The Wednesday evening was gentle and calm. Somewhere in the arteries of Makurdi, a resilient trio was on the clock, editing and comparing notes. Su’eddie Vershima Agema then informed me that we would be travelling together to Kaduna, first thing in the morning, for the 34th International Annual Convention of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) from Thursday 12th-Sunday 15th November, 2015. I was exceedingly glad – to at least go to the famed City of Crocodiles and ease off some stress. It was impromptu so I made an instant sacrifice for the journey – I called the Catechist of the Good Shepherd Catholic Chaplaincy, Benue State University, Makurdi and postponed the christening of my infant son (who was to be baptized on Saturday 14th November) and fixed it on the memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Saturday 21st November). It worked perfectly.
I woke up early the next morning, prepared and headed to Benue Links Bus Terminus around 5:45am. On arrival at the park, we filled the manifesto with complaints and fake phone numbers. Trust Nigerians and ‘funny’ privacy…even at our own detriment.
We took off some minutes after 7am; with the 18-seater bus cutting through the flora of Benue and Nasarawa States like a writer’s pen through a melon of words. It was a great ride with Su’eddie beside me, and the other Benue writers seated behind us. One of the writers prayed, and the God answered through the shushing Harmattan winds. We bade farewell to Agan, Daudu and Kadarko…only the latter waved back with assorted bush meat smoked by the roadside.
The bus was filled with different folks: a speeding driver, two beautiful ladies, a little girl who puked at every bend, a nursing mother, my tea flask, and eight writers.
More than half an hour later, Gako welcomed us with a trailer broken down in the middle of the road. It seems the Lafia road has a sinister contract with long vehicles that always lie on the road like dead anacondas. Angwam Wayo reminded us that the classroom block had to face the highway so that the world would see that her schoolchildren still kneel in the blazing sun as punishment.
We stopped at Keffi to eat and the real journey started. Not on the wheels but in the restaurant. I saw an old friend waiting tables, and one of the beautiful commuters on our bus paid for the food I and Su’eddie ate. She was going for a wedding in Kaduna as the chief bride’s maid and she had known Su’eddie through a mutual friend but funnily, he didn’t even remember until she told him. By the way, she refused to tell us her name. Classic!
From there, we saw the beauty of Nigeria’s soul – lush green grasses, a madman in the middle of the road at Gitata, rolling hills at Tattara, a minor seminary that stared at us at Katari, and the cactus spectabilis, the beautiful wildflower that escorted us from Nasarawa to Kaduna doorsteps.
After a long 8-hour journey, we entered Kaduna. And the City of Crocodiles stood like a deflowered maiden cast in stone, stolid, yet beautiful.
If the beauty of Kaduna City is known for anything, it is the order in traffic – the traffic lights and graceful road network. In this city, giant mango trees stand like gladiators in the middle of the road. A city where the ‘Rural Dwellers Filling Station’ welcomes you. And you wonder whether the ‘City Dwellers’ built theirs in the rural area. Funny!
Kaduna was founded by the British in 1913 and became the capital of Nigeria’s Northern Region in 1917 until 1967. To be in this city is to be in a cocoon filled with fragrances of memorable tastes – the Hausa man in Keke NAPEP who explains to you the clear difference between the hardworking Kano Hausa (his people) and the other lazy Hausas, the friendly policeman at the checkpoint, the beautiful girls covered in Islamic veils, and the smiling tea sellers popularly known as Mai Shai.
At the Hamdala Hotel where the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) was headquartered, I was paired with one of the WRR/Caprecon Green Author Prize winners, Vanger Fater in the motel room 53 while Su’eddie Vershima Agema and Servio Gbadamosi where given motel room 49. The motel is an 80’s-styled three storey building in the same premises of the main Hamdala Hotel on 26 Muhammadu Buhari Way, Kaduna. Rooms 49 and 53 are on the first floor but sometimes we used the only functioning lift in the hotel (Na who no like beta thing?). This hotel which has the capacity to employ more than 5000 workforce is a mirror image of mismanagement and systemic waste. The Olympic-size swimming pool which has been out-of-bounds for years has become a luxury fish pond, the intercom was not working, the water cistern was faulty, the fridges were old and rusty, and the drapes were dusty and stuffy. Only the bed was a thing to smile about. We had a wonderful stay regardless. Trust the ingenuity of the Nigerian spirit!
At 7pm, we were led to the Hamdala poolside for a welcome party. The evening was great. Ehi’zogie Iyeomoan read his poem ‘Fulani Boy,’ I had a couple of stouts, and retired to the room to clean up, play Konami Winning Eleven, call my wife and sleep. The day was hectic but well spent.
On Friday morning, the city opened her arms and embraced us with rare warmth. We were taken to Arewa House for a keynote lecture on The Local and Global Textures of New Nigerian Writing by Prof. Harry Garuba of University of Cape Town, South Africa. This historical edifice which is the Centre for Historical Documentation and Research of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, was the official residence of the legendary Sardauna (Warlord) of Sokoto and Premier of the then Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello KBE. The Sardauna was born on June 12, 1910 and was assassinated in his residence (Arewa House) in a military coup led by Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu on January 15th, 1966. He was the first and only Premier of the Northern Region from 1954 to his death in 1966.
We had lunch at NDA Officers’ Mess across the road from Arewa House. We returned and went straight into the main residence to join the writers who were touring Sardauna’s home. Once the five of us (I, Su’eddie, Servio, Fater, and Ehi’zogie) entered the residence, the real fun began. As creative writers, the ambience and royalty that greeted us in those walls magnified the narrative of the Nigerian story. In those walls, the fate of a young nation was sealed in blood. We became our own tour guides, and of all the writers in Arewa House, the five of us saw Sardauna in body and soul – his bows and swords, bedroom, living room, the two falcons gazing heavenward at his fountain, and the impregnable walls. We took pictures, went back to the auditorium to listen to Sen. Shehu Sani speak on the National Endowment for Arts and Literature (and the hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa in Port Harcourt prison). We later returned to Hamdala fulfilled with a new Nigerian story to tell.
As a media person, I tuned to CNN to get the latest news of happenings around the world and BOOM! – The baying greyhounds gave me more than I asked for. I had plans to freshen up and go to room 49 to play Konami with Ehi’zogie, and also continue the Twitter book chats with Su’eddie and Servio, then Paris exploded outside the Stade de France during a France versus Germany football match at 21:17 and 21:19, then the rue Bichat at 21:25, then the rue de la Fontaine-au-Roi at 21:32, then the rue de Charonne at 21:36, then on boulevard Voltaire at 21:40, also the Bataclan theatre at 21:40. The news echoed in the loudest decibels. As writers, we oftentimes find ourselves imprisoned in metal drums that echo with unreachable answers for the very questions of life. The drums drive us mad, leaving us with nothing save the strength to write, hoping a soul in a distant land is touched by the words we conjure. This is the fate of the writer in the world today. I reassessed the spontaneity of the human spirit, and went to Room 49 to live again. Life is too short!
From Friday night, Ehi’zogie abandoned his cozy hotel room where he was staying alone and joined us in Hamdala. And we became a band of soul brothers, the five of us. We conquered the City of Crocodiles in Rooms 49 and 53, in laughter and friendship.
Saturday came at the speed of light, though the day dragged through like a pregnant boa. Finally, night patiently came. We played Konami again (Ehi’zogie won the bragging rights), and then Su’eddie called the four of us to come to Kaduna State University where the Annual General Meeting and Elections were held for the gala and award ceremony, this was around 8pm. We stopped everything we were doing and rushed to KASU only to see Su’eddie coming out of the main gate with the news that the gala night was still to be held at the initial venue at Hotel Seventeen poolside.
At Hotel Seventeen, the night summed up our experiences in rib-cracking laughter. Everybody was queued up, exhausted and hungry. We were on queue beside the swimming pool. Where I stood, I saw the Zuma Rock on ceramic plates; as writers forked speechless rocks to pieces. I never believed the magic of writers until that night when I saw steel forks move mountains with little faith. We were chatting away in laughter when a splash stilled the night in split seconds. The poolside erupted in that uncontrollable laughter that usually means ‘sorry.’ And I saw two people helping an elderly writer fully clad in kaftan out of the ice-cold pool. He had his convention bag with him and surprisingly, his plate was glued on his right palm, washed clean by the cold waters of the pool. The waters turned oily, and a huge fried fish head slept innocently at the bottom of the pool. After the fun, we headed back to KASU for the award night that was later cancelled due to the late conclusion of the collation of election results. At around 4am, we were trekking from KASU to Hamdala (with Tanko Mature Okoduwa kindly leading the way) before a good Nigerian Odoh Diego Okenyodo gave us a graceful lift. I spent the night wide awake, writing.
In the City of Crocodiles, I became fully aware of the limit of data bundle and virtual space. I mean, your data bundle is limited to chats and the ghosts you befriend on Facebook and follow on Twitter, not in real life. I saw my ‘close friends’ on Facebook and none recognized me. I had to introduce myself to them before we connected in ‘human bytes’ (not megabytes). I introduced myself to Shade Mary-Ann Olaoye, Henry Akubuiro, Paul Liam, Saddiq Dzukogi, and Isaac Attah Ogezi. Hauwa Shaffii Nuhu even refused my handshake. I saw Deborah Oluniran, Wole Adedoyin, Ngozi Chuma-Udeh, and Iquo DianaAbasi Eke. Richard Ali came in his Fulani cap. Eriata Oribhabor could play for the Golden Eaglets. Chijioke Amu-nnadi, Odia ‘The Genius’ Ofeimun, Remi Raji, Jerry Agada, Wale Okediran, Denja Abdullahi, and BM Dzukogi were all present in the City of Crocodiles. Kaduna was fun and I wrote her this poem:
City of Crocodiles
Where bards come on steel mules
Clad in flowery spirits, bearing wishes
Beside still pools, singing
Of the glorious symphony of candid traverse
In your arms, against the baying elements
We herald a new promise
Of a once illustrious past, made whole
By a united present, and future
As Paris tells us the story of love.
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