The traffic jam started just after the Kaduna International Trade Fair grounds in front of the National Teachers Institute. There had been an accident involving a Sokoto Transport bus, a car and a kekenapep. From the way the three vehicles were smashed, battered and mangled, and facing different directions, it was hard to divine how the accident could have happened. But this wasn’t the cause of the slow-moving traffic.
After several minutes in the go-slow, the driver opened the windows. I asked, “Why are you doing that, is the air conditioner not on?” He said, “Oga, I can’t on AC from here to Zaria in this go-slow, it will finish my fuel”. But our agreement was that the AC would be on throughout the journey. Isn’t that why I agreed to add extra 1000 naira? He said he can’t leave it on. I said that this was a breach of contract, unfair. Blah blah blah.
After a while, he found some space on the road shoulder and parked. Anything the problem? Oga, the car is overheating. What? The temperature is too high sir. He went out and opened the bonnet. After sitting motionless and speechless for some minutes, I went out to ask him what is the way out. He said it was the AC that caused it, that he had not used it for a while. I said that is nonsense because when you use the AC, two fans would be working, and overheating would be less likely. I didn’t wait for him to respond and went back into the shade of the car. The heat was oppressive.
As I had not performed zuhr prayer, I went out the car to see if I could get pure water to buy for ablution. Surprisingly, there were no kids selling pure water or La Casera or coke or zobo as one would expect to find in situations like this. Is it because many people are observing the Arafat Day fast? The 3-4 lanes of vehicles extended as far as the eyes could see. The whole world was headed to Zaria, Katsina, Kano, Zamfara, and Sokoto for sallah. I rested my back against the car. The car’s chassis transmitted its heat to my body. It had been a long day already.
I had left home to-six that morning when it was barely light. The first Taxify driver I called had annoyed me when he said he wasn’t going to the Idu Train Station after taking an eternity to arrive. It had taken a while to get another one. By the time I got to Idu at six-twenty and saw the longest queue I had ever witnessed at the station, I knew I had missed the seven o’clock train. I got a ticket for the 9:50 train and waited.
While waiting, I remembered the book I had forgotten the previous week on the train from Kaduna to Abuja. I reported and was taken to the ‘SS’ office. There it was in its purple protective clothing. A book I had not stamped or inscribed my name on. They had found and kept it for me. I was pleasantly surprised. Thank you, Nigeria Railway Corporation. And there were several other books left by passengers waiting for their owners. With the little hope I had in the system, I just decided to check and was happy to be reunited with my book. But what if it was a phone or a tablet or a PC? Or some other more ‘valuable’ item? The probability of ever finding it would have been zilch. No?
When we disembarked and poured out of the Station at Rigasa the place was thronged by passengers going to Abuja. Do people leave other places go to celebrate sallah in Abuja? Maybe they were just going there to spend the extended weekend? Above the world, the sky was blue and cloudless. Nothing to attenuate the rays of the blazing sun. It was broiling already. It was one o’clock.
At the station motor-park, there were no regular taxis going to Zaria. We were told to take kekenapep to Kawo where we should get vehicles going to Zaria. The gridlock the previous day between Kaduna and Zaria had been so bad that many of the cab drivers couldn’t make it back to Kaduna until today. So, they were not prepared to go through the same stress today. But they warned us that the Kawo Car Park itself was a madhouse. What to do now? I persuaded a cab driver to take me on a drop to Zaria, as in chartering the cab to Zaria. He demanded 1000 naira above the usual fare. No problem, let’s go. I hope your car has AC and its working? No wahala, I will on it for you. No problem at all.
The traffic at Kawo junction wasn’t worse than usual. At Barakallahu it gradually began to slow down until we got to NTI when the driver wound down the windows and switched off the AC.
How will I get to Zaria today? All the cars around were packed full. No space for an extra passenger. The cab driver called some of his colleagues to come and take me to Zaria, but they all refused. Zaria had become a no-go area. Imagine. Not even the lure of extra bucks was enough to convince the cab drivers. As many cars passed me by, I kept looking to see if I could recognize somebody. I wondered what was the chance of me seeing somebody I knew. What parameters would I need to determine the probability? What approach would be more meaningful – frequentist or Bayesian?
On the innermost lane was a military personnel carrier with a lone soldier at the back. I asked whether he was going to Zaria and whether I could join him for a ride. He seemed to say yes. But as I was about to get my luggage from the car, he shouted a repulsing ‘kai, kai’. Ah, sorry sir.
Finally, my cab driver waived down a colleague who had a female passenger who looked dignified and in her sixties. He was taking the hajiya to Giwa, a roadside town on the way to Funtua. Obviously, she had chartered the Toyota Corolla, but she didn’t mind the extra passenger. But she would stop briefly at Rigachikun to see her daughter. No problem.
We moved on, slowly. A trailer had collapsed on its right side and its burden of metal container tilted at a precarious angle. Cars went around it, mindless that the container could drop and flatten them out. Flatten them out like a crushed full tin of tomato paste leaking blood and flesh. Vehicles contained humans packed like sardines. People were huddled together in the trunks of these cars. They must get home for sallah anyhow. In fact, many cars were so loaded with passengers and cargo that the upper parts of their rear wheels where hidden from view by the fenders. Like hyenas sagging on their hind legs. A family had brought out its sallah ram and poured water on it to cool it from the sweltering heat. Even babies had been stripped to their barest clothing. Hilux pickups bearing the names of government departments, parastatals or agencies were being used to carry rams and other things for sallah. Is it allowed? Are government officials allowed to put these official vehicles to such uses? Many cars were parked on the road shoulder with their bonnets open and the engines steaming. They almost formed their own separate lane. Many of these were Volkswagen Golf cabs but by no means only these ubiquitous and cheap German cars. The molluscan pace of the traffic was a trigger for cars to overheat. A luxury bus trying to bypass the obstruction had got stuck in a ditch. It was a very new bus. It was not Mercedes or Volvo Marco Polo. The name, which I can no longer remember, had a Far-eastern ring. Chinese or Korean. The passengers all had to come out before it was able to wriggle itself out. A girl trying to salvage her ware of boiled groundnuts that had spilled on the road was dangerously in the path of maneuvering vehicles driven by impatient and probably thirsty and hungry people. We shouted at her and she fled. Trailers had taken up the innermost lane in the traffic, many of them puffing thick black hot smoke from diesel combustion. The traffic congestion convinced Hajiya that the planned Rigachikun stop-over was probably not a good idea.
On the outskirts of Rigachikun was the diversion, the bottleneck causing the terrible tailback. Right after the diversion, the traffic eased greatly. This road reconstruction should be completed quickly, a beg. Someone said that the diversions were better managed in the Kano-Zaria segment of the Kano-Abuja dual carriageway. I hadn’t traveled to Kano for a while. Motorists rarely encountered this kind of hardship there.
At Dankande Traveller’s Mosque, we branched for Zuhr and Asr. From a distance it looked like a mango orchard. But it was dense with eucalyptus, mango, neem, guava orange and Indian almond trees whose lower branches brushed the scalp of your car as you entered through an entry that looks more like an exit. Some bougainvillea branches had climbed up to the top of a mango tree decorating it with purple, red and pink blossom. Like a dark green gele with sequins of many colours. Many of the eucalyptus trees had finely woven spherical bird nests hanging from their slender boughs. Birds flew about, chirped, and twittered. On a raised cylindrical platform, sizzling skewered kidneys, liver, beef and chicken formed a circle around logs of wood that gently crackled and glowed orange. A faint smell of roast meat was in the air. Only the way out were geese, guinea fowls and other captured game in cages. Next to a fuel station and filled with shops, fruit stalls, restaurants, bathrooms, toilets, and water flowing in many taps, the Traveller’s Mosque was an oasis in the Savannah.
At the Danmagaji-Wusasa flyover, the hajiya decided to see another person in Tudun Wada. No, I can’t wait to get home, I’m in Zaria already. I paid the driver, dropped off and took a kekenapep all the way. At Hayin Malam junction, the family was waiting for me. I paid the guy his fare. By the time I got home, the western sky had started getting suffused with the thin orange glare of the setting sun. It was 5:30.