By McPat Michael Linus
For Ojuelegba aaaa!
For Ojuelegba aaaa!
Moto de come from left
Moto dey come from right
Policeman no de for centre
Na confusion be dat ooo!
In his unmistakable high-octane baritone, Fela, the late Afrobeat legend immortalised on vinyl forever the crazy traffic holdup and general bedlam that was daily staple for motorists and pedestrians in Ojuelegba of the 70s, 80s, 90s and, despite the best efforts of the state government, even today, albeit on fewer days and intensity than obtained in bygone years.
Not many Nigerians would miss the “pafuka na quench” situation of Ojuelegba enough to want it back. But just in case you are the type who gets your buzz or adrenaline flowing from such pressure cookers and you live or visit Abuja, Berger Roundabout, on a ‘good’ day, might just meet your craving for some “confusion break bone” kind of vehicular and pedestrian madness.
Berger Junction one of Abuja’s popular bus stops. It is also notorious for the criminal activities visited daily on unsuspecting commuters, and high-handedness cum extortion by traffic and security personnel, notably policemen, vehicle inspection officers (VIO) and Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) officials. Because Berger, as it is popularly called for short, is a major intersection leading and coming from Area 1, Wuse, Utako and satellite areas to the city centre like Gwarinpa, Kubwa, Life Camp, Mpape and Zuba, vehicular traffic is heavy at Berger in daytime, especially as residents go and return from work in Abuja City.
Before the authorities woke up to their duty in recent years, Berger was a nightmare to residents who went through the area. A lot has change in this huge cauldron of vast space and network of fine roads and greenery. I recall with great nostalgia when I newly relocated to the city in the late 90s. Then, Berger was filled with all sort of miscreants and hawkers. If you are a visitor to the city and happened to find yourself around this vicinity either to board a bus to any of the satellite town or simply taking a stroll you’ll have to be extra-vigilant. Otherwise, well, will be unwise, really!
I won’t forget in a hurry the day I was caught napping. On that fateful day, I went shopping for Okrika – used cloths – in Berger, as the area was also famous for being an illegal market where many Abuja residents shop on their way to or from work. Unknown to me, someone’s eyes had spotted the wallet in my back pocket while I was busy going about in this illegal used cloths market. The pickpocket made the move pretending to be a passenger as I rushed for a bus. I did not notice that my wallet was gone until the bus conductor asked for my fare!
Berger was also an infamous hunting ground for smartly dressed fraudsters or 419ners and allied confidence men and women with their yarns of being returnees from Europe or America whose ‘consignment’ have been seized by the Customs service, or have forex but need someone familiar with the exchange rate to help them out, only to dupe you of your money if you were greedy enough to bite the bait.
While an increase in security around Berger and unrelenting raid on miscreants and street traders by the security forces has largely sanitise the area, petty crimes like pickpocketing and bag snatching, even the 419 stories, still occur in Berger, especially at dawn and the evenings. To be sure, eternal vigilance must be your watchword if you find yourself in Berger Roundabout at any time of the day. These criminal elements smartly select their prey and track you for minutes before they finally approach you, nicely. They may start by asking of a non-existent address. Beware, soul brother! A single act of kindness or naivety could just land you in financial trouble. Lest I forget, they always come in pair or trio, with the other con artists coming to you minutes after the first has got you interested and may have even left you.
In particular, ladies must be wary of bag snatchers in Berger each time you pass through the area, especially at dawn and in the evening. The bag snatchers’ modus operandi is to simply snatch a bag and run into nearby shady, leafy surroundings, leaving their victims wailing uncontrollably.
While the street urchins and freelance Agbero (boys and men who fill your private or commercial vehicle with passengers for a fixed fee), today as I walk through the same area, I can see a magnificent flyover, a regal roundabout, beautiful flowers, functional – though not always – streetlights and good gardens. I can’t believe it is the same Berger junction I knew years back. On a good day, the serenity of the surrounding gardens is breath-taking. The inevitable traffic bottleneck is usually under control, except during rush hours and when the illegal evening market, which thrives still, is in full swing when personnel of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB), VIO, FRSC and others had closed for the day. Then would chaos descend on Berger and everyone, especially drivers, even passengers, go gaga with impunity. They stop in the middle of the road loading and off-loading passengers, thereby causing a nightmarish gridlock. Hawkers also take over the walkways and street traders hit the clogged roads to make brisk business, all contributing to the confusion.
Occasionally, a patrol vehicle of security men come in to restore order or take advantage of the situation to make money by either demanding a fixed amount, usually between N100 and N500, or impound your obstructive vehicle for ‘settlement’, which could set the caught motorist back to the tune of between N5,000 and N20,000.
While not exactly a tourist attraction per se, Berger Junction is an area worthy of your visit in Abuja – if you are interested in a study of controlled, and sometimes uncontrollable, chaos!