - the men of the Nigerian Police.

I've traveled the Lagos-Benin expressway more than a few times in my life time. One thing I can say has been consistent with the road is that the time it takes to "cross" has lengthened as the years go by. A good topographic map will show that the distance from Lagos to Benin is about 350km.

This means that it shouldn't take a car driving at an average speed of 100km per hour (more than three and half hours) to make the journey. Ten years ago, it was very normal to travel from Benin to Lagos after breakfast on a weekday morning and return to Benin in time for dinner that same day - after having concluded all the day's business. Such a journey would be highly improbable today.

Now, to my story. I traveled to Benin for Christmas this year like I've done for the past few years. I decided to travel by road, which I've tried to avoid in recent times because of the state of the road. However, I wasn't looking forward to having a repeat of the terrible ordeal which I faced at the Lagos Airport last Christmas. And so, as early as 5.40am on Wednesday, December 23, I was at Yaba to board a vehicle at the Edegbe Line park.
By the time I'd managed to secure a seat, it was 6.30am as there was a multitude of people at Yaba that morning. Of course the driver wanted to make some extra money, so he was only interested in selling tickets to those who had luggage that he could charge extra for. I finally paid an extra N500 for some imaginary luggage, as I had only hand luggage. By the time we set out, it was already past 7am, so I was already worried about the traffic which we would likely encounter at Ore. The driver was, however, optimistic that we would be in Benin by noon.

Now, meet our friends:
The Journey out of Lagos was quite uneventful till we veered off the Lagos-Ibadan expressway at Sagamu. It was there we encountered our first police checkpoint. Luckily, we passed that one in less that five minutes. I became uneasy after we encountered two more check points within the next 1km. At that point, the bus driver decided that if he was to be in Benin by noon, we would have to avoid other checkpoints by driving on the lane of on-coming vehicles for the next 300km to Benin! This new tactic seemed to be working, as we went on our way until we got to Ondo State.
To our amazement, the policemen there had blocked both lanes to ensure that no one escaped them. This resulted in a massive build up of traffic and we had to crawl our way through Ondo State. We finally arrived in Ore after four hours of travel, a journey which should take only two hours. Luckily, the Federal Road Safety Corps had the situation under control at Ore; so the traffic jam which we had feared didn't occur.
After a brief stop at Ore, to allow our driver enjoy the usual free lunch given to commercial drivers by the bukas (restaurants) to bring in customers, we continued our journey. We were all joyful when we crossed into Edo State, afterall our own policemen will be more sensible than those ones in Ondo. We were quite wrong.

Just like a war zone:
In Edo State, the roads were not blocked with tyres and tree trunks as in Ondo State but the barricades were well built with sand bags as though in a war zone and the spacing was less that 1km apart. There were also soldiers alongside the policemen. The soldiers were happy to stand back and allow the policemen harass motorists. These Edo policemen were intent on extorting from every single vehicle, not minding the traffic jam they were causing.
For the first time that day, our driver was asked to park and step down from his vehicle. When he returned, he informed us that the policemen had demanded N200 from him if he didn't want them to search every bag in the vehicle. After serious bargaining, they agreed to take N50 from him.

Most policed road:
By the time we got to the University of Benin main gate, it was 2.30pm, and we had passed close to 40 police checkpoints. Use that to divide the 350km and it'll result in one roadblock for every 8.75km. Now, that has to make this road one of the most policed roads in the world!

When I got to Benin, I asked myself whether it was still worth putting up with all this. Imagine spending seven and a half hours on a journey that should only take half the time because the police wanted to have something extra in their pockets for Christmas!
Everywhere you turn, there is one act of babarism or the other occuring. Nigeria has become a jungle in which the humans have decided to act as animals. But then, even the animals in the jungle follow the rules of nature.

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