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From Accra to Abuja and back by road

BY: George Ernest Asare
  Some Ghanaian fans and an official from the International Hockey Federation at the Abuja national stadium during the 2018 ACCC hockey tournament
Some Ghanaian fans and an official from the International Hockey Federation at the Abuja national stadium during the 2018 ACCC hockey tournament

Around 11.30 am on Sunday, December 23, 2018, a message popped up on my phone.

It was from the editor of Graphic Sports hinting that all stories for the December 24 edition of the paper and that of Daily Graphic should be submitted.

We had by then travelled non-stop for four hours from Abuja, heading towards Lagos where we were to change vehicles to continue our journey to Accra.

Though we arrived at the Abuja transport yard at 5am that day, we set off at 7.30am .

Prior to that, we had been hinted that we would converge on the transport yard at 4am to ensure that we left early for Lagos.

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We were 13 in number, and had travelled from Accra to Abuja by road to be part of the 2018 Africa Cup for Club Championships (ACCC) hockey tournament.

Participating teams

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Four teams from Ghana - Exchequers of Bank of Ghana, Royal Men of Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) and their female counterparts, Royal Ladies, as well as Police Ladies - were teams from Ghana that ignited the Abuja national Sports Stadium with fireworks between December 15 and 22.

Like Ghana, Nigeria also presented two male and two female teams--Delta Stars and Kada Stars from the male side, and Delta Queens and Kada Queens from the female side.

Egypt, who had always been a thorn in the flesh of Ghanaian teams, presented two teams as usual - El Sharkia who defeated Royal Men in the grand finale to retain the ACCC trophy they won in Accra in 2017 and Eastern Company who defeated Exchequers in the third place match to win the bronze medal.

Kenya also presented two female teams - Telkom Orange who defied all odds to beat dethroned champions Royal Ladies in the grand finale to win the gold medal, and United States International University (USIU) who failed to wrest the bronze medals from Police Ladies.

Grand finale

A total of six matches were played during the grand finale of the tournament on Saturday, December 22, 2018, and as one of the sports journalists who doubled as a photo journalist covering the tournament, I had to be on my feet from 7am when the first match got underway until 7.30 pm when the last medal was presented to the last player who won a medal.

With Ghanaian teams playing at almost each moment in the medal zone, it was impossible to take a bite at anything to kill my hunger, let alone sip any liquid to quench my thirst.

I was, therefore, quite exhausted when everything was over and thought I could relax a little at the hotel to regain my strength.

However, the announcement that we would leave at 4am the following day meant we needed to put things together to beat the time.

Christmas break

Before leaving for the tournament on Thursday, December 13, 2018, there was a notice that the company would break for the Christmas festivities on Friday, December 21, implying that there would be no production prior to Christmas Day.

That was why I was jolted into action moments after my telephone alerted me that I had a job to do in the 13-seater Toyota Hiace minibus that was transporting us to Abuja
Considering our tight schedule during the grand finale, almost all my compatriots were either dozing or snoring in the vehicle that had hit the outskirts of Abuja and accelerating towards the tortuous road to Lagos.

For my part, I had trained myself not to blink an eyelid when travelling either by road or by air.

I had not forgotten my training and was, therefore, enjoying the seemingly unknown environment that swept by at a fast rate as the young driver who we had entrusted our lives to stepped on the accelerator and changed the gears depending on the obstacles ahead.

With the news that stories were needed, I had no choice than to retrieve my tablet, notepad and team sheets from my hand luggage to put something down for the editor whose only interest was the story, irrespective of how it would be generated.

Luggage compartment

Unlike State Transport and VIP buses which have compartments for luggage, the Toyota Hiace had no compartment, so luggage competed for space with passengers on board.

With little or no space to stretch even the hand, it was hectic to put letters into words to form sentences as the bus dodged potholes, overtook slow-moving vehicles and sped away from Abuja.

From Accra to Abuja, we experienced a similar situation during the 23-hour ride.

However, with no story to write,I managed to relax and fed my eye as the highway from Accra merged with those in Lome, Cotonou and Abuja through Lagos.

After writing two separate stories on the final matches for Graphic Sports and Daily Graphic, I focused on the scenery along the highway.

Increase your senses

Moments after we left Abuja, a signboard with an inscription - decrease your speed and increase your senses - captured my attention.

Sources have proven that such signboards had been erected at vantage points across Nigeria to educate the citizenry on the need to adhere to road traffic regulations.

Aside from the road signs, volunteers have flooded major highways, not only to enforce road traffic regulations, but also to interact with drivers on road safety activities.

That explains why unlike Ghana where commuters are slaughtered on the road on a daily basis, vehicular accidents in Nigeria have reduced considerably.

Fuel prices

Fuel prices in Nigeria also caught my attention.

At all fuel stations, the price of petrol per litre was 14.50 Naira - which is less than GH¢2.00. In both Cotonou and Lome, prices of fuel were also far lower than what pertained in Ghana.

It is, therefore, ironic that as an oil-producing country like Nigeria, Ghana sells fuel at almost GH¢5.00 a litre.

It is also mind-boggling that Ghana sells fuel at prices far above what exists in non-oil producing countries such as Togo and Benin.

The sector ministry and other stakeholders need to set my mind at ease.

Sanitation

Of equal concern was sanitation.

While the highway along the Lome-Cotonou stretch was very clean, that of the Lagos stretch was not different from Accra, where filth seems to identify the two Anglophone countries.

Just as solid and liquid waste are scattered in the heart of Accra and other suburbs, the situation was not different from Lagos, and as the vehicle headed towards Accra, my thoughts settled on how this social canker can become a thing of the past.

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