At The Bus Stop.
It is 11:30 pm as I arrive at my destination bus stop in Ogun state.
It is late. I am just returning from a meeting with a new friend at a restaurant in Ikeja. When I was leaving, I told my father I would try to get back early. I didn’t really mean it, but I did not expect to get back this late.
I stand at the bus stop, contemplating the best way to get to my parents’ place. Usually there are commercial motorcyclists waiting to convey passengers, but it is too late now. There are no motorcyclists around at this time of the night.
It is the rainy season, so the roads are flooded. Roads in Nigeria are generally untarred, except for the major ones. Most of the roads in this country are brown and uneven and bumpy and dusty. In actual fact, I am very hesitant to call them roads. I really just see them as stretches of land on which grasses do not grow because motor vehicles roll over them every now and then. Those things can not be called roads.
And whenever rain falls- and believe me rain does fall in this part of the country, the ground becomes sticky and muddy and bad. Puddles form which are almost as wide as the roads themselves. Motorists try to avoid these huge puddles of brown water by driving along the edges of the road. If it wasn’t for the water in those puddles, I am very sure you could place a bed right in the middle of the road and lie there for an entire day- and absolutely no one would disturb you because everyone was too busy driving along the edges of the road.
As I stand there wondering what to do, a motorcyclist rides towards me.
“A motorcyclist at this time of the night? Ah. Today must be my lucky day”, I think.
I tell him where I’m going and we discuss terms. From his accent, I can tell he is Hausa- from the northern part of the country. Or maybe Fulani. It’s not like I can tell the difference.
“Oga I no fit go that place o. The security wey dey there get very bad mouth- I no like am.”
He explains to me that he cannot take me to my destination. There are some very unruly night watchmen who patrol that area, and he does not like having anything to do with them.
I plead with him and persuade him. Eventually he agrees to take me like three quarters of the way for the full price. I get on his bike. I think it’s a good deal.
Encounter with the Watchmen.
“Ogbeni! Pa headlight e jo!”
“Abi eti e di ni! Ani ki o pa headlight e!”
A number of watchmen walk towards us, shouting at the motorbike rider to turn off his headlamp because the light is in their face. They are speaking in Yoruba- one of the major languages in the southwestern part of the country. But the motorbike man is Hausa and from a different part of the country, so he does not understand what they are saying.
“They are saying you should turn off your headlamp, please turn off your headlamp.”
I translate to him in English. He understands, and proceeds to turn off the headlamp of his motorcycle.
Apparently I am too late. The watchmen are already irked. All of a sudden, one of them strikes the motorcycle rider very hard across the chest with the flat side of his machete.
The sound is loud and travels uninhibited through the silence of the night.
“Ahhhhh!!!! You beat me on my chest?! You beat me on my chest?!” The Hausa man cries out.
“Why did you beat me on my chest?!”
“Ogbeni o je ma se were nibi! Nigba ti an so fun e pe ki o pa headlight e o fe gboran abi, on se agidi!”
The watchmen are obviously unstirred by his righteous cry of indignation.
“Please get down, please get down”, the Hausa man says to me as he gets off his bike and drops it to the ground. He abandons his activist pleas for justice and takes a few moments to clutch his chest and cry out in pain.
The watchmen keep chanting to themselves in Yoruba, unfazed. Justifying their actions and threatening to follow up with more.
After the Hausa man has managed to come to terms with the pain he is experiencing, he continues confronting the watchmen.
“Why did you beat me on my chest?! Why?! Why did you beat me?!”
The volatile watchmen do not take kindly to being confronted. They keep chanting about headlights in Yoruba, raising their voices and brandishing their machetes menacingly.
I am genuinely scared for my safety. I try to do all that I can to prevent the situation from escalating. I gently rub the Hausa man’s shoulders.
“Aboki abeg. Abeg. No vex abeg. No vex.” I attempt to placate him.
“Ejo e ma binu ejo. Ejo e ni suuru. Ko gbo Yoruba ni. Ejo e ma binu.” I try to plead with the watchmen, explaining that the Hausa man did not understand Yoruba.
I don’t think anything I’m doing is working. Everyone is still shouting. Imminent danger still weighs very heavily in the air. I feel very bad for the Hausa man. His English lexicon is very limited, so he does not even seem to have enough words to express his pain.
All of this continues for a few minutes. The Hausa man keeps asking questions, voicing his immense displeasure at the turn of events. The watchmen continue threatening him, and I press on with my completely ineffectual attempts to defuse the situation.
At one point one of the watchmen turns to me and says “Mister, you better go on your way. Or else we will turn on you next.”
On hearing that, I immediately abandon my diplomatic venture and begin to briskly walk away. I’m not in the mood to be assaulted by machetes.
As I leave, the Hausa man’s voice gets louder, with renewed vigour and disgruntlement.
“Why did you beat me on my chest?!”
I begin to think maybe my soft words were actually calming him down. I turn around briefly to see the watchmen surround him and begin to batter him with their machetes. I turn around and walk faster.
As I walk away, a pang of guilt grips me. In a way, the motorbike man is suffering because of me. Yes he brought me here because he was trying to make a living, but I was the one who persuaded him to come. He did not want to do so initially. I feel distressed because of this, but at the same time I realise I am helpless in this situation because any attempt to take up his fight would seriously jeopardise my wellbeing. So I keep walking.
When I am at a safe distance, I turn around and peep to see if the bike man is still conscious. I am not able to see anything because it is dark, and there are no streetlights. I feel a deep sadness and pity for the innocent man’s suffering. I promise myself that I will give him a significant sum of money the next time I see him.
Eventually I hear the engine of his motorbike revving to life, and I see his headlamp come on. The infamous headlamp which was responsible for everything that had happened. I am glad to know the Hausa man is still largely alright. I heave a sigh of relief, and then I begin to run, in case the tyrannical watchmen decide to turn their attention to the bike man’s passenger.
Image Credits: https://privateofficernews.org/uganda-man-attacks-security-officers-with-machete/