Thursday, December 10, 2015


One of the advantages of banking with old generation banks for many Nigerians is the thought that they could not fail like the new generation ones. Even if and when they are rocked by scandals that's enough to swallow the new generation banks, these first generationals  manage to stay afloat, especially because I think they have acquired assets over the years, besides their presence in all the nooks and cranies of Nigeria (including the remotest of places), and have in their boards very powerful people (in government and out of it) or their fronts or proxies, that somehow manage to make financial regulators quite sympathetic to them when they run foul of the law, leaving them with a slap on the wrist in such situations.    

So, even when such banks slowly and reluctantly embrace latest banking technology they do not necessarily lose their crowd, though they may no longer be first choice for most of their customers. The reason they remain in contention may not be unconnected with the fact that they make withdrawals herculean which is good news for many who intend to "truly" save, compared to the new generation banks where there are a gazillion ways to withdraw your money online real time. Unfortunately, hanging with the old generationals during a tour like I undertook meant that each time the ATM cards works, one must withdraw maximally, as it may be the last time one could be successful at the ATM for another few hours for reasons ranging from poor network (that has a way of peculiarly choosing such banks) amongst others, some of which point at the incompetence of the IT sections of such banks.

So it was, that the last time I used that banks debit card was in Lafia (Nasarawa State capital) the night before arriving in Abuja while strolling through Jos Road. I don't know where I got the confidence to spend cash buying medication and food expensively  in Abuja, when I knew I would be traveling later that evening. The first sign that all may not go well was when my host was driving me out of the Games Village after that sumptuous meal of Boiled Tilapia and Shawarma and I tried the ATM there, and I was told that my issuer was unoperative or inoperative (the exact words used skip my memory now). A next try at another, a few meters away (with a guy standing right beside the ATM like he had intention to mug) also proved abortive, but I had hopes. A third try was at Utako (a nidus for transport company termini), before approaching the Luxury Bus Terminus, and it was the same story, though I was able to check my balance (to be sure that the other times I attempted to withdraw was not recorded as successful). 

Gladly, my preferred luxury bus company with which I frequently travel was much into the "cashless" thing, even doing discounts for passengers who use their debit cards rather than paying cash. I was happy to use my debit card on their Point Of Sales (POS) machine, which was issued by the same old generation bank whose ATM I had in my possession. Unfortunately, the POS machine declined my card. It was now some few minutes to six in the evening and I was beginning to feel awkward. Off again into the streets I went to try more ATM's only to come back with the same results. Back at the terminus, the lady issuing the tickets wouldn't let me try my debit card again, and was beginning to view me with suspicion even though her records show that I was a frequent traveller with her bus company. I asked if I could transfer the money to her company's account but she flippantly responded that she didn't know the account. Frustrated, I asked to see the manager, she said "ok", but made no attempt to stand from her seat, or beckon to anyone to help me.

Luckily, a young man I had seen walk in and out of the cubicle where she was seated, was once again going out for something, and I approached him and explained my predicament, to which he hardly broke sweat before giving me an account to wire the required sum for the ticket to an account number I suspect was his, and thereafter directed the ticketing clerk to give me the ticket once the "alert" hit his phone. I couldn't be more grateful. The qualms I had with the ticketing clerk didn't stop me from asking her for a window side seat, to which she quickly responded to the effect that there was none. I was just happy to be able to leave Abuja that night, even though it only meant I'd have a day to loaf about before business in Port Harcourt by so doing.

I went about "charging" my "power bank" at one of the stalls at the terminus, as my mobile phones were already showing signs of low batteries, and it was important for me to be online. The food (jollof rice) served by the bus company in Abuja was better than those in Lagos. It didn't smell of so much monosodium glutamate as with the one at the Lagos park, but I could only manage two spoonfuls before chewing away at the fried meat, which also wasn't bad. The water, though not as cold as I'd have wanted it was much welcome, and I gulped the whole content in the bottle down. I couldn't buy anything at the park because I was low on cash and saved what I had for the journey, where I would then need to buy a thing or two if need be.

The bus started boarding about eight thirty later that evening, but interestingly it wasn't full as at the time the journey started. I guess that was why it delayed so much, and there was no first bus or second bus (that was usually by 5pm and 7pm respectively), rather just one bus to Port Harcourt, in Rivers State, South-South Nigeria, in the heart of the Niger Delta. The ticketing clerk may have thought she was dealing me a bad one when she refused to give me a window seat, but it turned out that there was no one for the window seat, and we left Abuja with just me occupying the space for two people. I took up my space near the window with joy, relishing what I missed on my way to Abuja. It was good to know that we were now on our way to Port Harcourt, as it was beginning to feel like something was doing all it could to stop me from reaching that destination, especially at the time I planned to be there.

I slept, woke up and we were at Lokoja. Must be around 2am and passengers were allowed to go grab some things to eat, drink and "pee". As usual, I went for things that wouldn't cause me bowel distress, in kebab (suya in local parlance) and water. The driver and his mate also used the opportunity to fill the bus with Port Harcourt bound passengers they met on ground, and that was how I got me a fat man as seatmate, and the journey continued in earnest. The air from outside was chilly, enough to cause passengers on the other side of the aisle to beg that I closed the window to the dissatisfaction of my seatmate who registered his displeasure with a "mtcheeeeew".

All was going well for a while till we heard a loud bang, that I felt came from under the vehicle, and I had hoped for the worst, seeing that I didn't have lots of cash in my wallet, something that armed robbers don't like to see or hear, and for which many passengers had gotten maimed and killed under such circumstances. I quickly scanned the area for means of escape should push come to shove, only to find that the bus was gradually waltzing to the side of the road closer to a light source that turned out to be from a hotel on a lonely road in Asaba, Delta State. There was no sign of armed robbers, nor of policemen. Even vehicles were passing in trickles, and those were mainly buses and cars used for haulage purposes, heavily loaded within, and without especially on their tops, with the load on top for most of them appearing to be larger than those inside the vehicles.

Most of us passengers alighted from the bus, when it became obvious that it was a case of a burst tyre in the first of the four tyres at the left back, and rantings by passengers began, for me the second time since I started my tour (though for a different reason as from with the first). The feeling of something stopping me from getting to Port Harcourt crept in again and I quietly waved it away while watching proceedings. The drivers' mate's attempt to remove the faulty tyre and replace with another met with arguments and counterarguments from passengers who felt he wasn't going about it properly. He managed to lose all but one of the nuts after "jacking" the bus to what some of the passengers didn't consider high enough. As if things weren't bad enough, it started to rain, not in drizzles but torrentially that those of us on the ground had to run to a nearby stall beside the hotel, to escape getting drenched even though we couldn't escape getting cold. The mate continued to try to lose the nut but when it appeared that there might be a case of misthreading which had made it difficult for the nut to come lose, he decided to put the other nuts back in place, after which we reboarded the bus and continued the journey slowly this time, as much as the burst tyre could allow in the rain. It really didn't feel so bad going the way we were going and I wondered why the driver didn't consider this earlier rather than exposing us to inclement weather, and possible marauding right in the middle of nowhere.

By a few minutes after five in the morning we stopped. I thought we were at a military checkpoint, but it turned out to be a traffic gridlock. Vehicles were parked bumper to bumper and for a long time we didn't move until some flicker of daylight began to appear on the horizon. At this point I got down with some passengers to see actually what exactly was going on. We could see nothing. Even when there was movement, it was for just a few feet and nothing more. The stretch of vehicles was so long that it was difficult to see the end. Passengers were now beginning to alight and walk towards the Niger Bridge into Onitsha. I was very tired, and didn't know if I could do the trek. With the issue of the bad tyre at the back of my mind I wasn't sure that once traffic became lighter that the bus won't stop in Onitsha to finally change the tyre. Eventually, I decided to trek into Onitsha against advice I received of another passenger of how far from Onitsha we were. Some exercise shouldn't kill I thought, and the lack of cash didn't help my situation hence I picked my back pack and started my trek.


It turned out to be a long one, and more people were now doing the trek. The reason for the traffic jam became clearer as I inched closer to the Niger Bridge, that connected South-eastern Nigeria, to the Niger Delta (South-South Nigeria) on that axis. I was informed that the day before, protesting members of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB had blocked the bridge and brought commercial activities to a halt in Onitsha (commercial capital of Anambra State and the Southeast as a whole), demanding the release of their leader Nnamdi Kanu, currently detained by the Federal Government on charges of incitement, even Treason and Terrorism (for asking for self determination, and a sovereign state of Biafra from what is today the Eastern part of Nigeria, from the rest). A Joint Task Force of the police and members of the arms of the military were then stationed at the Asaba and Onitsha end of the Niger Bridge to screen vehicles entering and leaving Onitsha, in anticipation of the bigger protest planned for the day.


Part of my itinerary was Anambra State, and I could simply go in there, do what I had to do and then go to Port Harcourt, but then I must finish everything that day and head for Port Harcourt the next to meet up with my appointment. I considered that if IPOB youths go on with their plan of a mega demonstration it might be difficult to get out of Onitsha to Port Harcourt even if I was able to conclude my business in time outside of Onitsha but within Anambra State. If however I go on to Port Harcourt, I would still get my much needed rest, make my appointment the next day, then enter Onitsha before careering into the rest of Anambra to fulfill my plans there, get some play time even clock some time in neighbouring Imo State before returning to base in Lagos, Southwest Nigeria. I decided while trekking, and now close to the Asaba end of the Niger Bridge to get money first, before deciding what to do next. I figured that my best bet will be to get to an ATM of the old generation bank branch that issued my debit card, so that if it doesn't work, I could go into the bank at eight o'clock and get the much I needed to continue my journey the traditional way, hopefully without making a scene for the embarrassment and discomfort their debit card had caused me the day before. It was then 7am.


No comments:

Post a Comment