By Niyi Egbe
The lot fell on me to guide and give psychological support to our 17 year old nephew who took part in the ongoing examinations set by the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) – a prerequisite for admission into Nigeria’s tertiary institutions. Experiences in locating and waiting on while the young man strove to join the elite group of those admitted into Nigerian universities inspired this article.
Our young lad registered in Onike, Lagos but the examination venue was decreed by JAMB to be Satellite Town, Lagos located opposite Festac Town both on either side of the Lagos-Badagry Expressway, Amuwo-Odofin Local Government Area, Lagos State. For reasons best known to JAMB, students have to be flung some as far as even terrorist enclaves just to “control cheating”. Of course, parents and guidance of wards bear the cost.
A day earlier, I embarked on a reconnaissance survey of the terrain that leads to the examination venue. I have been in this Nigeria’s boisterous city state for five decades and have learnt over the years to fear its legendary traffic and avoid being caught in the web. I dreaded the nuisance constituted by haulage vehicles on that route to Lagos Ports. For the reason, I thought it wise getting to Satellite Town through Alakija in Festac Town.
The level of deterioration of Festac Town surprised. Facilities were well worn, especially roads which were littered with myriads of potholes. The same enviable Festival Town that General Yakubu Gowon built to host the World during the 2nd Festival of Black Arts and Culture held in Nigeria in 1977? What another sad commentary of our well known failings in maintaining public assets and infrastructure.
I was glad to have escaped the logjam and nuisance of hundreds of haulage trucks lined from around Mile 2 bridge to Apapa ports. I shudder over our national recklessness anytime I see those droves of trucks. Those trucks ferry freights from foreign lands – an expensive erosion of our hard earned resources. They get to those ports without goods for export. Upon returning, they are laden with every conceivable imported goods. Whoever foisted this expensive and wasteful penchant for foreign goods upon our land? Whoever dealt us this sour taste?
At Alakija I saw a bridge that is brilliantly erected over the ten lane Lagos – Badagry Expressway. The intervention helps ease traffic flow from Festac Town to Mile 12. This visit was a reconnect with Satellite Town after about three decades. I could boast of being relatively familiar with the town. I recall that most of the leading Oil companies, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and the Central Bank of Nigeria. Asides, there are thousands of assets owned by industrious Nigerians aiming making a living in challenging circumstances. I had always heard about Navy Town and it was interesting passing by the gate of the Barrack to the examination venue.
Roads were in really poor state, so worn that that you could hardly see the bitumen topping. I kept pondering – this is mid March, 2020 and rains have not set in. If roads are that impassible, what would be the situation when torrential rains of Lagos arrive? What neglect of the humongous population of workers and ordinary Nigerians resident in the place! I was also wondering if politicians actually visit and campaign to Satellite Town residents during elections. The sad truth is that they actually do. What a shame!
The survey over, I took a return journey in order to plan the appointment with JAMB examination scheduled for the next day with the young lad. From Satellite Town, I drove through the Lagos – Badagry expressway which is under construction. But for the bridge at the Alakija – Satellite junction, further development along the well-paved road from Alakija towards the Iponri long ceased. Visibly, some iron work and other building materials used in constructing the median rail lines are rusting away. Whatever happened to those strides attained when Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola was Lagos State Governor? The immediate past Governor of the State, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode should be explaining the drag to Lagosians. Agreed, Ambode may have had greater challenges in constructing rail tracks across swampy terrains of Iponri and across Lagos lagoon to Lagos Marina, evidently the steam in construction whittled during his time. Unless, the present governor of the state, Mr Babajide Sanwo Olu infuses virile initiatives for driving the pace of construction, the end of nightmarish experiences on those hybrids of roads and rails isn’t in sight. This is happening after over 20 years of governance by the All Progressives Congress.
D – Day Saturday March, 14, 2020, we departed home as early as 5 am enough time to afford risks. The set time for his examination was 9.00 am. We planned reaching the examination centre in two hours. Things worked faster than as planned. We took a risk driving direct via Mile 2 – that frustrating theatre of omnipresent traffic logjam, surprised that as at 5.30 am there was no hold up. Thus, we arrived the venue at 6.10 am – far before visibility.
The first set of students went into the examination hall for the customary two hour paper at 7.00 am. This gave room for optimism that we should be through by 1pm maximum. Our permutation was pipe dream! We left the venue after 14 hours at about 8.00pm. We drew the ire of nature – had a good dose of unpitying sunshine and the season’s early rains. Most frustrating of the experience was that the JAMB Centre made no explanations. Students and parents became agitated before the gesture to allow the 9.00 am set of students into a waiting area about 1.30 – 2.00 pm. They were eventually let in at almost 5 pm! So unfortunate! It wasn’t happenstance. There were similar complaints recorded at other centres – students bearing the brunt. Couldn’t JAMB simply have crosschecked? What would have been amiss should a little courtesies be extended to parents, especially students?
A lot of the first set of students came out weeping, complaining about system failures – some of them going blank during the exam. In the second set, the computer allocated to my nephew shut down midway. According to him, he had to wait for about twenty five minutes before being moved to another system that was vacated a fellow examinee that was through. How would one expect students under such circumstances to make good results? Do we really have to introduce these young minds to our disruptive ways? No thanks, JAMB!
While waiting, I found anything under the sun to kill the boredom – scripture reading, morning prayers, listening to the radio, music, pacing around- name it! I also engaged in an ecological study of the environment. The examination centre was located besides a deeply buried NNPC Pipeline. Overhead was a very high voltage power line. Two extremes – that should endanger residents. I surveyed a brackish stream spilling its contents at high speed downstream. I tried detecting animal life with little success. There weren’t much but for crabs which burrowed hundreds of holes and skillfully disappeared on sensing danger. I can’t recall sighting birds. Also, just a few insects dotted the air. What was amiss? No tadpoles, toads or frogs? Was the water polluted? If it was, how come the clearly lush green vegetation? I had no plausible answers.
Part of my preoccupation during the waiting was taking long strolls along streets, ensuring that I didn’t get lost or entered a cul-de-sac. This turned out to be engaging and interesting. Great proportions of houses in the area were erected by our kinsmen from Eastern Nigeria. You couldn’t but commend the industry and dexterity of landowners in conquering nature. What wouldn’t my Ndigbo kinsmen do with ego? Despite the fact that most of the area was waterlogged and that if man must find dwelling space in the terrain, there had to be great spending. Trust the dexterity of fellow Nigerians. Our people simply went ahead sand filling, deploying iron and casting concrete. Despite the challenge and absence of government assistance, the area is dotted with impressive and imposing housing projects. This is commendable as obviously, every man is left to his fate. I made equiries about the degrees of government intervention in the area and the content of campaign messages of politicians in the area. They simply laughed sarcastically. For them, theirs is a perfect representation of a government rejected area.
There were two other encounters. First, was a discussion with a young lad who argued that optimism about a workable Nigerian state project is wishful thinking. There was nothing in the world that would convince him that agitation for Biafra needn’t be necessary if Nigeria worked. The only success I made was simply convincing about the need to have our hearts right with God. He soul searched and despite his sadness over the injustices in the country agreed that there was a need to be right with God.
Then, there was a Hausa man in his 70s who hailed from Katsina State, Northern Nigeria. He guarded one of the scores of churches that littered nooks and crannies of Satellite town. Unknown to me, he had been carefully observing my ecological study. We had difficulty communicating as he could barely speak English. He lighted up when I let him know that as a journalist, I had been to Jibia, the Nigerian border town with Niger Republic from where I sneaked to Maradi, a town in Niger Republic in the late 1980s. He offered entertaining me with some Kolanuts which he bought from a hawker. I thankfully took the same. I sought to know what he felt about a Buhari Presidency and the obvious economic squeeze. I tried as much as I could to understand his perception of the President. I could infer that for him, President Muhammadu Buhari is “Mei gasikiya” – according to him, a truthful person surrounded by dark minded people. I asked him why he wasn’t a Christian, since he guarded a church. He chuckled explaining that there was no way he would abandon his religion for another.
Our conversation wore on till about 7 pm at which point I became aghast that my young nephew wasn’t out of the examination hall. He eventually got out at about 8 pm. Thoroughly fagged out. He explained that he had great difficulties with the computer. Added to his frustration was that the fingerprint machine didn’t detect his fingerprints. It worked after prayers and an appeal for just a further attempt by officials of JAMB. Thereafter, we drove safely back, too glad that there wasn’t much hold up till we got home at 10pm!
About eight hours after my sojourn in Satellite Town, there was a devastating explosion on the same petroleum pipeline at Abule Ado on Sunday, March 15, 2020 about 2.5 kilometres away from the examination venue. Quite a number of people were forced to early graves, just as several properties got consumed in explosion and inferno. So painful and unfortunate!
* Niyi Egbe, an agriculturist and media practitioner, lives in Lagos, Nigeria. He can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org