By Jimoh Sulyman
A British travel essayist, Pico Iyer, once said “We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel , next to find ourselves”, every travel is an opportunity to rediscover oneself and by extension the world around.
When the news came that I’m heading to Lokoja, it came in with the usual excitement that comes with travelling, of course I’m about to go see some other part of the country.
I have always long to listen to the language the wind speaks in that part of Nigeria, I felt so excited for the coming adventure.
But in the backdrop of the enthusiasm and the bouncing off the wall, is another feeling, lurking around that of elation, the fear of insecurity
Off We Go
In the early hours of the morning of the D-day, the excitement was at a fever pitch, I could barely hide the elation written all over me.
However, the good vibe was almost ruined by the unnecessary delay at the state owned car park, an episode that somewhat dampens my morale and my co-travelers, with lines of frustration written on their respective faces.
Some were even touting not to ever patronize the park again, this is the pathetic nature of our compatriots and our inability to keep to time, so much for the “we’re surely moving by 6:30am to 7am”, in short we were able to escape by 9:50am.
Now off we go, as our bus dash on, through the 315 kilometers of uncertainty that lies ahead of us, with every heartbeat, every thought left at the theatre of imaginations.
It quite amusing yet appalling how at almost every mile we traveled, the Police roadblocks are littered on the road, with the policemen collecting their ‘dues’ on a steady job.
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not trying to be an ingrate, of course I know they’re doing their job, keeping the road safe for all the people plying the road, and I know they are doing a decent job at it, but what about the N50 and N100 ‘dues’ the drivers are made to part with at every stop.
If I start talking about the horrible state of the road, particularly the kilometers that ran through Kwara state, I might begin to sound much like a broken record, complaints about poor road network have now been cliched.
Even Soldiers too
Impunity and abuse of power has become a norm across all the institutions in the country, whereby a person will be entrusted with a little power, but you know, the wine of power can be really intoxicating.
Especially among the uniformed men in Nigeria, without any exemption, one is even tempted to think that there is a god complex that comes with putting on military and Paramilitary uniforms in my country.
At Etan-Ekiti ,a border town between Kwara and Ekiti State, An army officer who was performing a stop and search routine on our bus, out of the blue, he alleged that someone hissed from our bus and in his own way of punishing what he obviously perceived as an insurrection, he Willy-Nilly delayed our bus.
He was probably contemplating in his mind that, How dare a common traveler hiss at an almighty Soldier? , he was muttering some words about how ungrateful we’re, that he is out risking his own life, just to keep the country safe and all he got in return from us is an insult.
Before letting us off the hook, after a 15 minute of back and forth of who hissed and who, He gave a stern warning, promising that the next time such a thing repeat itself, the bus driver will suffer the consequence.
Beauty In The Hills
The travelling was a relatively quiet one and that is so typical of me, with my headphones on, letting myself go into the captivating arms of music, a very much needed escape from the stress and rigour of the trip.
Also enjoying the beautiful scenery that I happen to stumble upon on the roadside, I saw a lot of beauty, but one that really caught my attention were the imposing mountains lining up, especially in Kabba, a township in Kogi state.
With Beautiful Mountains, cascading in a single file, hills of beauty, an aesthetical sight for all eyes to behold, but I thought I have seen it all, until I finally arrived at Lokoja.
Lokoja At Last
No matter how long and perilous a journey can be, it will finally reach its stop, after hours of driving, we finally got to our destination, travelling in the shades of trailers, at around 5:20pm we got into the heart of the mountainous city of Lokoja.
What made Lokoja special is that, there are chances that you might not understand the language the person next to you speaks, due to the multilingual nature of the City, being a home to numerous tribes, such as Igala, Ebira, Nupe, Hausa, Yoruba (Including the indigenous Óworò ethnic group), Bassa Nge and so many others.
But it is so beautiful that an ethnical diverse city like Lokoja can be so serene and peaceful, in my conversation with the locals, I realize that an average Lokoja resident is a polyglot, versed in not less than 2 languages apart from our nation’s lingual Franca.
Lokoja is a beautiful city I must say, as I was becharmed by the breathtaking hills that engulf the city and can be seen from all part of it.
The vastness of river Niger is also a sight to behold, with fishermen doing their business on it, from afar, right at the middle of the river are Islands, that I was made to believe are Fishing villages, of course habited by fishermen.
My journey to Lokoja wouldn’t be complete without me visiting the historical yet breathtaking Mount Patti. Mountain was once the abode of the First Governor-General of Nigeria, Sir Fredrick Lugard, popularly known as Lord Lugard.
Housed in his surviving guesthouse, erected atop the mountain, are some of his belongings, memorabilia that tell the history of this great nation, including some of his furniture and documents and declarations.
But what left a bitter taste on my taste buds and my fellow explorers alike, is the seeming decay and rot the monument has been condemned to suffer, with no aid in sight.
The question raised are, where are the Federal government and the government of Kogi State? , perhaps the question, will remain condemned to the quagmire of rhetorics.
One would wonder why a place that holds some much history and antecedents of the very existence of our great nation will be abandoned with no respite from the authority.
After making seven turns, we’re atop the historical Mount Patti, with breathtaking views like no other. From atop the mountain, one can get a view of the exact point where the city plunges its mouth into the Niger River.
Patti means Mountain in Nupe language ,hence when the Colonial masters came, they asked the locals what the place(Mountain) is called, they said ‘Patti’ and that is how the name Mount Patti came into existence, it literally means Mount mountain.
The Mountain is said to be a strategic choice by Lord Lugard, a place where he can gets to watch over the city at a glance and indeed it was a good choice, as one can see Lokoja in its entirety at one glance.
After leaving the nostalgic Hills, I visited the exact spot where the flag of Royal Niger company was lowered and that of the British was hoisted in the year 1900 and also visited the monument that was built to remember the officers that fought in the great wars (World War I) of the 1914-1918, with names of names of the locals soldiers that fought in the British Army.
Still speaking Lokoja, It was said that British bought Lokoja from the then Attah of Igala as a British station, however there has been controversy in recent times that the payment wasn’t completed.
When the British finally left, the town became a free-for-all place ,which resulted massive influx of people of all ethnic groups laying claim to the city, which was said to be the reason for it multilingual structure.
After the pleasant experience, we finally Left Lokoja, after couple of days, my bus took off at around 12:30pm, the journey back wasn’t much easier than when we were going back, one episode that has stuck with me, was the massive gridlock we were stuck in at Iyamoye, a town also in Kogi state.
We were stuck in the hold up for hours, coupled with the bad roads same as we experienced it the other times, a journey that should take not more than 6 hours took us more than nine, we got to Ilorin few minutes after 9pm.
Just like life, the journey was a roller coaster ride, excitement, frustration, breathtaking, underwhelming, disappointments, all those emotions wrapped up into a package, but I must say it was worth it.