DESCRIBING Christmas and New Year celebrations in the Igbo land as eventful is a cliche. They are much more than that. A season of over one month of festivities, convivial meetings, mass returns and reunion , especially in the East of Nigeria must have better descriptive words than that.
Amid the plethora of events that mark the season, outdoor effusions, rumbles of clattering beats, brisk street trading, road parades and zestful masquerading make traffic gridlock a nasty constant factor of the season.
It is such an odious part of the season that yearly, road users who had been accustomed to the usually easy-flowing ply on eastern roads tend to dread going out with their vehicles during the period. The thousands of God-knows-from-where-they-come state-of-the-art new cars that arrive the region during the season with returnees from Igbo Diaspora tend to compound the traffic woes.
Thusly, they go a long way to overwhelm the roads with spectacle, they distract the road users especially women and youngsters and charge the streets with brash and egotic drivers who equally care just a bit or not about sanity in driving.
But the sagging boys in jeans trousers and designer shirts and their enticing flashy cars are not really the major problems. They only add to the glamour and memorable tales of the season. More critical contributors to the development are the slim roads which are further narrowed by deep encroachment of roadside activities and the mode of usage of the passage ways wherein nobody appears concerned of the public’s good as everybody appears very eager to get to one event venue or the other or pressed for time.
In the hurry, distracting dazzles, buzz and frenzy on slim, further narrowed roads, everybody drives into an impasse. Nobody controls. Things degenerate to traffic asphyxiation. Soon the choke turns to stand still particularly in places where nobody controls or obeys the control of movement. And such routes were many during the last Christmas and New Year.
I fell victim, several times if not every day as I spent my Yuletide in the Anambra and Imo state parts of the East. In the afternoon, on Friday, December 28, 2018 while en-route a wedding (that I eventually, missed) in Achina, Aguata local council, Anambra State from Awka, I spent five hours on one spot at the entrance of Nibo Civic Centre in Awka South L.G.A. Despite the long hours spent,
I was not able to get to Amawbia Road Junction, Nibo. Also caught in the same traffic situation was a convoy of over 30 vehicles of Ebonyi State government. Their blaring sirens and scores of cops and soldiers who all alighted to clear the traffic did not achieve a lot. It was terrible and I had to turn back. I thought that was to be my biggest traffic trauma of the season.
The following day, I hit a worse traffic jam in Ihiala, between St. Martin’s Primary School, Odoata and St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, Ihiala along Onitsha – Owerri Road. After escaping through an inside-town diversion, I learnt that the lock down lasted until midnight. For several days after, there were gory traffic jams on the same route.
Commuting to-fro Awka and various parts of Anambra State daily, for work and events during the season was as much a test of wits as it was a feat in Jame Bond driving and adventure in road search. I discovered tens of feeder roads, ‘Apiam Ways’, bye passes in Ihiala, Nnewi, Idemili, Anaocha, Aguata and Awka – all in the bid to beat deadlocked traffic situations. One of those occasions, I met a jam at night in Amichi, Nnewi South, L.G.A. I diverted to a route I thought that I have got used to only to find myself, minutes after, in front of a shrine in a thicket wrapped in by the dark cloak of night. I reversed and continued gambling with pathway options until I got out of the milieu of vehicles.
On Friday, January 4, I spent two hours fora 15 minute journey from Ihiala to Awka Etiti.
During the season, roads in such urban areas as Awka, Owerri, Onitsha, Nnewi, Orlu, Amawbia as well as such suburban towns as Ihiala, Ekwuluobia, Agulu, Ichida, Abatete, Awka Etiti, Nnobi, Neni, among others were overwhelmed by the level of activity on them. Common features of the areas where the traffic build-up were heavy were the confluence of roads, popular markets or motor parks, road circles or roundabouts, bad spots or busy meeting points.
Those factors which in other periods other than the Yuletide never really placed conspicuous burden on commuters on the posed heavy challenges on the usage of the roads this time. To some extent, the situation appears knotty and very tricky to solve given that the features on those parts of the roads have squarely and roundly become part and parcel of the socio-cultural identikits of their host towns. Even the discomforted commuters know it.
Hence finding creative ways of expanding the roads or at least keeping invading street traders (comprising shop owners who greedily extend the frontiers of their space into the roads); opening up more feeder paths into motor-usable roads and constructing bye-passes; quickly filling potholes on those critical parts of the roads; and controlling roadside parking may be worthwhile solutions. Similarly, making some short routes and bye-passes one-way would help.
But very interesting is how active citizenship can help in this matter. The effectiveness of this approach was buttressed this season in Enugwu-ukwu. Hitherto, the short stretch between the Emmanuel Anglican Church and the place popularly known as Ezi Elias or Ezi Okpala Nri on old Enugu – Onitsha Road in Enugwu-ukwu is nightmare for com muters every Christmas and New Year. On December 23, 2017, I spent over three hours on the less than 400 meter-long stretch due to its usual Yuletide traffic jam.
This year, there was nothing like that there. There were some persons of the area who took it upon themselves to enforce order on the route. The success the private citizen volunteers who did that job achieved this season is very remarkable and worthy of honour. One hopes that the initiative continues. But more importantly, the initiative should be adopted in other towns across Igboland during the season.
Their success also indicate that if such agencies as the Nigeria Police Force, Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Anambra Traffic Management Agency (ATMA), puts out more road marshals on the ways (not extorting officials), the level of traffic challenges usually experienced during the Yuletide would drastically minimize.