I was glad when two gentlemen I knew from the Ghana Association of Writers contacted me and asked me to apply for the Ebedi International Writers Residency. The thought of a cozy place to complete works I deemed difficult, was very welcome. Then I thought of going through Togo through to Benin to Nigeria. Seeing parts of three countries (no matter how small) and I felt happy. So I shelved all ideas of going by air. In any case, travelling by road was less expensive. So after going through with the Autism Help Foundations “Lightasit”, with permission from my workstation, I left the following day, 14th April, 2017, tired but ready to explore.
My godmother booked me on a Chisco Transport. One that promised air-condition, comfortability, safety and food. My bags were checked right up to my little feminine toiletry bag and tagged before it got a place in the bus’s cargo section. Then the bus took off around 7am.
My tired eyes could not close because hardly had the big bus taken off did I begin to sweat. Many people complained about the missing air conditioner and the fact that the bus had a huge gate that separated passengers from the driver, turning us into some upgraded form of cargo. I kept mute, sitting there like a lost soul, many eyes roaming what I later got to know as “my little classy frame”. We opened the windows, risked being blessed or cursed by the rains which decided to bless the land that morning.
We got down when we reached the Aflao boarder and walked with our passports or ID cards in check, then boarded again only to get down at every boarder for clarification. What thrilled me most was the firing of the Pidgin language and its funny punches in the vehicle. I had wanted to record some but realised my phone was off. Accustomed to the situation, I dozed off a bit until I heard a lot of noise.
We were in Lakoge, right in the heart of Benin. Just a peek from our window made us see the spectacle that we were. The driver had been ordered out and the passengers were locked in. But we could hear the scuffle and curses that trailed each other outside the bus. Our driver continually cursed “The person wey do dis tin, ino go be better for am o”. I was still at sea. I had not uttered a word since I sat in the bus. I turned to the gentleman sitting beside me to ask what was happening and he replied “I think somebody kept Igbo in the car and so we have been arrested”. It was my turn to ask if people from Benin had something against Igbos. This generated a lot of laughter from those close. After that they explained “igbo” was actually marijuana. I was confused and felt fear for the first time on the journey.
I had spoken to the one who was to pick me up and he had asked that I found I place to stay for the night for pickup the next day. Since I did not know anywhere and I had not budgeted for it, I called a few people I knew in Nigeria but it was too soon to make those arrangements so I called the one person I knew would not disappoint: Femi Akomolafe. Of course he arranged with one of his friends who was an MD, to book me a room at Sheraton Hotel. The man also asked his secretary to arrange for a pickup. When I told them I was coming by bus, they were very afraid for my safety. So telling them it was not a big deal as Nana Awere suggested I got a place around Maza Maza, the MD contacted Nana who also contacted me and told me he would send his driver to pick me up though he lived far from the station. But there I was, caught in a drug arrest.
After about an hour of being locked in, the Benin police ordered the driver to bring us out. Over three hundred Beninois stood watching us. Every individual was asked to take his or her bag. After all was done, three huge “Ghana Must Go” bags sat unclaimed. The driver and his mate begged the owner to own up but none did. Then we realised it had no tag. A woman passenger who loved to talk whispered to me that she saw the one who loaded the cargo taking lots of twenty Ghana cedis notes and afterwards pushing those bags into the vehicle. She added she could make the owners up but they were not in the bus. I pretended I had not heard fearing to be caught in an unqualified “witnesship” and got up from the water-logged gutter in which we were being scrutinized.
I missed Ghana my motherland. The land which I loved but never appreciated as much as I should. I knew for a fact that no person arrested from another country would be interrogated in a sand filled gutter in an open space watched by all who wanted to watch. To top it up, there were mosquitoes everywhere even though it was barely 5pm. We spent over four hours in the interrogating gutter before we were transported to a fenced but opened park where heavy duty trucks parked. That place too had potholes everywhere with stagnant water. A royal palace for mosquitoes. I had to find a way to charge my phone in order to contact Nana and the others. I had written some numbers on my ticket but I needed my phone as no one was willing to give out his or her phone. So I went to one of the security men there who asked why I came with Chisco. According to him, Chisco had these drug troubles three times every week if he was not exaggerating. He added that we were the third to have been brought into the yard that week. He told me he would help but asked that I be careful as thieves came into the yard to steal. He recommended GUO the next time I wished to travel by road. I was grateful.
One of the male passengers followed me and together, we charged our phones outside the only building in the yard. Again, I was baffled as to how nationals from other countries could be left with inadequate protection in a dangerous zone after their driver and mate had been handcuffed and sent to their prison or wherever. I knew that Ghanaians would never do a thing like that.
I decided I would not sleep. I spoke to Nana who at that point was worried and spoke to the administration of Ebedi who were equally worried but I assured them I would contact them the next day. At around 3am, I could not keep my eyes open even through the chorus of mosquitoes. I decided then to nap for some minutes just beside the gentleman whose phone was also on charge. I woke up abruptly and reached out for my phone, I think 15 minutes after my nap and my phone was gone. The other gentleman’s phone was also gone. My chips were on the floor. I thought it was a bad joke but it wasn’t. I looked at the gentleman and thought for a moment that he could be the culprit but decided to let him be since he also claimed his had been stolen. Of course I am sure he might have felt the same about me if his phone had really been stolen like mine. I went around asking those who were seated around but they all said the same thing “Be careful around Nigerians” Even the Nigerians said that proudly. I checked into my purse and realized the little money I had on me was also gone. Having left my ATM card at home and stranded penniless in an unfriendly land, I felt my end had come. Even getting to call home was a problem.
Around 8am, on the 15th of April, 2017 when there was no sign of another bus to take us to our destination, many passengers left on their own. A gentleman from the Volta Region volunteered to lend me 5000 naira. I used some to call home and the residency. I was told by those who recommended me to come back as they were afraid for my safety. They kept saying Nigeria was worse than Benin where crime is concerned. Of course even my fear could not force me to quit. I am Amoafowaa after all.
At around 2pm, the replacement bus came. Out of the over forty passengers, only about fifteen remained. The rest of the journey was longer than I thought. We stopped almost in every two minutes to go through one check point or the other in Nigeria, most of whom wanted their palms to be greased. It was funny how they feared Boko Haram but could accept bribe from those without proper identifications and allowed them into their country. I watched as a woman came in to sell yellow cards for 2000 naira. Cards stamped with no requirement for vaccines or the like. Pathetic, I thought. Ernest, my saviour bought a registered sim bearing whoever’s name and with that, I was able to contact a few people. Nana Awere called after getting in touch with the administration of Ebedi, obviously having had a restless day. We reached the Chisco Station around 1am. Thankfully, there was a place to rest for a small fee, and a good bathroom. I put my head on my laptop bag without sleep. I felt someone pulling my bag from beneath my head, woke up and asked “oga, wetin be your problem?” To which he naturally strolled off. That ended my lying down.
Ernest and his friend volunteered to take me to the Ibadan Station in Lagos. Although I protested, they told me I looked too refined with an aura of wealth so if they did not accompany me, swindlers might harm me thinking I had some valuables. I was lost, I looked my humble self in a Kente designed simple dress and a comfortable wedge footwear. After getting to know that there was no Ibadan vehicle at the main station, they took me to a private station where they boarded the vehicle with me and sent me straight to Ibadan, specifically to the Mr. Biggs Fast Food Joint which was yet to be opened. That was 16th April 2017. There, I sat on a small fence and watched as huge men smoked “igbo” in the open space without a care in the world. At around 9am, the ride to Iseyin arrived with Bode, the administrator and Gloria, a resident from Kenya and the affable driver. I thankfully got on thankful for the comfortable ride and the friendly people who laughed their heads off at my dramatic journey from Ghana to Nigeria.