By Tony Afejuku
First Published in The Guardian Newspapers September 2019 | 3:22 am
Ouagadougou is the capital of Burkina Faso once upon a time called the Republic of Upper Volta.
It used to be a colony of France (from 1896 to 1960), and up to now France still has more than a kind of huge political, economic, and cultural control over this tiny French West African country. I think it was the revolutionary regime of the late Thomas Isidore Noel Sankara, the Marxist and pan-African president of the minute land-locked country from 1983 to 1987 but born on 21st December 1949 and died through assassination on 15th October 1987) that renamed the country: “Land of Upright Men” or ”Land of Incorruptible People” (Burkina Faso).
Ouagadougou often called Ouaga in its shortened form is also called Vagaga and Wagadugu respectively. Its inhabitants are known as Ouagalais. I always wonder why Thomas Sankara, “Africa’s Che Guevara,” did not rename the city. I also always wonder why the reactionary Captain Blaise Compaore, Sankara’s friend, who murdered him for the sake of his presidential office, did not return Burkina Faso to its original name.
What has this huge introduction got to do with the subject of this column today? Are Governors Obaseki and Okowa of Edo State and Delta State respectively Marxist revolutionaries and pan-Africanists in the mold of Thomas Sankara? Are they as charismatic and iconic figures of our presidential and gubernatorial democracy as Thomas Sankara was of presidential revolution as his supporters within and outside Burkina Faso rightly viewed and saw him? These are not questions meant for our readers to answer because they are as straight-forward as any straight-forward question can be. What do I mean? Exactly what I mean.
By the way, General Muhammadu Buhari, our president of no revolutionary colour and fervour who is very much unlike Thomas Sankara of Ouagadougou just returned from Ouagadougou where he went to attend an ECOWAS Summit. Did he remember the young military officer, a straight, upright man of impeccable integrity in a bent, sinful and corrupt world in his short visit? Did GMB bring anything of value from his recent visit to Ouagadougou? If he remembered Thomas Sankara in Ouagadougou he must let us see the evidence in the conduct of his presidency henceforth. If not, Ouagadougou must remain in the creative imaginations of some of us as back-stabber and killer Captain Blaise Campaore’s Ouagadougou – that is, the back-stabber and killer’s place of gluttonous ambition.
Now, in my very recent visit to Sapele to partake in a meeting with some Grade A indigenes, brought-ups and citizens of Papa’s Land, as chaps from there call their marvellous, wondrous city, ‘Ouagadougou’ cropped up as a new Sapele slang, or better, as a new Sapele idiom or vocabulary. And I must not hesitate to impress it upon you that in my series of journeys within and outside our country I have not come across men and women who coin, who use and manipulate terms as Saferians (and Waferians) do. What does ‘Ouagadougou’ mean as a new term employed by Saferians, who are members of Sapele Boys’ Club (SBC)? And where do Governors Obaseki and Okowa come into the picture? I must tell you as you dearly submit your attention to my submission here.
A Saferian and a member of SBC had just returned from a trip to Los Angeles, California, U.S.A. He had informed several friends and SBC chums when he arrived in Lasgidi, that is, Lagos that he was on his way to Papa’s land by air via Benin City Airport. He gave his estimated time of arrival, which was 12:30 p.m. or so in Benin where he would embark on the journey to his final destination by an airport taxi. His pals and chums waited and waited for him in Papa’s land well beyond his expected arrival-time of 2:30 p.m. latest after airport arrival luggage formalities. Then one of them phoned him asking him where he was and what had gone amiss. He was in a horrific jam, a horrific traffic-jam that compelled him to forget that he even had a phone. This is not an exaggeration. Where was he really? He was just somewhere immediately after the Benin by-pass, which he got to around 1:00 p.m. But he simply told his pals that he was holed up in ‘Ouagadougou.’ “Ouagadougou”? His pals and chums asked and exclaimed at the same time.
“Yes, Ouagadougou, I’m in Ouagadougou – Edo State’s Governor Obaseki’s Ouagadougou; a hell of a place.” Of course, he was referring to that terribly horrifying and horrifyingly terrible portion of the Benin-Sapele highway around Oghehe or so, where there is a gully that is more than a gully that has heaps of refuse as neighbours. There is another rottenly bad spot around RCC now Dangote Junction on the same Benin-Sapele highway. If and when vehicles are held up there as well as on the earlier mentioned place, motorists must invoke all the names of the gods they know before succour will come their way after useless and hopeless hours of delay. Anybody holed up in either of these places is in Ouagadougou.
As a matter of fact, the Ologbo stretch of the Benin-Sapele highway up to Koko Junction in Delta State also constitutes travellers’ Ouagadougou nightmare. The stretch on the Sapele-Warri highway around Ovuorie or so village constitutes what Saferians also now call Governor Okowa’s Ouagadougou. This portion of the highway is now cut or demarcated into two. Perhaps the word “sliced” is the right term to use.
To get to Warri from Sapele or Benin and to get to Sapele or Benin from Warri one must do a detour, a bitter-go-round drive and this after motorists would have spent long hours on the spot. By the way, the Papa’s land returnee from Los Angeles, who invented the Ouagadougou idiom to describe his Benin travail, did not get to Sapele until 10:30 p.m.
Of course, I tried in vain to put up a vigorous defence for Governors Obaseki and Okowa. My argument was (and still is) that the notorious Ouagadougou is a federal highway done poorly by corrupt contractors and their fellow collaborators in the art and act of graft. But the counter I got was that the two governors should combat the federal might as road revolutionaries, as Thomas Sankara and Guevara of Edo and Delta highways.
After all, citizens and indigenes of Bendel are owners of the highways, and the two governors must not give the people the impression that they are administrative slackers in power, authority and democratic government where the will, wile and tricks of a dictatorial central government must over-ride the wishes of their people. They must vigorously, rebelliously and revolutionarily defend and protect the welfare and well-being of their people. All Ouagadougou gullies must cease to be in Edo and Delta States.
But why the ‘Ouagadougou’ coinage? The name is an ugly, heavy, jaw-breaking one to pronounce. It rightly depicts the ugly condition of our highways – from Benin to Sapele/Warri, Benin to Auchi and from Benin to Asaba and other highways in our region.
Day by day the gullies worsen, and their gluttony never emaciates. The war against Ouagadougou is a war that we must win. Our two governors must lead the way, and be our Thomas Sankara and Che Guevara of good roads and un-gluttonous highways. We appeal to them to reject outright the gulosity of all our badly and poorly done roads and highways. Let the war start now. And when the wet season is over we must be fully ready for the combat. Fail us not O Governors!
Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.