The Road To Nyanya By Azubuike Ishiekwene
It is like going to another country. The few who live in Abuja, the nation’s sterile capital, speak and think of surrounding shanty towns like neighbouring countries. Politicians from these places make special appearances at elections and non-politicians who have to use these routes while commuting do so in a state of frightened suspense.
For me, it was homecoming of sorts. Coming from Ajegunle, I guess I have cousins in all the world’s shanties. The tragic event at the Nyanya motor park on Monday stirred my kindred spirit in more ways than one. I set out from the central business district after the morning rush hour on Tuesday. This was my second or third trip outside Abuja by road in the last three and a half years. Even though I had heard about Nyanya many times in soppy jokes by comedians, I had never been there.
As we set out, I thought about what happened in the last 24 hours. I got the news about the attack at 7am and within one hour the social media was floating with grisly pictures of the dead. News about killings and violence has become so frighteningly common that it is the new normal. Yet nothing from the recent past prepared me for the horrific stream of news on Monday, topped later that day by the mass kidnap of over 100 school girls.
Hospitals in Nyanya and the neigbouring areas were swamped with the wounded, dying children, and scores of injured traders, workers and commuters a number of them evacuated from the blast scene by any means, including wheelbarrows. In the last three months alone, Boko Haram – or its franchises – has killed over 1,600 people in their homes, schools, market stalls, mosques and churches. Not Afghanistan, not Sudan, not Pakistan, not even Syria has recorded this scale of killings in the last three months.
What is going on? Nyanya may not have the answer, but I was desperate for something – anything – that might give me meaning. As we turned right at the AYA Roundabout onto the Abuja-Keffi highway, I asked my driver how long the drive would take. He said about 10 to 15 minutes. That shocked me. From where we were, Aso Rock, the official bunker of Nigeria’s presidents, is only about 10 minutes away. In other words, the attack was literally launched at Jonathan’s backyard.
Abuja has been attacked twice in three and a half years – first by MEND in 2010 and then by Boko Haram in 2012. This attack in Nyanya, only minutes’ away from the presidential villa is the most audacious one yet.
As we drove past Mogadishu Barracks (also called Abacha Barracks), there was no hint, no tell-tale sign of the previous day’s horror. The sky looked bright and the shy mountains, covered in swathes of grass, were hidden behind pockets of haze. Just as we passed by Kugbo, the auto parts and mechanic village before our destination, I saw a sign: “Obama Hotels And Resort.” It’s good to know – or perhaps imagine – that the US President who is 9,000 miles away, has a place near Nyanya that he could retire to in 2016. It’s to such ingenuity that we truly owe our new status as Africa’s largest economy.
I was still in musing mode over Obama when my driver told me we had arrived in Nyanya. The place reminded me of Ojota, one of the busiest motor parks in Lagos. Nyanya is the gateway to the North Central and North Eastern states of Nasarawa, Benue, Kogi, Jos, Bauchi, Gombe, Yobe, Borno, Adamawa and Taraba; the same way Ojota is perhaps the most strategic route up country from Lagos. The only difference, perhaps, is that relative to Abuja’s three million population, Nyanya is probably more densely populated than Ojota.
I’m told that between 6am and 10am on a good day, if one threw a stick, it would not reach the ground. The place teems with traders, transporters, hustlers and commuters all trying to make ends meet. On this Tuesday, however, Nyanya was different. It’s heart had been ripped the previous day by the devastating bomb blast that left at least 100 dead and over 200 injured. The fresh scars were there. Apart from the tangled steel and shattered glasses strewn about the place, the bloodied clothes of victims lay here and there. One eyewitness told me that the clean-up team spent long hours using brush and detergent to scrub blood from off the highway.
Policemen from the bomb disposal unit were taking sand samples from the knee-deep crater left by the bomb at the exit. This was where the Golf car which carried the bomb had been parked. That car, or what was left of it when it was removed, was a crumpled, shrunken mass which could fit into a Ghana-Must-Go bag.
Twenty-four hours after Boko Haram’s attack, the acrid smell of devastation still lingered in the air as anguished residents milled around the motor park, asking why. I joined them on the bridge crossing the highway and we massed around the green-white-green iron bar fence looking down at the motor park, still marked in yellow-and-red access restriction tapes. We got talking:
Spectator 1: What have we done to God to deserve this?
Me: What has God got to do with it?
Spectator 2: Abeg, ask me. Is God the one chopping the billions of naira they have been voting for security?
Spectator 3: Why didn’t they put security cameras here? We would have seen the bastards!
Spectator 2: If they put cameras here, how will they power the cameras? Are the ones inside Abuja working?
Me: I hear that President Jonathan was here yesterday?
Spectator 1: Na who send am message? You want to tell me he doesn’t know what to do? Please let them stop deceiving us.
Me: But what can he do? He is only one man.
Spectator 1: Abeg don’t say that o! My friend, take your time. Don’t say that again!
Spectator 3: Na true di man talk. If Jonathan approves the money, is he the one who will also go and fight Boko Haram himself?
Spectator 1: You are saying that because you did not lose somebody, abi? If Jonathan cannot protect us, he should just resign and go. I know at least seven people, including one girl who sells kunu, who died right here yesterday. A toilet cleaner’s head was blown off. It was like Armaggedon! Which kind country bi dis?
Different groups of spectators were animated in the peculiarly Nigerian manner of conversation. Everyone seemed to know the problem and you could hear a few voicing the solution above the deafening din. Sack Jonathan! Bring Rawlings! Repent! Bring back the Oyinbo man!
I slunk off. As I got back into my car and my driver snaked through the traffic, it occurred to me that none of us, the spectators, had said what we would do on our own to reclaim our country, our lives. Twenty-five years ago, 96 fans died in Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England, when the stands collapsed during a football match. An enquiry in 1991 blamed police negligence and urged the affected families to go bury their dead. Of course, they buried their dead but refused to bury the memory until justice was done. Against all odds, the enquiry has been reopened and justice will now be served within a year.
I know this is not England, I said to myself as I looked back on Nyanya. But until we connect in a meaningful way and not only honour the dead but also insist on justice for their memory, no matter how long it takes, it’s only a matter of time before another Nyanya happens.
Do not hesitate to leave your opinion in the comment section below.
To contact Abusidiqu.com for Article Submission and Advertisement or General inquiry, send a mail to email@example.com