Back to basics
Dressed in the tradition of local hunters, we set out on our journey to Iju-Odo, the famous town by the famous river where fishes of incredible descriptions enjoy the largesse of the Almighty. Iju-Odo used to be a thirty-minute drive from Akure. But at that time, the river was not this big. And the fishes were not so ginormous nor so wonderful in taste. The reputation of the different-different fishes to be found in the river surprised even those who swam in the river along with the fishes.
Forests were the first to take-over the thin snaky tarred road that the colonial government bequeathed to the Nigerian government at independence. Jungles followed. In no time at all, Nigeria was being praised for picking up amazon-sized jungles that was disappearing in South America.
Foreign researchers were the first people to call attention to the possible restitution that ancient fishes thought to have become extinct were appearing in Iju-Odo. So, it was as research material that these creatures were being made available to these foreigners. And for nothing or as their Chiefs said it was their contribution to knowledge.
But it was soon well known that fishes were not the only riches of Iju-Odo. Ancient trees, 3000 years suddenly appeared. Where have these trees been? The likes of them are being burnt in California. Over night from the junction of Akure became impossible to enter. Strange creatures, things that were last seen on earth at the first appearance of human beings were appearing once more.
In preparing for the journey to Iju-Odo, we had to get twelve packs of solar panels that we divided into smaller bits as our needs arose. We needed torches, which used rechargeable batteries. We carried six boxes of pellets of different food items. I particularly looked forward to eating the dodo, fried plantain, slow-fried for long preservation.
With the help of a security company, we recruited six security men as well as four security women. We bought them various types of ammunition. Because we had recruited them from different companies where they were used to using different ammunitions. We recruited them from different companies so that they could come into our service without previous conspiracies. We heard so many stories; the most scary was the one in which the security accomplice killed all members of the team, stole their things and that was the last heard of them. So, we had to be careful, very careful.
The danger on the road could not be counted but with our security men and women and our prayer warriors, all shall be well.
As the day of our departure drew near, we came across more information from other parts of our region, but we did not allow them to bother us.
We chose a Sunday evening for the time of our departure. It was cool weather and the sunshine was calmed by a light breeze. We were 19 all together. There were 10 security men and women. There were four carriers and five journey men and women. As the content of each load was exhausted, the carrier would be paid off and he would return home. That was the agreement, the arrangement we made with the carriers, individually, one by one. Somehow, they must have conspired among themselves to reject this arrangement. They brought a different arrangement, a very democratic agreement, if you asked me, whereby when one carrier’s load had finished the loads remaining were re-divided among the four carriers and the journey continued. We could not refuse, at this late hour, to dismiss them and look for a new batch of carriers. We agreed grudgingly. And this was not good for the spirit of the journey.
We had been happy that we had maintained federal character. This achievement was to ruin the journey. We would begin everyday with prayers for God’s guidance and close the day with a prayer of thanksgiving for the successful day. Two prayers per day. The Muslims among us insisted that their religion prescribed five prayers per day. We argued and argued but they would not yield to two prayers per day. It almost caused a family quarrel among us but it delayed us for two and a half days. At some point, we almost gave up the journey, and returned home, each person to his or her father’s house. After all, we were the ones paying for the journey. And, as the saying goes, he who pays the piper should dictate the tune to which everybody should dance. There was no agreement. Those who advocated the federal character couldn’t agree to how the details should function. But we agreed to go on with the journey. Maybe the aim of the journey did not matter. Maybe it is the going on the journey that mattered. Yet, the journey, for me, had an aim: I needed to see my friend. We needed to talk, head to head, eyes looking into each other. Words are in the eyes. For years, we have not been able to do this, this eye-ball to eye-ball. What delayed movement on this journey was that, the way, there was no road, was swamp. And the swamp was salt. The deepest the feet could go would be one foot. At the rate we could go, we could do a mile a day. Carriers complained that it was hard going for them with their heavy loads. That was why their loads were falling off their heads no matter the softness of the pillow (osuka) they used. With the content falling into the swamp, their usefulness was problematic. Most of our loads were solar panels, clothes, swamp special shoes and scrappers for getting rid of the salt on the shoes. While it was okay to scrap the swamp shoes, how do you scrap salt off solar panel, off clothes, off food items?
On the third day of our journey, we waded into kidnappers. Our security was solid and they fought gallantly. Two of our carriers were killed and their loads seized and carried away. We are meeting to decide whether the journey is worth continuing if we cannot achieve a purpose.