Ogbuagu Anikwe

Reflecting on our nation’s unending cycle of doom reminds me of an incident that happened around 2.00 a.m. on 14 November 2021. I woke up when I heard noises from outside my hotel room door at a Southeast state capital. A gruff voice was complaining that the key to my room was not working. Shortly after, the hotel receptionist joined gruff voice to try the key. I imagined hearing two other voices beside gruff voice.

As you would expect, my heart began pounding. The incident at Ile Ife a few months before flashed through my mind. You remember the story of a postgraduate student found dead and buried in a shallow grave a few days after checking in at a hotel in the ancient city? The hotel initially pretended that they did not know him as a guest. Unfortunately, the victim had taken steps to wire his check-in documentation to his wife. Presented with incontrovertible evidence, the Nigerian system sprang to the rescue. An attempt is on to exonerate the hotel owner from complicity in what looks like ritual murder.

When therefore I woke up to noises outside my door, fear naturally kicked in. What to do? I looked for possible escape routes in the room but decided against all. Instead, I braved it by quickly turning the keys on and violently jerking open my door. Three men and a lady, the receptionist, starred at me.

The suddenness of my bold move momentarily shocked and paralyzed them. In that split second of confrontation I noted that they had no weapons. No guns, no knives, and no clubs that I could see. My fear waned a bit.

“Yes?” I inquired as calmly as I could, looking disdainfully at each person in turn. I half expected the men to rush me any moment, but they held back. They just stood there in shock at my audacity and seeming bravery.

It was the receptionist that found her voice first.

“Sir, you got that toothpaste you asked for?” she asked.

“What has that got to do with you trying to force open my door in the middle of the night?” I shouted. I did it in hopes that it was loud enough to wake up other guests.

“What are you people looking for in my room at this time of the night?” I shouted again.

The three men quickly withdrew from the scene, leaving me alone with the receptionist.

“Please I’m sorry sir. I didn’t remember someone is in the room”, she said.

I went to great lengths to prove to her that she was telling lies. Then I asked again why she brought strangers to my room in the middle of the night. She continued to stammer incoherent excuses until I stopped her with a wave of the hand.

“You guys are lucky.” I injected a quiet menace to the words. And then, I waved her away.

She was shivering as she left.

Sleep subsequently fled from my eyes. Three hours later, on my way out, she disappeared from the frontdesk. Two other guests waited to check out and grumbled loudly. She refused to budge from wherever she was hiding. I simply dropped their key on the reception table and walked away.

The night before, I got into the city late and decided to book my trip for Abuja the following day before finding a hotel for the night. My favorite transport company had their buses and taxis fully booked. One of the tellers suggested that they could use me to replace habitually late passengers if I came in early. The company warns passengers to arrive early or risk missing the bus.

I became aware of how the midnight plot was conceived when I returned to the station that morning. I carelessly discussed with bus drivers about my plans, including needing a decent hotel nearby to sleep. When they asked me which hotel, I told them I had no preference other than decent. So, they decided to assist me. Two drivers initially took me in their bus to a place that was supposed to be a hotel. The place looked dark and desolate. Then they turned back and deposited me in a hotel on a street behind their bus station, the same place where the midnight visitors came calling in the wee hours.

How did I know? I read the shock on the drivers’ faces when I showed up at their station that morning. It took them almost a minute to recover from the shock of seeing me. Then they quickly composed themselves and came to greet and ask me how the night was. So, they never expected to see me alive this morning, I wondered. Fear returned, fear of what could have happened in the wee hours from noisemakers outside my hotel room door.

All through the journey back to Abuja, my mind went through all the foolish steps I took on the journey.

The biggest mistake was not booking a hotel room online when I decided to sleep over. They welcomed me as a total stranger rather than a guest with international credentials. No one would have come knocking on my door, if I had “insured” my arrival through any of the international hotel booking sites.

I was also careless with the check-in process. The receptionist insisted on cash payment. After paying, she promised to bring the receipts to my room after checking in another guest standing behind me. She never did. In that moment, I forgot my original plan to immediately snap the hotel receipt before her and make a show of sending it to my wife. I also forgot to call my wife before the receptionist to tell her the room number assigned to me.

The third mistake I made was to carelessly discuss with bus drivers about my situation for that night. My carelessness was most unforgiveable. I had in my hands a phone that could have shown me all hotels nearby. There were also  private taxis and commercial tricycles aka keke that could have taken me to any hotel I named from the list. Instead, I allowed bus drivers take me on a journey that could have ended in grief for my family.

My singular luck was that the hotel door had an old-fashioned key lock. So, after locking myself in, I twisted the key sideways to ensure that no outside key could fit in to open the door. This was what sowed frustration as they tried to open the door. And led to the noises that woke me up, otherwise I could have woken up after they burst through.

One thing puzzled me though. Up until this moment, I have not figured out why my opening the door prevented them from carrying out whatever were their plans. Could it be that they saw I was ready to provoke an altercation that rouses other sleeping guests? The way our country is, majority of those guests would have crouched in their rooms, listening to the din with hearts pounding. Only a few would brave it to investigate or help.

Let’s just say that it was grace that saved me that night.

An unending cycle of doom

I recalled this incident last week following news of reported attempts by terrorists to waylay a plane about to taxi off at the Kaduna Airport. My mind also went back to it two days ago following successful bombing and interception of a Kaduna-bound train by terrorists. Some passengers died and others were abducted. With these two incidents, Nigeria has now completed an unending cycle of doom. Before now, roads were the most dangerous means of travel, thanks to highway bandits and kidnappers. Each day, they invent creative tactics to intercept and abduct innocent travelers for ransom. Those that survive the highway siege still worry about their safety in hotels. The dangers are no less severe on city streets.

The tragedy of our state of insecurity is that our compatriots continue to live a lie. In the southeast, everyone knows that it is a risk to do business on Mondays. Those who venture outside were either killed or maimed. The miscreants routinely destroy property. Is the rest of the country safer? Everyday has become a challenge to common people who work hard to make ends meet. Everyone is tired of blaming government over the halo of insecurity hanging over the nation.

Why is this a tragedy? The people who run the governments – and who are directly responsible for the mess we are in – have found the formula to keep things the way they are. They are currently seducing us  to make a seamless transition to a worse state of affairs. After massively failing to secure us, and mindlessly looting the treasury, and messing up the economy, they are set to “anoint” successors to continue the aggravation. At states and federal levels, they play on our emotions, evoking divisive rhetoric. Zoning, power rotation, religious and ethnic fidelity take the place of party platforms and candidate blueprint to take us out of the woods. They come from a familiar playbook that lulls citizens from asking hard questions.

What plans do political aspirants – and future candidates – have to rescue Nigeria from the insecurity and economic swamp in which we find ourselves?

There are no answers. Soon enough, we shall see anointed candidates and their godfathers graduate to flashing Naira, dollars, food and clothes to distract poor people from recognizing them for who they truly are. They are the ogres, not the highway bandits and kidnappers. Their actions and inactions directly create the situation that drive desperate people to the highways to rob and steal. With our intellectuals and the mass media reporting Elections 2023 like a horse race, I see no hope. We shall continue in our induced sleep until 29 May 2023 when another set of the thieving elite class takes office nationwide.  And then, Nigeria will enter a new phase in her unending cycle of doom, with misery and hardship foretold.

Ogbuagu Anikwe – An unending cycle of doom