Segun James recounts how a journey from Yenagoa to Warri took a tragic turn that almost cost him his life – thanks to the floods
Ordinarily, I love adventure. I like the challenges that come with the unknown and the joy of surmounting any odds that I encounter in the process. Hence my decision to travel to Warri last Saturday to through the western axis of the now washed away East/West (Warri/Port Harcourt) highway to witness the wedding of the daughter of a friend.
It wasn’t that I was unaware that a portion of the road at Umeh town in Delta state had been overran by flood.
Indeed, I was aware as had driven pass the road a week earlier and was alarmed that the waters had risen to about one foot on the road.
In fact, I am aware that the road had become practically impassable soon after that, and all vehicles going to Ughelli, Warri, Benin and Lagos had to make a detour through Owerri to Onitsha to get anywhere in the western part of the country.
I had been inundated with stories of the harrowing experience of people who had ventured to pass the road. Yet the adventurist in me urged me on. After all, there has been no report of any mishap and death. What’s more, why should I continue to report on something that I had not seen but only rely on eyewitness reports?
That was the motivation that took me to embark on an adventure that nearly cost me my life.
The bus fare for the journey was unusually cheap. N500.00. I was told. I was wondering what was going on until I was enlightened that the fare was to Patani, the border town between Bayelsa and Delta states from where I would board a boat to the “other side” as floods have wash away parts of the road at a point and only a boat can navigate through.
Ignorantly, I assumed that the washed away portion was at Umeh. It was when I got to Patani that the reality dawned on me. With my laptop on one hand and my bag on the other, we alighted from the bus only to be told that we must make a one kilometre walk inside brackish water to Kolowari town from where we are to take a boat.
I didn’t bargain for this, I told myself. While making the decision to brave the water even as some young guys, who found pleasure in making jokes of even the most sinister situation joked about pythons coming out of the waters.
At Kolowari, we met the canoe man who charged N500.00 each to ferry us across the flooded road. Some persons, especially the three young ladies among us cried and I shivered. I could see only the roof of houses and I know that there is no way I can wade though the water on foot.
Instead of going back, I stubbornly decided to continue. I assumed that the boat will take us up to Umeh which was about 10 kilometers away from where we would take a bus to Warri.
But lo and behold, the boat ride was less than 500 metres from Koluwari to Bolu Angiama. As we alighted, there was a dried portion of the road which the natives have turned into homes with their properties stacked high at each side.
Surprisingly, there were motorbike operators waiting to make a kill. The fare is N500.00. Take it or leave it. The alternative: a muddy and lonely three-kilometre walk. As we move on, the water level started getting high until we got to a point of no return, where we are to take another canoe ride to the most dangerous point of the flooded road; the portion that takes us to the other side of Umeh. This time, the fare is N1, 000.00.
We were warned that the current of the flood along the road to Umeh was dangerous and that virtually no one can pass through it. The boatman made it clear that he has to pass through the forest where the current is less turbulent.
At this point it dawned on me that we had reached a point of no return. We had no choice anymore. In the midst of this, I couldn’t help but notice that the jocular ones who had been taunting the young ladies were no more joking but silent. I could see fear written all over their faces even as I started praying silently.
It is one thing to say you are braving the roads, but how are you going to explain a boat ride inside a dangerous rain forest? There have been stories of all sorts of animals coming out of the forest since the floods started. While most of these stories may have been exaggerated, but when you remember that you have just been told of a sighting of gorilla, hyena, python and other creatures that have not been sighted in this clime in a long time being forced out of the forest by the flood, a journey into an unknown and possibly perilous forest becomes too risky an adventure to undertake.
But here we are. Trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea! We boarded two canoes which soon entered into the forest. As the fast flowing waters tossed the boat here and there, some waters kept seeping in while the boat assistant was using a spatula to bail it out.
Just then we entered an open area. The boatman “lost control” or so we assumed as the current continued to toss the boat. We started shouting. Everyone without exception cried and prayed. Our voice drowned that of the boatman who was asking us to stay still, but one of the girls grasped his hand tightly even as he tried to maneuver the boat.
Just then the canoe hit a tree and started rocking violently. My bag fell into the waters as I clinched tightly to my laptop. The canoe soon steadied as the annoyed boatman scolded us that we did not listen to his lectures before the journey.
I just couldn’t believe I had just escaped another mishap. The situation just reminded me of a similar incident in May 2008 at Brass during the rerun election of Chief Timipre Sylva. I, in company of the then politics editor of THISDAY, Deji Elumoye (now the chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists in Lagos), the then Bayelsa State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Chief Nathan Egba and other top Bayelsa State government officials had just witnessed Governor Sylva vote and were on our way back to Yenagoa when our boatman took a wrong turn. Just then, another boat rammed into us, throwing the 10 of us into the river.
Everyone except Elumoye could swim. We came only to start looking for him. It was the personal assistant to the commissioner who jumped back into the waters to fish him out. Luckily the 10 of us escaped unhurt even as we lost our phones, shoes and other valuables. The situation was a bad experience that I do not want to relive again.
Yet, here I am once again in a near mishap.
After a time that seemed like eternity, we were out of the forest and on the road again, but this time by taxi. We journeyed to a point just beyond Bomadi junction after Ohoror town. We took another boat ride, this time less dangerous and along the road to a point near Ugheru community from where I took a bus to Ughelli and then to Warri.
I didn’t make the wedding. It was over by the time I got to Warri. Besides, I wouldn’t have gone anyway. My clothes were lost and more still, my nerves were strained.
An otherwise two hours journey had taken almost eight hours. I lost my clothes even though I saved my precious laptop. It wasn’t the best experience for an adventurist like me.
I didn’t have to be advised for the return journey as I took the Warri-Abraka-Agbor-Asaba-Owerri-Elele (Port Harcourt) – no less tortuous, but less harrowing.
I left Warri by 6am but got to Yenagoa by 11pm. When I got to Ahoada, I was told that the road was so bad that only tipper lorry could drive through.
With 20 others, each paying N2000.00 to stand on the back of the truck, we took a six hours journey to navigate the road to Mbiama town. This journey ordinarily takes less than 30 minutes.
As I entered our office in Yenagoa that night, I said to myself, “I will not leave this town again until the floods are over.” It certainly has not been the best experience for me.