“So you actually got on the road to Akwa Ibom to watch the Super Eagles live”

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I found no better heading for this piece. Nothing else beats the one sentence that in its different tenses, marked (read: flooded) the build-up, kick-off, in-play and post-trip moments of our trip to see the Nigeria vs Algeria WC Qualifier “live in action.”

Last November (2016), I hopped on the trip plan on Daniel’s invitation. The entire trip team had Daniel, Gaffar, MI, one other lady Salewa who was to become a (very interesting and fun-to-travel-with) friend and myself. The Sienna car-bus was Dan’s who also doubled as our driver, as we followed a car that had the sports crew of a local radio station, who were in the first place a major motivation for the trip. Supported by one of our ‘Egbons’ we put together a small trip fund to to cover pre-trip servicing, fuel, chops — ‘gala, la-casera, chips and all the other sources of joy on the road’ and well… highway policemen. And yes, hotel accommodation in Uyo.

In a what was very unlike me, I got to the agreed meeting point at the in Ondo town way too early for Dan and the rest of the trip who turned out to go the typical African-time way. My phone was soon dead and it seemed I had missed something by the time it was almost 9am, almost two hours after I had gotten there from Akure.

As I considered a dash to the ATM, to get some cash and find some public transit medium to Uyo, they arrived just in time. Going back to Akure was not an option. I had made a lot of noise among my friends and teammates at FourthCanvas and I was not going to let anyone “spoil my shine”. After some general rice-and-beans refuel, we got on the road. Off to Uyo.

“Jeez!” Dan’s car still had no horn.

On and on we blazed through the roads within Ondo, and then to Edo, followed by Sapele, Delta where we lost in touch with our lead vehicle.

“Can you see the shopping mall from that side, we are on the road by the right.”

“No… Come back to the other junction, before the flyover.”

“You know what? We will be fine, go ahead with the trip.”

That was how we began a phase of the trip where we drove ‘alone’ on a trip we had never been on, this time with the lead of Google Maps. We were led from village to village, as though we consciously avoided the cities in what turned out to be a really adventurous path that no experienced trip guard would have known about.

Smooth… good NDDC-constructed roads, and then a wave to what was named the junction to the famous Yenagoa, followed by very terrible roads in Bayelsa, a dusk drive through Port Harcourt and what should make an article on its own, our ‘waka’ through Abia State.

Before we got to Bayelsa, we had one of the expected stops at police checkpoints. It had to do with some tinted permit and a number of things we couldn’t fully answer to. We had the usual back-and-forth until we had a saviour whose work would then be denied by our “enemies”. A “big man” who drove a recent Range Rover model, had stopped, gave ‘something for the boys’ (tip) and upon seeing us plead also dropped something “to let the boys go”. Yes you guessed right. We did not leave that spot till we paid from our own wallets. Talk about a deep lack of integrity within the bracket of a bribe culture. But “who grammar epp?”

Even in the midst of pleading with some highway officers, we still had the courage for a selfie

We avoided many other checks simply by repeating a step that proved to be magical. Stop for the officer, tell him we are on our way to watch the Super Eagles in Uyo and he forgets his actual job and gets to ask about who is to start the match and if Mikel was to play or not. And off you drove with a smile. Then repeat.

In Abia we saw women on bicycles, returning from their farms in the evening. Some also their daughters literally strapped on, in what was without mincing words real-life old Igbo-Nollywood scenes. We wondered where the village men were and what exactly their division of labour was. Well, “what is our own?”

At some point that was the closest to a reason to regret our automated trip lead, we almost hit (and at that speed, killed) a bike rider. There was a dilapidated and hence discontinued part of the road that everyone in the area knew about as they turned to the alternative by-pass on the right. The bike rider expected no car in the straight direction and with his sight blocked by the car ahead of us who we were about to over-take, he dashed into our sight, missing his death and a possible lynching of our souls by a whisker.

We bypassed the seemingly unavoidable towns of Aba and Ikot-Ikpene, driving through nameless (apologies) villages as we connected back to the highway, and turned left into Abak Road, the never-ending road through the beauitful town of Uyo.

We were too tired to appreciate the night view, especially knowing we still had another night to spend. We relaxed at a place called Plaza, which we spotted upon random surfing for night spots. Some drinks were a welcome idea while we waited for our trip partners who were on the “lead” vehicle. They got in, couldn’t explain how we beat them so badly to time, joined us on the table, where we had Difference (yes you read that right), a young lady who gave us a warm first impression of the Uyo people.

As we spoke our local language, we attracted the attention of some youth corpers who were Yorubas as well. We got along, exchanged contacts and we were to possibly connect at the stadium by morning. That didn’t happen but it was nice to meet them.

We lodged into a nearby hotel at around 11pm. Sleep, wake and go to stadium was the not the next thing that happened, as we would have imagined.

Wait for it.

Wait for it…

We heard knocks at night, barely two hours after we settled in. 1am was a scary time for such knocks. Very bold and daring knocks. We braved up to ask who. No response. We had footsteps in what was like they walked to the window side and towards other rooms in the small blocks of rooms. We heard them knock some other rooms as well, followed by what was like a conversation with the receptionist who seemed to be under duress. We had every possibility in our heads. We were certainly at the mercy of armed robbers. This is South-south. Why did we even come? “Who send us sef?” Thoughts muttered, lips sealed.

Knocks again. “Who dey there?” MI asked with a confidence to signal that we were not mean men either. Alass it was simply another guest who wanted to drive out who was being blocked by another vehicle and needed a repark. Ours was not the vehicle in question. *Deep sighs*

Sleep, wake, go to the stadium.

We got to the stadium before 10am. Prior to that we took a walk around Plaza, on streets that were too neat for a Nigerian city. The ambience and environment was just beautiful. We boarded a tricycle who took us to the Stadium as were savoured the sights of Uyo. No one had to be told as we approached the majestic presence of the Akwa Ibom International Stadium, also named the Godswill Akpabio Stadium.

As you would expect, there was all of the Super Eagles merchandise, from jerseys to vuvuzelas and we got as much as we had funds for. We ate some hawked rice, as we sat on the chairs of an unusually nice beer seller who accomodated us for hours even though we didn’t even look in the direction of her freezer. We thought we could gain access to the stadium as early as 8am as we were told of over-crowding. We were ready for 99 problems, scrambling for tickets and seats was not one of them.

We got in sometime around 2pm and the 3 hours to kickoff was a lot of vuvuzela’ing and we were a key point of attraction as we terrorized everyone around with the high-pitch sounds, in the company of a number of other fellows who did the same from other parts of the 30000-capacity stadium. We took pictures as we relied on a power bank that eventually gave its last drop just before the first kick of the match.

After the arrival of dignitaries like Bukola Saraki, former Governor Akpabio in the usual Nigerian grand style, the players — the people we came here for — came on the picth to a bigger applause of the entire stadium as they warmed up, got back in and lined up for kickoff.

“See Mikel.” “Na Iwobi be that” “Which one be Marhez again sef.”

L-R: Daniel, myself (Victor of course), Gaffar and MI in the far right. That’s Salewa’s hair somewhere behind and beside no other person but Gaffar. I didn’t say anything o.

Despite the absence of playbacks and different camera views, as the giant screen didn’t help matters here, the stadium experience was beyond description. This is you watching a football match alongside over 30,000 other fans. Imagine the energy of a viewing centre, the chants and roars, multiplied 600 times or more. You can only imagine what we felt like when we (the Super Eagles) got the first goal, and then the second that came off a pass to Mikel that even he was at first unsure was onside. That point — the 2 seconds — where he stood there uncertain was right in front of us. We were in the second row just by the pitch and it all was so close up and personal. We knew we had to do this again in the future.

Algeria’s goal was received by a calm atmosphere. There was no officiating error to scream at. It was yards away and the goal was too good to be angry with. It was the only time we noticed activity from the small portion of the stadium that had fans from Algeria. They had courted some attention at the before kickoff when they refused to relocate to the actual area reserved for them. They were not at any point silent but Bentaleb’s goal was the only moment we were calm enough to hear them.

The tension was high about two minutes to the end of the game with the scoreline at 2–1 with Algeria pressing hard for an equalizer. Everyone was on the edge of the seats just before the whole stadium erupted upon the game-sealing goal from Victor Moses and everyone trooped out. There was no need for whatever followed. It was like a carnival. Strangers hugged themselves and it didn’t matter whatever differences.

The following one hour was a path through excitement, followed by finding your way through the crowd, everyone still excited and facing the reality of terribly scarce public transit options, yet very much excited.

The beauty of the stadium at night was beyond description. Well, there are words for it but it’s best left that way.

One man came with his son. I wish I had come to have such an experience at his age. It was too mind-blowing for an adult let alone a kid.

We had some luck, got a tricycle, got down due to traffic when it seemed ‘destination’ was already within walking distance in what was to double as a walk to see more of the town at night.

Err… of all the goodness of Uyo, the food was not excellent. Neither the indigenous nor the common. Maybe if we had a week but the 36 hours or thereabout had all things great but food.

Sleep, wake and go home.

This time we faced the road entirely with Google Maps, the magical solution we couldn’t explain to our trip partners who were older and not tech-savvy. It all got smooth from state to state until we were stopped again.

Salewa was on bump-shorts . The trip was to be a long one and we would only get to Ife in the evening considering we didn’t set out that early. Although we were told our tyres were not in good condition (‘expired’ was the actual word used) the FRSC officer was less concerned about road safety and more about the “very short” bump-shorts.

We had all the moral sermons you could imagine but it didn’t stop there. A ‘touching’ cultural disapproval was followed by the direct opposite. Another officer who was probably having a boring day called Dan, asked about his girlfriend, if he had one and how his performance was like in bed. He told stories of his own escapades and the importance of a very strong ‘activity’ while he dished his wealth of knowledge on the right things to eat and drink towards ensuring being the man of every woman’s dreams. I have no words to conclude this chapter of our trip. We just ‘dinor bilivit’.

By the time we got close back home from whence we journeyed, Daniel was already to tired to be nice. He ran into bumps repeatedly and I almost forgot to remember the efforts and energy he had put in as I ‘was jumped’ to the roof of the car repeatedly in my lone seat occupancy at the back. But I held no offences. The young man had given me a trip that I would never forget.

So yes we actually got on the road to Akwa Ibom to watch the Super Eagles live and it was worth it and more!

PS: I considered going again to watch us play the South African team last month but it was for the best I didn’t. The reward for all the stress of such a trip is best rewarded when your team actually wins.

(I wrote this article on July 19, 2017).

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