'Anyi abanyego na tipa bu aja!', exclaimed a passenger.
By this time yesterday, I was in the middle of an uproar that ended in a torn shirt, raised blood pressures and someone at risk of losing his job. I was to travel from Enugu to Lagos yesterday and by 7am I was at a popular traveling company's motor park in Enugu. I went to the counter to buy a ticket and was told to buy it from the bus where an agent was selling them. I counted my cash and handed it over, watching circumspectly to see that there was no behind-the-scene business like my friend experienced last month in that same park.
She had withdrawn some money from the bank and was paying with them except that she took her eyes away for some split seconds and next thing she heard was the cashier shouting 'counter!' returning her money. He had exchanged one of her 1000 Naira notes with a counterfeit. She was shocked to the marrow but she couldn't defend herself 'cause she had no evidence and she was made to replace it with another 1000 Naira note.
Because of that, I had my eyes fixed on him and as soon as I collected my ticket, I knew I was free. So I took my seat by the window. On my ticket was written 13. People trickled into the bus until it was 8:55am. The driver started the ignition. Two young men entered the bus and sat at the back. I looked scantily around and the bus looked full. We had a smooth and fast ride that by 10:55am, we arrived at their Onitsha park and the bus stopped.
I forgot to mention that before we entered the bus, we were searched thoroughly with handheld metal detectors. Everyone was asked to come out of the bus with their carry-ons and were searched. A man particularly rummaged through my travel bag claiming he felt some vibrations. Tickets were cross-checked and we entered the bus.
Now at Onitsha, we first wondered why we had to stop, but no one complained. Then the bus reversed and began to park properly in the park and murmurings began. Someone said that someone said that he heard them say that they needed to fill the bus. So we bore with them and sat down tight. Those that needed to take a leak, went out and came back. People came down to buy stuff and got back in. I too went out and while coming back, I was startled by the amount of luggage they planned to get inside that 33 seater bus called a Smart Coach.
Forty-five minutes later, the bags were packed. Loads in the boot were displaced to accommodate the heavier ones from the Onitsha passengers. They were brought up into the bus to occupy the back seats and aisle. Then it was time for the Onitsha passengers to take their seats and there were no seats. Three tie wearing, pot bellied old men working as agboros (motor park touts) came in and demanded that those without tickets should get out of the bus. It was then I began to hear things like 'attachment'.
Attachment? In a Smart Coach bus going to Lagos?
For those that don't know, attachments are small stools placed on the aisle of a bus to make it accommodate more passengers than it was designed to accommodate, but they are usually seen in public buses running within a town whose twelve cushioned chairs have not been replaced with benches that would accommodate 5 passengers per row and not in buses traveling long distances like Enugu to Lagos.
For another forty-five minutes, it was all yelling, cursing, bullying, intimidation, fighting, tearing of shirts, women screaming, elderly women running out of the bus, young men against old men, commotion, pandemonium, all hell let loose. And me? I screamed, barely noticed like a drop of water in an ocean, then I prayed, then I searched for emergency exits.
What really was the problem?
Two young men were found without tickets and so were asked to get up for the Onitsha passengers. And they refused, claiming that they paid for the bus but weren't issued tickets though they asked for it, because the bus was already leaving when they arrived the park. The agboros started explaining that what they paid for was attachment and not seats. We paid 3100 Naira for our tickets and these men said they were asked to pay 3000 Naira each and no one said they were going to seat on attachments. Besides, what was the difference between 3000 and 3100? However, the Onitsha agboros wouldn't hear any of that and began to drag these young men out. That was the moment of bullying and intimidation and women yelling at the shameless old men.
They succeeded in dragging out these men, yet the Onitsha passengers were more than the available seats and they had tickets with seat numbers on them. A young man from the Onitsha passengers came in and asked one of the old agboros to show him his seat knowing that it was already occupied by someone from Enugu who had his ticket, and the agboro said cantankerously 'O mu ga-achotalu gi oche gi?' (am I the one to look for your seat for you?) The young man angrily shoved his way through the old men to pass to the back where the two young men had vacated. And they pulled him out and began to beat him and that was when the fight began. His shirt was torn. Passengers helped to rescue him from the hands of those men. An elderly woman ran out of the bus. More yelling!
This continued until a calm looking, English speaking, gentleman on Jeans walked into the bus and demanded explanation for the hubbub. The agboros had disappeared by now. Passengers vomited their rage and he pleaded with us to calm down as he was going to see to the situation. He went out and came back asking for those without tickets and we found out that the driver had his entire family seated on the front seats of the bus without tickets and without the knowledge of the management.
Following his order, the young men that were forced out of the bus were brought back in, the Onitsha passengers were transferred with their luggages to another bus except the one whose shirt was torn. He was offered money for his torn shirt which he refused. The driver was summoned for a hearing. All these took place for the next thirty minutes. Some passengers went to beg for the release of the driver so we could continue the journey and I sat observing things, shaking my head, disgusted by that display of corruption by the driver and bullying by the shameless old men and thinking of how to frame my next blog post.
We continued our journey by 12:55pm and had a smooth ride to Lagos, but for a little traffic delay and I alighted at Jibowu by 8:55pm with bilateral grade three pitting leg edema (leg swelling up to the knee that left pits when you pressed it with your fingers).
©Radiant~ December 2014