If this is the first post you’d be reading on my adventures in the East, please start here
“Have you gotten to Onitsha?”, I asked John in a lazy tone, rubbing my left eye with my left middle finger. I was more tired than I though. “No, I just called to tell you I’m about 30 minutes close.” His response weakened me because I actually needed more sleep.
Tope was fast asleep. Save for his head, his entire body frame was well protected by the thick duvet. So I strolled unsteadily to the girls’ room. Victoria opened after the third knock. “You need to start getting ready”, I said as she opened the door slightly. Bukola was still sprawled on the bed but she was already dressed.
We dropped our keys with the receptionist 20 minutes later as we left the hotel for the park to meet John.
John and the Plan
It wasn’t hard to know it was him with the way he shoveled through the now lively park. The trickling sweat running down his forehead did a lot in enhancing his appealing look. He stood suddenly as if looking for anything resembling a group of people waiting for him but he continued into the park after a failed attempt at getting us.
I walked up to him, extended pleasantries and brought him to meet the rest of the team. In what took less than a minute, everyone went from being complete strangers to excited travel buddies.
River Niger bridge
John Bosco recited the plan exactly how he’d earlier listed them in the text he sent me. The park was getting rowdier now as he motioned us to come with him and we followed joyfully like we’ve just been set free from a house arrest.
As we navigated the streets of Onitsha, John told us as many things as he was knowledgeable of. “This is the Lagos of the East.” Said with a fulfilled smile on his face, looking at our faces, expecting some sort of affirmation.
I got lost in thought as I stared at the buildings on both sides of the road. They stared back sorrily at me as if they had something to say but the honks and screeches from the vehicles on the streets wouldn’t allow for a smooth conversation.
John gisted until we got deep into the heart of Upper Iweka road, where we got a Keke driver who agreed to take us to the foot of the River Niger bridge and the river bank for N800. He later agreed to take us around Onitsha if we would give him a little more money, to which we agreed.
River Niger Bridge
Like it forgot to set an alarm, the sun rose steadily as our keke danced lazily towards the foot of the magnificent bridge. As we disembarked, I recalled all I had read about Onitsha and this incredible bridge.
During the Nigerian Civil War of 1967 – 1970, (according to Wikipedia) in an attempt to halt the Nigerian military advance, retreating Biafran soldiers destroyed the River Niger Bridge at Onitsha, trapping the Nigerians on the other side of the river.
I felt some chill in my belly as we strolled along the pedestrian section of the bridge on the right- a portion that overlooked the Niger river as she flowed in an unbothered manner towards the left. The bridge vibrated as if wanting to mess with our anxiety, but I was calm, knowing fully well that it was due to the bridge’s expansion joints, a feature that is common amongst well-built bridges across the world.
A Bad Impression
As soon as we got closer to the bridge, the touts at the bridge’s entrance did all they could to touch Bukola and Victoria as they chanted and shouted with the intent of drawing their attention. In my head, I wondered who did this to our people. Where exactly did we go wrong with parenting? because I know for a fact that things didn’t start out this way.
Their cups got filled when they requested money from us to enable us access to the bridge and John had to switch from a calm and smiling face to a bloodshot one as he spat a lot of angry things I couldn’t understand in Igbo, but I knew he was defending us. With the way he gesticulated, I guessed he was trying to tell the guys why they should be grateful that people came from other regions to appreciate theirs.
Their jaws didn’t drop, but they went numb. I think John’s Ted talk sank.
The enthusiasm and vibe returned after that distractions as we took turns in taking amazing pictures on the 54-year-old monument which stood 74ft above the river surface.
The sun shone fiercer but like a nagging wife, we ignored all the antics until we saw our keke driver coming in search of us, wearing a worried face. He thought we had escaped into Asaba through the bridge. lol
The River Bank
“Let me take you guys to the River Bank.” john said, shielding his eyes with his right palm as we strolled in a single file towards our keke.
As we rode through the less busy Onitsha main market, I wondered if the traders even know how congested the major markets in Lagos and other southwestern and Northern states would look like at the moment. I mean, nothing at all depicted to us that the next day was Sallah.
We finally got to the river bank and it was a delight watching the magnificent River Niger from such a distance. The market men and women at the bank weren’t as amazed probably because they’ve seen this one too many times. They cared less as we took pictures.
“Those are Anam people,” John said without anyone asking. He continued, “Anam is known for farming and this was as a result of their fertile lands which was largely attributed to their swampy soils. They do not only cultivate yams but also grow pepper, potatoes, cassava, and even Fishes too.
Just that people (for fear of crossing the river 😁 and going into their very remote community to get the yams) prefer them to bring them to Onitsha for convenience and transportation reasons too.
That river bank/river Niger still extends down to the OMAMBALA RIVER, the river that demarcated Anambra East and West (those Anam people). The OMAMBALA river is in Otuocha and the same kind of activities you’re seeing here is replicated that side of the river too.”
Needless to say, is the fact that John knows quite a lot about the East.
A Locked palace
Done with the riverbank, we headed towards the Obi’s palace which was like a 20 minutes drive but unfortunately for us, the palace was locked. “haha, why would a king’s palace be locked?” I protested before John replied that the king actually doesn’t live here (for security reasons). This place is only opened during the new yam festival.
I was sad again. “What then is the essence of calling it a palace?” I asked myself as we stepped out of the keke.
We bade our driver goodbye, squeezing N3,000 into his palm. This was after he had rejected an initial offer of N2,000, an amount he claimed wouldn’t make him as happy as we were and also, considering all the suffering he’s undergone for us. He did a lot actually. If for nothing, at least for the slap.
He zoomed off happily, leaving our nostrils to battle with the smoke from his exhaust. The time was 2:50 pm
How far, Bosco, we suppose still fit make am to Ogbunike cave by this time na, Tope asked as we all looked towards John’s face, expecting to kill him if he said No.
“Yes, we can.” He replied with a large grin.