A lot of us have travelled to different parts of the country by road. To most people it is only about moving from a Point A to a Point B, especially when you are not behind the wheel. I used to fall into that category of people. When travelling to the east from Lagos, I used to be only aware of when we got to major towns that marked the progression of the journey, usually the time one gets to these major towns determined how fast or slow the journey was. Going to the east from Lagos had major towns as Sagamu, Ijebu Ode, Ore, Benin, Asaba, and Onitsha that marked the journey. These towns closed my eyes to the realization that there are lots of smaller towns and villages between these towns. There are actually hundreds of Nigerians living in these small towns and villages, going about their everyday lives, lost to the likes of people like me. That old man paddling his bicycle along the highway, the school children trekking, the woman with a load of firewood on her head crossing the highway, I did not use to see all these people, or I did see them, but never gave them a second thought, until an unexpected circumstance put me right in the middle of them, and I got a firsthand experience of what it was to live alongside a federal highway and see vehicles passing all day long to unknown destinations.
It was 2002, I had been assigned to deliver a generator to Ugheli in Delta from Lagos, by the company I worked with. It was my first delivery outside Lagos, and I felt honored, being entrusted with a machinery worth around two million naira. It was an urgent order, so it had to be shipped the same day. We left Lagos at around eight that night, the truck driver, his assistant and I, it was my first trip of the kind and at night. I slept off almost immediately, and was woken around 1am, that the truck had broken down and there was nothing that could be done about it till morning. I looked around, it was pitch black around us. I was told that we were on Sagamu-Benin Expressway, somewhere between Ijebu Ode and Ore, but more closer to Ore. GSM phones were not very common back then, so I did not have one. We had to stay there till morning. I slept in the truck while the driver and his assistant slept under the truck. I wondered how they could do that, in the middle of nowhere. With dawn came the visualization of our environment and we were pleased that we were not really in the middle of nowhere, there was an abandoned fuel station not too far from us, a few buildings lined up the highway. A man holding a machete and a large basket slung across his back came up to us and asked us in a strange Yoruba accent if everything was ok. We explained to him we had engine trouble and asked where we were. He told us we were on the outskirts of Ajebandele Town, the main town was still some kilometers up the road. He told us our only hope of getting help was either to go to Ore or go back to Ijebu Ode. The driver chose the latter, that he knew a mechanic there that could help. He left with his assistant claiming to need help in buying parts for the truck and promised they would be back before noon. Little did I know, that was the last time I would see them in the next 48hours. I set about trying to dig into my present situation, and make the best of the time till noon. I got back into the truck, and started to read a book I had with me. By now morning activities had started to begin in the community around me, children in school uniforms on their way to school, people cleaning the environs of the few buildings around, one was a food canteen, the other was a provision store. Rickety looking cabs stopped to pick up people going to Ore or other smaller towns up the road. The morning sun made the truck too hot to stay. I had to get out of the truck. I went to the food canteen to mingle with the locals. The next two days living with them, I found out there was no electricity here, the town fully relied on Ijebu Ode or Ore for basically everything. Over here, Lagos was revered as I would to New York. But they were happy living there, very hospitable too, because they offered me a room to stay in their home, but I sadly declined whilst acting sentinel to the generator entrusted to me. They had a stream that passed through the town and their own natural springs, I spent a lot of time there. During the two days there, I had to go to Ore just to make a phone call, thinking Ore was just up the road. I found out there were still five to six towns before Ore, and it took almost an hour’s non-interrupted drive to get there. It was sad when I had to leave Ajebandele. I learnt not to overlook things and people. Every time I found myself on the Sagamu-Benin Expressway, I always looked out for that town, and people going on about their business along the highway, I always wondered about them now.