Kilibe, my sister called me today and told me that Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State had announced that Port-Harcourt would be closing their borders on Thursday the 26th of March by 6 pm. I had just N10000 in my account and I had planned on paying my laptop repair debts with it and use whatever is left to buy foodstuffs for the quarantine so I told her that I was not coming back home because I had calculated and didn’t have spare money to.
I woke up to Neighbour A’s knock and didn’t find it funny cos I was still sleepy. Neighbour T joined him at the door asking for when/if I was leaving Uyo for the quarantine and I responded that I was not. He said he wanted to ask me for something and on cue, Neighbour A left.
“Uhuh, go ahead, I’m listening” and I was already stifling my laughter when he said he wanted the phone number of my friend that came visiting days ago because he wanted to be her friend. I can’t help there bro. Ooiin!
I went back to sleep and after rolling restlessly on the bed for minutes, I discovered sleep had fled my eyes. My phone battery had run down, there was no light and there was no food at home too. After brushing, sweeping, and arranging the house, I went to Neighbour A’s house to find out where I could withdraw money from without having to pay transport and he told me to go to the junction, that since I wanted to withdraw 8k, they usually charged N200 for withdrawals. I had only N100 cash on me and I reasoned that using the school ATM which was just N100 away (on transport) was a better idea so I’ll save for myself the N100 that I didn’t have (yet) plus I’ll get to pick up some of my goods in the post office (Two birds with one stone package).
So I went to school which was already on lockdown as per Covid 19 evacuation but I managed to get past the security only to find that the post office was not open and the ATM was also “out of …” Saw a POS guy that charged N200 for N8000 and got money from him low key wishing I didn’t waste my N100 to come to school after all.
I bought noodles to prepare for lunch and I also gave my phone for charging on my way home. Found out the gas was likely to finish today while cooking and that was all I needed to know I might not be quarantining in Uyo. I just decided to start packing for my homecoming to PH without coming to any conclusion as I still wasn’t certain. I packed everything I needed into four bags; two travel bags, one tote bag for my laptop, and a sling bag for money and other essentials.
The Rush Journey Begins
I got back to the house before 3 pm after picking my laptop (it was not repaired yet so I just spent N2500 on buying a part of the charger) and then proceeded to the Itam park. After alighting from the Keke, one man from the park asked if I was going to Port Harcourt and when I said yes, he said that I should follow him as there was no bus going to PHC so the one available would be going for N2500 and in his words, it was not by force.
To me he was talking in the rubbish, in the nonsense, and in the thing that did not have experience. Transport to PH in that park is N1500 on a regular (and during Christmas, it was N1700 so I couldn’t even understand).
We got to the only bus and I saw a mini-crowd of people hovering beside the bus while people were still inside…the bus was full. Chim oh! At some point, the ticket woman started telling people to come down with their ticket as they were to be an additional N500 charge. The ticket first sold for N2000 but she later updated it to N2500.
Meanwhile, another Sienna (transport car) just came in and guys I had no choice than to race to it. The guy loading said the fee was N3500 and that once again, it was not by force. I knew I had to pay the money cos there’s no other option for me so I got into the bus and secured a seat by the window. People started securing seats too and running around to look for ATMs and top up the money they came with et al. On my part, I was so grateful that I withdrew that N8000 in the morning cos that was what I spent from (The normal me would withdraw N3000 max for a journey of N1500 to include miscellaneous expenses and I just sat in the car imagining if I had done that today what my fate would have been).
Insert song (Thank you for saving me, thank you, my Lord)
After paying for a ticket, I sat in the car listening to other passengers complain that since 12 pm there was no bus at all going to Port Harcourt at AKTC terminal ( Akwa-Ibom State Transport Company), another big motor park in Uyo. Some were lamenting that the first ticket woman refunded their money back because she wanted a family to join the bus and all, so many laments were just flying across me.
I was just too shocked to even talk or contribute, N3500 as opposed to N1500. What could I have done? No amount of para could have solved anything. I noticed people were still standing outside, those hoping for another miracle bus, those calling their parents to inform them about the situation, those planning how to go back home and all. Sad
The Sienna was too full but there were no complaints at all since everyone’s thought was just how we could get into Port-Harcourt before 6 pm. Normally, it carries 7-8 persons excluding the driver, but it was carrying 10 today, 4 passengers sitting in each row and 2 in the front passenger side. We left the park by after 4 pm and the driver drove like he was driving a sports car because we were leaving very late. We were at the Eket-Port Harcourt bridge which is the border between Akwa-Ibom state and Rivers State at 6.05 pm prompt and the border was closed already.
The driver tried talking to the uniformed men that they should have mercy on us and all cos we’re just barely minutes late (very early in African timing…lol). At a point he even said our vehicle broke down on the road (Lmao). Even this lie did not convince the uniform men cos they told us to go down the bridge and park, we kept begging but we were still asked to turn back. When we saw they were getting irritated with the driver’s plea, we had to tell the driver to just reverse and go down. Just before he did, we noticed that about three tipper trucks on the opposite direction came with a police escort vehicle and were about leaving the Port-Harcourt expressway but were also blocked by the barricade and then one of the uniformed men told us to go down that if they would allow the trucks to pass, they’ll allow us too and so we came down the bridge, happy as it were.
The Main Drill
Other buses and cars kept going up the bridge even when we tried signalling them to park and they were also asked to return back. Some passengers from the Sienna had already come down to stretch their legs and ease themselves when we noticed that the big trucks were coming down the bridge so we started shouting and calling out to them to come back. By the time all the trucks were down and we drove up, it was already 6:42 pm.
The driver added spice to his driving skills until we got to Ogoni road (Port Harcourt Expressway) and boooooooom…Soldiers checkpoint!!
“Clear, clear, to the right…Oya reverse, go back and off your engine.”
We waited in our car for a while. Some of us were praying, some were making calls but we were all waiting for something to happen. Nothing did! Cars and buses kept joining us parking at both sides of the road (the soldiers practically ignored us). Once again, passengers were leaving their various buses to chat, stretch and do whatever.
Three soldiers stopped their silent treatment by some minutes past 7 pm and started walking in our direction and so passengers gathered. One of them, the commandant perhaps spoke up;
“Good evening everybody, you know what this is about right? The governor ordered that the border be closed today by 6 pm for the prevention of the spread of the coronavirus and as you can see it’s past 7 pm already. I’m not saying this to frustrate you but because I have your interest at heart, you all should return to where you came from before it’s late, this place is not a good place to spend the night. I don’t want to hear I’m soso and so you have to open for me, if you think you are big, call the Governor and let him call us and instruct us otherwise”.
People who were murmuring started talking and one elderly passenger kept saying “Excuse me Sir“. The commander continued, “We are not in the National Assembly, and so this is not up for debate, an order is an order”. And then he walked out with the others, this was when the first set of scales fell from my eyes.
To be continued…Thanks for reading.
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