As part of the team assigned to carry out spot checking on the Health and Nutritional Survey in Bayelsa State, I was expected to go to some of the riverine areas to carry out the exercise. Having never had any form of experience in MARINE transport in my life, I was naturally filled with anxiety and trepidation. More so, when the areas involved are hotbeds of militancy and kidnappings and piracy. I was in a dilemma; should I proceed or should I explain it off? I approached the State Coordinator for guidance. She saw through my fears and agreed to accompany me on the journey along with two other personnel that was conversant with the riverine area.
We planned the journey and fixed a date. Unfortunately, because of the paucity of the to and fro movement to these areas and the risk of piracy, the boats convey passengers between 12 – 4pm. That puts the person going for an official duty to these areas in a disadvantage – you cannot go and come back that day to Yenagoa except you go on chartered boat. Again, you can’t think of lodging in a hotel there, as none exists. With these facts on ground, we had to make arrangements to charter a boat to these places – Eniware in Southern Ijaw LGA and Oligoghe in Ogbia LGA.
The boat we chartered had wooden chairs for passengers to sit. As we took off from the Saliwa jetty in Yenagoa – the 4 of us -, I was again filled with fear, moving through such a large body of water in an open boat. At this stage, it was now the case of ‘no retreat, no surrender’. I was scared that I thought about my family and about my lovely wife. I pondered; “if anything goes wrong in this water, will I come out alive, knowing fully well I cannot swim?” “How will it be explained?” A lot of crazy thoughts raced through my mind in a flash. I had to console myself with some bible passages like the one that says, “When you pass through the waters, it shall not overflow you” and others. I believed those scriptures more than ever before and just trusted God; I had no other option.
Meanwhile, as I was going through all these, my co-travelers seemed to be at ease. They were definitely on a different tangent; being that they grew up in the riverine areas, can swim and have traversed this water many times. In short they have seen it all. As the boat raced through the maze of water with its concomitant turbulence and the captain seemed unrelenting in his drive, I began to relax. For the first time, I began to notice the trees, the shrubs and the different vegetations on the creeks. I saw some boats being paddled. I saw some abandoned boats in the water. I even saw a boat stationary with passengers on it. On enquiry, I was informed that the boat developed fault in the water. The downside of it is that the passengers cannot disembark until another boat comes to the rescue. I felt for them but also prayed that our boat will not do the same.
I tried taking a selfie despite the turbulence. After more than an hour and half on water, we arrived at our destination in Southern Ijaw. There was a job to do in this faraway community. The initial feeling of trepidation gave way to a feeling of dejavu. There was now a sense of urgency. Then the job was done. Having marked our time here we had to proceed again on water to Elolighe in Ogbia.
The hour travel was uneventful except for the turnings in the creeks and when our boat thrusted on what appeared to be a hard object.rock. We were almost thrown into the water. However, we arrived in this second community and the job was also done with a sense of urgency. As we were rounding up, the rain started but thank God we have done most of the jobs. However, I was again agitated. Thinking about the journey back to Yenagoa in the rain, My God. ‘Rain, why now’? My entourage suggested we wait for the rain to subside before embarking on the return journey. We waited and when it abated, we started sailing. This it seemed the captain was focused on getting to Yenagoa before dark.
The initial ease and joviality that I noticed in him on the initial journey has given way to frowns. But we must get back quickly. Even my colleagues were also a bit agitated. They were more concerned with the pirates that litter the water ways and how we must avoid them by all means.
And so the return journey started. It was going smoothly until the rain met us again on water. Pronto! The captain whisked out a tarpaulin with which we covered ourselves; the four of us, while he was beaten by the rain. I was informed that it was the usual practice so as not to hamper his view. We pulled the tarpaulin over us and sat its edges to prevent it from being blown away by the wind. After some time the rain abated and we quickly pulled out the tarpaulin to get a breath of fresh air.
Finally, we arrived at Yenagoa before dark to the glory of God. The job has been done in these areas. I went. I saw. I did the job and arrived safely. To God alone be all the glory