As the closure of the Nigeria border and its add-on which is the ban on the supply of petrol to border communities by the Federal Government of Nigeria bites harder, I took a trip to Idiroko in Ogun West where I saw situation of things on a close up.
No question and answer are necessary before any traveler to the border communities especially Owode-Yewa to Idiroko end grasp the harsh reality that the border closure as well as the petrol supply ban to communities within 20 kilometres to the border have dragged more border community dwellers down far below poverty line by killing businesses which means loss of jobs.
I prepared my pocket for 300 naira transport fare from Owode-Yewa to Idiroko having been told in Ilaro that it would not exceed that but at Owode motor park, I had to pay five hundred naira for a journey I was told would not cost more than three hundred naira.
But for my Lagos bus boarding experience, I would probably have used my five hundred naira as a flying carpet because there were very few vehicles ready to convey passengers down to Idiroko on the day of my trip. That was one harsh reality of the ban on petrol to communities within 20 kilometers to the border. I asked questions. The response I got was that there was a hell of a traffic hold-up stretching from Oke Odan to Ajilete. I said to myself that that could happen only in Lagos.
I had no choice when a rough vehicle moved in to take us down to Idiroko. It was a badly disfigured car. The two back doors had no latch to open it with from the inside. Once you are inside you are locked. The best you can do is to pray against any emergency that will warrant a rush out. The interior was so dirty, I appreciated my decision not to wear bright color cloth because of the very dusty Ilaro to Owode road. The take off of the driver was so rough and fast that it felt like we were in the Hollywood flick, ‘the fast and the furious’. His was a driving skill that can only come from a man driving a vehicle used for conveying contrabands.
Truly, we hit a very terrifying traffic hold-up at the end of Oke Odan. It was so bad that I thought there was no way I could get to Idiroko that day during day light. The narrow road had been turned to three lanes. It was the slowest of all traffic jams I have ever seen. Our driver told us that reason for the traffic jam was because security agents were checking vehicles for petrol to stop it from being smuggled to the communities within 20 kilometres to the border.
Some petrol stations in Oke-Odan and Owode were filled with commercial motorcycles in a look that will make anyone think that we are back in the period of fuel scarcity. The traffic hold up stretched right across Yewa bridge which should be a real issue of concern not only to the border communities linked by the bridge but also the state and the federal government. The bridge is no doubt aged and should not be made to be bearing such a huge burden of having heavy vehicles on it on daily bases.
Immediately after Yewa River bridge at Ajilete, on the left side of the road I counted up to 23 security checkpoints that were hardly 10 metres apart. It was more like the kind of situation that should exist in war zone. Immediately we moved into within 20 kilometres to the border the petrol ban effect sank in deeper; filling stations were not dispensing because they lack supply and there were so many of them now compared to the last time I traveled that road. Development had quadrupled since I was in Idiroko last. All of the filling stations were without petrol. That clearly showed that the Nigeria Customs ignored the directive of the Federal House of Representatives to allow petrol supply to return the border areas.
Added to the hardship that the ban on petrol had brought to the already marginalized and impoverished Ogun West corridor is the huge job loss at the filling stations. Looking at the uncountable number of filling stations lining both sides of Owode-Idiroko roads not to talk on the ones that are off the main roads, it is vivid that a lot of Ogun West youths male and female earning their living as pump attendants and station managers had lost their jobs. Only God knows what they have gotten themselves involved in now between crime and prostitution to be able to feed.
It is clear that many residents of these border communities are being punished for matters they know nothing about. The targets of the law maybe faraway beyond the reach of the law with the connivance of security agents while everyday people now have their lives in slow motion and their poverty compounded by the ban on petrol supply to their communities.
In Idiroko, roadsides were full of people selling the essential highly inflammable commodity in kegs and bottle right under the hot sun with women roasting corn nearby. A bottle measured litre of petrol sells for as high as 250 naira. Commercial motorcycle riders have jacked up their fares. From the frontage of Idiroko LCDA Secretariat to the border post cost me 100 naira instead of 50 naira for a stone ride.
The border post itself that is usually full of commercial activities was very quiet. Despite the closure of the border by the Federal Government, commercial motorcycle riders are still ferrying people across the border into Benin Republic but the cost which was between 700 to 800 naira before the closure of the border is now between between 1,200 and 1,500 naira.
One thing my trip made clear is that the the blanket description of the entire people of Ogun West as smugglers is erroneous. Many of the vehicles and people that dared the security agents by smuggling rice in hand bags and by concealing it in kegs of palm oil and in bagco bags covered with everyday clothes that I saw were people taking them out far beyond Owode. Many that were stopped by the security agents were not even Yorubas.
At the checkpoints, once the right denomination of naira exchanges hands, the contraband belonging to the person that pays can continue on its journey. Woman in the vehicle that returned me to Owode had to.pay 500 naira for a measure of rice concealed in her hand bag. She escaped with the vegetable oil she concealed in a big nylon bag smeared with palm oil. It is lucid that the border closure had succeeded in making security agents at the checkpoints richer while strangulating the farmers, artisans of the border communities.