“Sheri, Oya je a lo o. Let’s go, it’s time”. When Madam Toke said these words that faithful morning, little did Sheri know how drastically her life would change before the end of the day. It was three in the morning and as usual, Madam Toke and Sheri were on their way to one of the numerous oil depots in Apapa to buy fuel at a cheaper rate (almost half the rates Filling stations sell) which they’d resell on the black market at higher rates. It is good business as already Madam Toke is the number one go-to person for illicit fuel business in the area.
As the two join a commercial bus via the Ijesha route from their Ojuelegba home heading towards Tincan, one could see the silhouette of other passengers already on the bus in the wake of the early morning darkness. Life in Lagos, especially Apapa could drive one to madness you see. From the gridlock of traffic, to people angry at the trekking exercises they were forced to embark upon as the gridlock had blocked the inflow of vehicles that would commute them from their homes to their various work places, to frustrated drivers resigned to leave their cars in the gridlock as it didn’t appear the vehicles would be leaving the spot within the next few days, it is no wonder Apapa had come to be known as the Craze centre of Lagos.
This was one of those mornings too. Madam Toke, with Sheri in tow, didn’t bother crossing to the other side of the road on getting to Ijesha express. What was the point anyway? They’d probably join the morning crowd in the Trek from Second Rainbow to Mile 2, which will leave them fagged out by the time they got to the loading tanks. They couldn’t afford that today. So instead, they joined a bus heading to Wharf-Coconut on their side of the road. It was one-way but who cares? Even the Government seemed to have looked the other way when it came to the happenings in and around Apapa. There were trucks everywhere; oil tankers, freight containers, etc. No thanks to the Apapa Port, two major food Mills, Tincan Port, Loading oil Tanks, all located in the area. Too much trouble, too much red tape, the Government figured. Besides, the more the woes on the road, the more money they made. So, they let Apapa thrive in its hells.
Soon the bus moved, along with other already growing emboldened drivers taking one-way, towards Tincan. Occasionally one could hear the sleep-laden voice of the conductor as he calls for passengers who may be heading that way. Getting to Warehouse, Madam Toke jolts Sheri awake as she could see other Black marketers alighting from buses ahead, some already making their way to the loading station. Sheri had fallen asleep on the bus, figuring she could catch a quick nap before they got to Kapithal Oil, where they would be loading for the day. As they alighted, Madam Toke told Sheri to go ahead while she had a quick word with Musa. Musa was one of the merchants at the station and if one wanted to get an even better deal with any kind of gasoline product, Musa was the man to meet.
It was almost 4:30am. Sheri took all the Jerry cans, mostly 25 and 50-litre kegs held together by a single rope and headed for the gates of Kapithal Oil. Briskly she walked while loosening her head-tie, using it to shield her face. It was still dark no doubt, but not wanting Nnamdi who seemed to have a tracking device on her to know she was at the depot that morning, she had to remain covered. Nnamdi always knew when she was around as somehow, even when she didn’t let him know she would be at the depot, their paths would cross. The night before, he had called her mobile to inquire if she’d be around the next day, she had said no. She needed to sort some things out in her head. Things like how to tell Madam Toke about her relationship with Nnamdi. She was Yoruba and he was an Easterner and Madam Toke being her formal guardian, had to approve of the relationship so she can pave the way for Nnamdi’s acceptance by Sheri’s parents. But then everyone knew how much hatred Madam Toke had for Easterners and no matter how kind and honest an Easterner was, Madam Toke could never like one.This was what occupied Sheri’s mind.
Soon she was at the station. She realized a lot of marketers were already on ground. “These people never sleep”, she mused. She put the kegs on the ground and used one as stool as she joined the queue. Just then, her phone rang. Phone calls were frowned at the stations. In fact it was one of the first things the buyers were asked to not do. As such, everyone usually had their phones off upon entry. She glanced at the phone and realized it was Nnamdi. She simply silenced the phone. Ending the call would arouse suspicion. Her phone rang twice more; she just ignored and allowed her thoughts travel.
By 5:30am, it was almost her turn and Madam Toke hadn’t come to join her. She wasn’t worried as this was the norm with Madam Toke; leaving her to do all the hustling and coming to join her when all the kegs had been filled and it was time to leave. She was jolted out of her reverie by the sudden rise in voices around her. The two people in front of her were arguing hotly. Someone had come from the back of the queue to get fuel and bribed the man fuelling black marketers to let him. This generated the argument. Before long, everyone was throwing in their own jabs, word blows of anything and everything they could make out of the original culprits. Usually these kinds of things ended in some home and away goals and eventually fizzled out a short while later with sighs and hisses acting as the finale. However, the opposite was the case today; everyone took the insults personally.
Just then, someone threw the first blow. Soon, blows flew in from everywhere like people donating their share to the blows so they could later say, theirs were some of the blows; well-delivered too. Sheri quickly dodged one as it aimed for her face. Before she could bring herself to step back from it all, after she realized she was at the centre of it, another blow hit her square in the face. She held her face in pain, crying at the suddenness and force of that one blow. She noticed someone behind pick her up. She struggled to free herself from this new enemy she couldn’t picture when Nnamdi spoke from behind her. She realized it was Nnamdi. Again, he had found her. He quickly nudged her up, telling her if they didn’t get out of there right then, they’d never make it out.
Later, reports would have it that Apapa was just a place sitting on the proverbial keg of gunpowder and what happened was bound to happen sooner or later. Some would say its own hell sucked it in. Others would simply associate what happened to societal neglect. Whatever it was, no one could be sure. However, one thing was certain; Apapa finally got the attention it once begged for. Its ruins would later be documented on camera by Cable News, for the world to supply their fair shares of Ooohs, Aaahs and of course, petitions from several civil society groups to the Federal Government. But by then, nothing could be done. It would make for a great topic for discussion later on in subsequent government administrations.
No one survived the explosion.