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E-x-o-d-u-s! 5 million Igbo go home
By OLUWATOYIN AKINOLA, BOLATITO ADEBAYO & IKENNA OTISI
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Christmas is here and the rush back to the home steads is again at its peak. For many Nigerians, especially those from the South East eking out a living in Asia, Europe, America and various parts of Nigeria, there is no place like home. Thus it is not surprising that the airports and bus terminals are overflowing with passengers.
Travelling home at this time is a yearly ritual, especially for the Igbo, no matter their location in any part of the globe. But this year, an estimated five million Igbo are said to be in the frenetic rush out of the places where they reside, like the Israelites in exodus.
Reports say close to one million of them are on their way home to Nigeria from the Americas and Europe due to the biting effects of the global meltdown on the economies of countries in those continents. Most of them have vowed never to return. Like the proverbial prodigal son, they are prepared to face the shame back home than remain in a foreign land where they could barely make ends meet.
For those traveling home from other parts of the country, their reasons range from family reunion, wedding ceremonies, cultural festivals to even memorial services. It could also be ‘settlement’ time for ‘boys’ who had served their masters for some years.
Interestingly, passengers appear not to be deterred by the high transport fares or the bad state of the roads. Unlike last year when the former Minister of Transportation, Mrs Diezani Allison-Madueke, wept during a visit to the Ore-Benin highway and got the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to fix the terribly bad portions, there is no such green light this time around. Passengers should be ready again for longer hours and stressful journey and be prepared to sleep on the road. The federal highways to the east are simply impassable.
Sunday Sun investigation at the Lagos Airport revealed that virtually all the airlines plying the South East route have fully booked flights till the end of the year. For instance, the Media Relations Officer at Aero Contractors, Mr Segun Medubi, confirmed that from December 20, all the flights from Lagos to Owerri and Enugu have been fully booked.
“It is usually peak period at this time, especially for those coming from outside the country. They are just heading eastward. The fights are fully booked from December 20. By 23rd, it is almost certain there would be no space except when a passenger doesn’t show up,” he said.
Chanchangi Airline has already begun additional flights on the Owerri route.
“We are adding more flights from December 26 to cope with the high turnout of passengers on that route. It is usually like this at this time of the year and we are prepared for the pressure,” said a ticketing officer at the airline’s office at the old terminal of the Murtala Mohammed Airport.
For the newest entrant in the business, Afrijet Airline, business has been encouraging and the pressure is mounting, an official informed.
“We recently had to cancel our Owerri flights because the aircraft’s delayed in returning from Yola and Maiduguri. But we shall surely resume the daily to Owerri. There is no fixed schedule for Enugu for now till next week,” he said.
At VirginNigeria, business is good as always, says the supervisor at MMA2, who preferred anonymity.
“Patronage has always been good for us. People are still flying and there is no pressure,” she said confidently.
The advertised fare for most of the airlines stood at N16,000 to Owerri and Enugu for economy class. For business class, the fares are higher.
At MMA2, the queues were longer at the South East-bound counters of the airlines and most of the passengers were returning home from abroad.
The situation is not different at some of the motor parks and luxury bus terminals visited, with the transporters and passengers offering different reasons for the rush.
At the Jibowu Motor Park in Yaba, Emeka Obioluka, a staff of The Young Shall Grow Transport, defended the new fare: “The fare is not really high compared to what it was before. There are only slight adjustments. Before it was N2600 but now its N3,000 for the small buses while for the big buses, the fare was N2300 but now N2600.”
He confirmed that there had been a high passenger turnout compared to other years.
At Chisco Motors, the manager declined comments but some of the passengers told our reporter that they were traveling because of the season and were not bothered about the fare hike.
Chike, a traveler, said: “Well, at a time like this, we all know that the fare would go up but it is still okay.”
At CY Motors, Maza Maza, Suleiman Daniel also gave reasons for the higher fare. “Aside the Christmas season, many people think we just increase the fare. But when we take people to the east, we hardly get passengers back to Lagos as a lot of people are leaving Lagos. So we try and balance the situation to make up for the empty buses we will be bringing back.”
Although the company’s fare to the east was N3,100, a driver with Dan Dollar Motors, Basil Ike, hinted that it might be increased.
“When we have too many passengers, it would surely affect our fare. From December 20, we will have more people traveling and to convey them might be a challenge to us.”
Asked if they are now smiling to the banks, he replied: “If you say we are making profit now, what about when we are coming back with empty buses? The only time we will make our money back is when the people are returning. But now, everyone is leaving for the east and if we are coming back and get people to pay us even N1500, we will be very happy.”
An Enugu-bound passenger, Mr Osita Agwu, who spoke to Sunday Sun at The Young Shall Grow Transport at Maza Maza, said the simple reason for high passenger traffic was because most Igbo families meet at this time of the year.
“If you travel in January, you won’t see much people there. It is like a family get-together for the Igbo people. They get together for meetings, weddings, festivals and almost everything happen within this period.
“For me, we are celebrating the Ofalla festival, one of the biggest festivals in Enugu and people are coming from abroad and all parts of the country. So it is like a rallying point and the best time to celebrate.”
For Frank Eze, who was on his way to Onitsha, “I’m traveling because my master wants to settle me after seven good years of serving at the Alaba International Market. I’m also going to see my parents, brothers and uncles I left seven years ago. It is going to be a wonderful experience and my parents will be happy that their first son is about becoming an importer.”