WARRI: A DYING MEGA CITY by Roli Maye Afinotan

I am a Warri girl from Delta State. Born and bred but now fled the town in part. The most progressive I remember Warri being was when I was 6 years old.

At 6, I hadn't traveled much, only occasional trips with my family to Lagos and back. Lagos did not seem like wonderland to me. I didn't marvel at the place beyond its sheer population and racing hawkers. I was a sheltered child, so I didn't go out much either. The times I did on my way to and from school, and on Sundays to and from church, I saw the town. I saw structures - hospitals that were famous for different specialties, supermarkets that would make Shoprite feel small, street carnivals that made me see canoes and boats row on land.

Sitting on my dad's shoulders to get a good view of the carnival, I asked him how it was possible for boats to move on land, he indulged me like parents of nowadays do about Santa and tooth fairies. I see now that he wanted me to retain the magic of the moment - which was a good thing because that was the last time Warri ever had such magnificent carnival.

Warri was a place to envy. The few times night would meet me and my brother returning home in the back seat of my father's car, the street lights shined.

I used to hear my dad talk of Warri club and cinema house. I didn't know what happened in those places. Considering I used to heap loads of questions on my dad about anything that eluded my understanding, I somehow knew not to ask about them. Regardless, I was especially happy whenever he mentioned those places because it meant my brother and I get to eat suya if we were somehow able to resist our drooping eyes before the night was over.

My younger brother and I attended a private primary school, while my cousins who were a bit older, with one younger than my brother attended a public school. I remember swapping books with them as they handed theirs to me, and I to their youngest one in preparation for the next learning session. We leveled out in academic performance. Whatever difference there was in our academic output wasn't by virtue of the type of school we attended.

The town bustled with the sort of liveliness you would find in modern Lekki in Lagos. It bustled with the promises of a town that would birth a Federal University, after all, there were oil companies beyond the count of your fingers showing off that it was indeed an oil city. Most of them had filling stations here and there about town as proof of their presence. I remember Texaco at Deco road, with its peculiar star emblem synonymous with Texas in the United States, standing proud and tall at the mouth of the filling station. I would later grow up to learn that 'Texaco' was in fact, an abbreviation for 'Texas Company'. There were also Agip, Elf, Shell. We also had a massive Steel producing company in the same town. So what was too much to expect? To hope for? Everyone seemed happy, at least from the eyes of a child.

As I grew older, Warri did too. And with age comes experiences laced with crankiness. Warri became that town whose ground demanded blood. People clashed, blades clanged, heads rolled and blood flowed. Bullets flew and landed everywhere, leaving evidences on walls, and in bodies that would not be identified in a while because their loved ones feared to join them too soon. Some lucky ones lived to tell the tale. There were also stories of those whose bodies were proof against bullets and blades. They now live as war heroes, telling tales of war they fought with everything including things unseen. They boast of how they saved the town. Little did they know that Warri died before they fought. Whatever is left of the space bearing its name is just a shell. It is a shell, a skeleton with hollow eyes. Warri is now, just bones.


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