Rev. Agbali offers a diary, "Nigeria Travelogue: The Travail, Progress and the fate of a nation":
I returned from a trip to Nigeria in mid-January. I spent close to three weeks there. It was nice to be back to my homeland, the country of my birth since almost five years of my last visit. Upon arrival, I began to note the distinctive differences between Nigeria and my current abode. Even, the air tasted relaxing though humid and putrid. Understandably, this is Nigeria in its uniqueness. The arrival lounge at the international terminal of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport was neat and spacious, but the hot and humid weather, without functioning air conditioning informed me this terrace though seemingly familiar embodies difference from the functioning American airports. Well, I should be more liberal in understanding the remarkable difference between a First World and a Third World state of affairs. I should know better. Yes, as much as I understood that I was shocked that the once petrifying frigid harmattan had disappeared. I could not understand how in spite of very little industrialization our ozone layer had given way so fast. The once revered harmattan cold that crippled our morning in towns like Jos, was now like everything Nigeria in a state of utter extinction.
Welcomed by my family and friends who turned out with their spouses and children, some of whom I was meeting for the first time, I imagined my decision to travel was a welcomed one. In fact, I realized I was now a "patriarch" of my late father's household, whose tenth memorial anniversary celebration of his life, legacies, and memories I was specifically home to join my family in celebrating. As we drove from the airport to Abuja downtown in a former high school classmate's car and another driven by my brother, it was a time of happy reunion and reminiscing.
Nigeria, the giant of Africa! This is the celebratory, sometimes utopia verbiage by which Nigerians in their megalomaniac arrogance, try to triumph over other African politics. Truly, there is a sense of colossal truism to this notion of being a giant. Rather, it is the giant nature of disarray, confusion, imitative norms and structures that characterizes this nation that presents the sense of giant of Africa. Driving from the airport to downtown cars speed past, swaying from lane to lane, bikers cabs, all ensure that the matrix of confusion that characterizes this nation from the rulers to the ruled become apparent. Chaos, disorder, and confusion actually become understatements. Yet, there is life and enormous synergistic rhythm in all of these. The people live this way and encode it as normative. While, it was an eyesore to people like me it is the ordinary state of affairs here. It is either I get used to it or get lost. Splendidly, there is vivaciousness even in the midst of chaos. Chaos has a cultural force of its own, chaos become normalcy after a while, through the conditions of Pavlonian conditioning. There is simply no idyll order simply because the undisciplined leaders have left an ideal legacy of indiscriminate corruption and indiscipline, therefore destroying any modicum of sanity that existed a priori within the polity.
Prior to traveling to Nigeria the President, Olusegun Obasanjo, a retired army general returned to democratic rulership since 1999, and the Chairman of the People's Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Audu Ogbeh were in the news following a nostalgic diatribe of shame and public altercation. The PDP Chairman, himself a veteran politician having served as a former minister in the second republic and also elected as Senate President in the diarchical arrangement under the military despot, President Ibrahim Babangida third republic pseudo-democratic arrangement drew attention to a dangerous state of affairs. He decried the situation where political thugs and hooligans were attacking constituted authorities and directing terrorist instruments against state institutions at the behest of self-serving individual with political interests. He drew attention especially to the malaised situation in Anambra State, where the governor, Chief Chris Ngige and a political stalwart (godfather) have been on each others' throats over competing contests for patronage of state resources and funds. However, upon arrival in Nigeria, the Supreme Court also acknowledged irregularity with the 2003 Presidential elections, especially in Ogun State, though acclaimed as inconsequential in affecting the overall outcome of that elections.
However, the dirt in Nigeria is in every facet. Environmentally, many Nigerian towns are just simply dirty with "pure water" depleted bags, water bottles, phone cards, and other items defacing the beauty of many Nigerian towns. I was affected most by these. In fact, driving through my hometown of Idah, I found it appallingly dirty, unkempt, and many buildings dilapidated. It was a far cry from the environmental conscious atmosphere I used to know. The Igala are known for their cleanliness even if they cannot afford modern houses. It seemed to me that like my town many Nigerian towns and interactive spaces are on reverse gear to an unknown time. It seems that this state of affairs is due mainly to apathy, especially when it regards public spaces, buildings, and properties. These spaces are considered as "no man's land" hence left arbitrarily in decay. Unfortunately, almost all Nigerian public holders are wallowing in the wealth that derives from the "pie of awuf, wey no dey pain belle." Dredging into public fund, utilizing state and public funds for their private and political interests, rather than service and efficient administration, the public domain reflects the scene of rot.
Ironically, GSM and Thuria phones, cybercafes and nascent mansions indicate the nature of globalization and focal integration into the global world capitalist space. Many Nigerians have about two cell phones (handsets), and they talk on it all day long, if they have "coverage" and "there's network." These are specific terms. "Coverage" means that a particular provider's signals are received in a given area. Having "network" means if there is available access, since like the power energy monopoly, National Electric Power Authority (NEPA)- of course remember that there is a nuance correlation with power and authority following each other in sequence-these providers are experts in flickering by turning on and off. Hence, one can keep dialing for minutes and hours without the ability to get through to a particular number. Thus, in areas where are more than one providers- MTN, M-Tel, Econet, Globacom, V-mobile etc. many folks have multiple phones or carry on sim-cards that they intermittently remove and insert into one singular cell phone (handset). Therefore, it is understandably, as to the reason why when maybe calling a number they might at times be no response. While, I was intrigued by these 'techonovelity' and actually attempted to use it, I can foresee some heuristic health problems, since cell phones are expressed to have the potentials to increase brain tumor. Together, with the high incidence of HIV/AIDS, many Nigerians are frying their brains using the incinerator that is cell phone.
Many Nigerian roads that were in good states about five years ago are just in very serious shape with a lot of "pot-holes" and some ridged bumps. I will relate my experiences on those that I traveled on during my short trip. The road from Abuja to Lokoja is nice, though with few potholes here and there. At least it can be graded as A-. However, it needs to be dualized given the high number of vehicles, and the high rate of overtaking at high speeds with the danger of head-on collision.
Many roads in my home state of Kogi State are too deplorable and are highly risky and unsafe. The road from Lokoja to Ajaokuta is a death trap. Though a state road it has actually become an interstate road serving as a major linkage of Southern travelers, especially from the East who access it through Kogi State on their way to the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja). I traveled to Makurdi during the same period on the Otukpa (Branch)-Otukpo-Aliade-Makurdi road. The Otukpa to Otukpo part of it needs urgent repairs as the intermittent potholes, and scrapped parts makes for sudden bumps. The Interstate road from Makurdi-Naka-Adoka-Ankpa road is also in very serious state of disrepair. Though it seems that there are efforts to ensure some patch work on it for the most part the repairs have not been encompassing and are too cosmetics. Similarly, the PTF constructed road from Ankpa through Onyagede to Otukpo is relatively still good but it is gradually beginning to fall apart, except urgent attention is paid to it it would soon be in serious states. Further, the most deplorable road I traveled on was the Ayangba (Ejule Junction) to Idah. While, I learnt that the contract has been awarded for the road nothing has been done on it. The "potholes" on that road is a menance. Any attempt to "dodge" one ends up hitting three or more in a roll. It is deplorable and an eye. Given that no major maintenance work has been carried out on that road since its completion in 1975/76 following its then construction by the Oni and Sons constructing Company, else it is time that the road be reconstructed. Ironically, I met the governor's motorcade on that road thrice. On one occasion, on December 26th, 2004, while traveling from Idah to Ankpa, the governor's motorcade at a town called Umomi almost pushed me off the road into a ravine caused by erosion that is eating deep into the fabric of the road. Shamelessly, these drivers speed recklessly through bad spots on that road, risking their lives and those of the governor and his cohorts. Using Toyota S.U.V's and other vehicles, some of which I understand were gifts of International N.G.O.s for health and other services, but co-opted into the retinue of state house vehicles they believe in some mystical invincibility. S.U.V's are symbolic marker of Nigerian "oppressors" as they tower down on the rest of creation, with a sense of inordinate authority and arrogant self-significance conferred by the heights of these vehicles.
As a result of the abuse of powers at all political administrative and governing levels there is abject power coexisting with sumptuous luxury and fragrant arrogance. Likewise, in spite of the general apathetic conditions, there are also some significant progressive markers indexing the "dividend of democracy.". In Kogi State, the State University that came into being in 1999 during the current democratic dispensation, under the administration of Prince Abubakar Audu, continue to offer skills and opportunities to many younger people in pursuing their education and improving themselves. In Ayangba, where this is sited this has helped to drive infrastructural developments seeing the rise in internet spots (cybercafes), hotels, private owned student residential housings, hospitals, and general economic growth. Such initiatives produce hope for a successful tomorrow. Such ventures underline the power of creative governmental policies in engendering social changes.
Also, I had a very positive experience of the Nigeria Police Force. I was driving through Lokoja town in the late evening just shortly after Christmas. I was driving when the 1989 Honda accord I was driving in just died suddenly on me. Luckily, I spotted a police check point just about half a mile away and just rolling down the slope I halted at the check point. They helped me checked the car. At one point, they concluded it could be that the fuel was finished and that the gauge was not working well. Well, they ordered a Police Inspector and another police officer to take me to town in search of fuel at the "black market." When we spotted a young man selling fuel at the "black market" spotting the police vehicle he ran away, afraid of being arrest. Of course, black market labels the informal economy, and it is legally considered illicit. I had to negotiate intensely with the other boys around to get some fuel in a five litres gallon (1 American gallon). All these while the police officers waited patiently for me. Throughout these officers were highly courteous and professional in their behavior and demeanor. They displayed the highest mark of good policing in modern day Nigeria, in my estimation. I was quite impressed. They gave me a ride back to my car.
After, all these, the car still did not cooperate, even after they pushed it refused to start. That night we decided, that it was better I leave the car there with them, and they promised me that they would ensure its safety. Even, I had no alternative, as at that time of night, all life was grounded, it would only take a miracle to find a towing van. These officers also offered at the end of their shift, early in the following morning to detail an officer to come back to the site- off time- to ensure the car's safety until I return. They drove me to my hotel room, and even suggested coming back in the morning to pick me up, the later of which I declined, promising to find my way there. I was very impressed. I list the names of the officers here, so that anyone reading this piece will know that the Nigeria Police Force have very refined personnel. They are Inspector Abdul A; Sergeant Usman Ijacho; Corporal Aliyu Abu; and Private (PC) Momoh Friday, of the "C" Division (Beach), Ganaja Road, in Lokoja, the Kogi State capital. These are very fine men. Through their displayed professionalism I am very proud of the new posture and culture of the Nigeria Police Force and their commitment and service to the nation and its citizens. I take pride in recommending them for elevation or promotion they made the Nigeria Police Force, their colleagues very proud in my consciousness through the excellent services they rendered me that chilly night in Lokoja, Kogi State.
The treatment I received disabused my mind from the noxious stories regarding the notoriety of Nigerian Police officers in the past. I am elated about this new police cordiality toward the public. It did not seem to me that my case represented an isolated incident. On my other travels around Nigeria to Nsukka, Obollo-Afor, Otukpo, Makurdi, and around Igalaland, at numerous police checkpoints I found this to be the case. Those I encountered did not give a lot of trouble and were very cordial, professional, and courteous throughout. Even when they demanded for some "Happy New" it was more refined and did not disturb one if nothing was given. My story, however, might be different from those of commercial drivers plying the different routes it seemed they suffer some harassments. On these point, in spite of the bad publicity associated with the removal of Tafa Balogun, the erstwhile Inspector General of Police, I must note, that it is to this credit that such acts as I encountered in Lokoja has become part of a policing culture in Nigeria. His other ills apart, Chief Police Officer, Balogun deserves some commendation in some of his policing reform programs. On points like this, hope exists pertaining to the revitalization of certain institutions in Nigeria. Additionally, the car was neat and fitted with wireless communications gadgets. This shows that with good intention Nigeria can still regain its lost glory.
In conclusion, while some aspects of this piece look pitiful, there are also visible and real signs of optimism in the air. There is a general feeling of optimism among the younger generations to improve their lots and many are catching upon numerous outlets of creative opportunities to engender enterpreneurial projects, and utilizing available resources in actually their dreams. However, a lot of efforts need to be invested in ensuring enduring and durable quality of governance. The general political environment is an hindrance to growth. The reality of HIV/AIDS is daring and has come to many known doorsteps. It is no longer a disease that is news. Now, when a wife dies and the husband follows after sometimes of sickness, or the reverse, it is simply presumed to be the result of this plague. Still there is a general secrecy and ascription to witchcraft, magic, charming, and other spiritual agencies associated with many cases that are seemingly due to the plague. This lack of openness constitutes a vital challenge in promoting education regarding the disease. "Big men" such as politicians, military officers, rich businessmen, using their social status and fiscal power do actually induce young and not-well-to-do women into cohabitation thereby promoting the risk of the diffusion of HIV/AIDS. Many of these men, it must be noted sleep around with multiple partners, not to talk about official polygamy (their harem of wives) and their unofficial cohorts of girl friends and sugar mommies. Let the truth be spoken there is a rapid danger of demographic decimation of the most agile and active category of our population. This issue demand less politics and passive rhetoric but call for more effective and practical actions, education and cultural awareness campaigns, and ensuring increased and well managed allocation toward fighting the disease. I was too glad to see many billboards with themes related to this disease displayed in major areas in Abuja.