I saw it coming…
I had just driven past Magboro and gradually approaching the tail-end of the popular ‘long bridge’ inward Lagos when my professional roving eyes wandered to my left, the outbound portion of the Lagos-Ibadan express road. Then I saw it and suddenly I was overtaken by a cold chill that ran all the way down to my spine. ‘Ha! eleyi o bojumu ke’ was all I could mutter to myself which translated into English simply means ‘Alas! But this is not appropriate now’!
With what I saw and knowing that I was going to pass that same route to make a delivery outside Lagos in a couple of hours, suddenly, I find myself thinking through the circumstances under which I accepted to do this present assignment….how I wish I had not accepted to do this job!
The Day Before…
7.30pm the previous evening, I had just returned from Onitsha where I had gone to make delivery after three (3) days sojourn on the road spread in between the journey time and the delay in offloading my 30tonne cargo. All I could think of as I approached our base was some quality time with my family especially my wife whom I had missed so much. Having received a prior notification of my arrival, I knew she will spear no expense in making my favourite meal (‘Eba and egusi’ with lots of ‘eja olemi’). The mere thought of that made my tongue to salivate.
As usual, I parked the truck at our regular space not too far from the old Sagamu toll gate, called up my boss and handed over the key. I took permission to be with my family and it was expressly granted.
I got home to the warm embrace of my wife and two ‘soldiers’-my boys. Handing over the little stuff that I picked on my return journey for the kids to my wife, I immediately made my way to the bathroom for a quick shower. I had my usual cold bath and in no time settled down to ‘devour’ my favourite meal still oozing some fresh steam; a clear indication that it must have been freshly prepared. After the meal, I had everybody’s attention as I relayed all my experiences in the course of the journey to and fro Onitsha. By the time I was through, my boys were already showing signs of sleep and I beckoned my wife to arrange their sleeping space in the sitting room while I walked leisurely to the bedroom with so much anticipation in my stride. I knew it was going to be a great night. Time now was around 10.45pm.
I was just at the point of easing my bulk on the bed when the phone rang. “Now, who could this be at this time of the night”, I muttered to myself. Caught in between answering and not answering, the phone rang out just as I returned to the sitting room where I was charging it. It rang again the second time and I took the phone with the intention of switching it off. But alas, it was my boss! In my confused state of mind while still wondering what this call could be all about after I had just obtained a duly-approved time-off, all I could hear him say was that he is on his way to my house. No reason! Just that he will be coming to see me shortly. The dream of a great night evaporated. I took a chair and sat by the door leading to our ‘room and parlour’ apartment. I waited. Whatever, he was coming to see me for, I had this awry feeling that it wasn’t going to be in my favour.
He came and being someone not given to too much talk, he hit the nail on the head straightaway. A job came up and I need to be in Lagos as early as 5am the next day for loading. Destination of load is Ilorin. The other driver with whom I alternate to drive the truck and upon whom the lot to do this new job would have fallen had called in sick. I muttered some feeble protestation but my boss sensed this and immediately threw in the catch that I was going to receive twice my regular trip allowance plus some inconvenience stipend for this particular job. My reluctance disappeared as I did some rough calculation in my mind on how far such extra pay will go in sorting out some critical financial pressure I was presently having.
I had a choice to make. It’s either I go back to my bed as planned and leave for the trailer park in the morning to embark on the trip or leave right away, sleep in my truck and leave just before the breaking of dawn. Well, there will always be some other days (in fact lots of them) to have great nights. I chose to leave right away to the trailer park so as to make it early enough to Lagos for the loading. My boss offered to drive me down.
And now…..with what I have just seen, I couldn’t but wonder if that decision was a well-advised one. I got to the point of loading around 4am and I was lucky to be among the first set of trucks to be loaded. Got the required papers and by 5.15a.m., I was on my way. 5.45a.m., I had passed Oworo with Alapere just ahead of me. As I drove past the tollgate outbound Lagos, I looked ahead and I could make out a long stretch of some red taillights blinking from Berger further down the express road. ‘At this time?’, I asked no one in particular. Why would there be a traffic buildup at this time of the morning when I thought I was driving against the traffic. Just then, the eerie feeling that overwhelmed me earlier in the morning when I made that observation around Kara at the tail-end of the long bridge came all over me again. By the time I got to Berger, along the express, it was now a complete standstill. I also observed that only trickles of vehicles were coming in from the other side of the road. At a point, not even a single vehicle was coming in. I saw some people shutting their engine and getting down from their vehicle. Most of them walked down the road/bridge towards WorldOil Filling Station probably with the intention of knowing what could be behind the unusual holdup. I couldn’t join them even if I wanted to. I had a fully loaded truck and I could see that my motor boy wasn’t all that conscious. I waited, knowing fully well that the feedback will find its way back to me.
A very bad one…
I need not wait for too long! It was a massive accident involving cars and trucks. High number of fatalities; some cars were outrightly condemned. Traffic officials are still being expected while a number of people have joined in the rescue and recovery effort. At this point, I knew we were in for a very long wait. I also knew that I had to make my way to the accident scene to see things for myself which will enable me gauge the length of time we may likely stay in this traffic. I handed the care of the truck and goods to my driver’s assistant and instructed him to be very vigilant and that I will be back shortly.
As I walk down that the road towards the scene of the accident, the memory of what I saw much earlier in the morning did an automatic playback in my mind’s eye…..It was a massive open back heavy duty truck that had obviously broken down and was parked right in the middle of the highway barely close to the embankment….(only God knows for how long it’s been there!). The flame that had been set to draw on-comers attention to the faulty vehicle had almost burnt out! That for me was not right! The precaution wasn’t just enough! I had hoped then that no overspeeding careless driver would run into this stationary heavy duty vehicle….I also had hoped that traffic marshals would have that vehicle towed out of the way in good time…..As it turned out, all my hopes were not to be! About nine (9) people lost their lives!
Indeed a stitch in time could surely have saved nine…….and indeed nine precious lives!