The Most Curious Trip to Nigeria
Nigeria is a great country we know. Its greatness does not come only from its population which is the most numerous of Africa. One also has the impression that what is done better or worse elsewhere on the continent is multiplied in this country. For example, Nollywood is the second largest film industry in the world behind Bollywood in India and Hollywood in the USA.
When I started expressing my intention to go to Nigeria, many people in Ghana, Togo and even Benin, a country bordering Nigeria, tried to dissuade me. The main reason was that the country was dangerous especially by road, for a foreigner. I've heard all kinds of sordid stories from travelers who have not come back.
The most surprising story is that of the man who had been stripped of all his money after being spotted and drugged by pure water, the water sold in bags that he could not suspect for a moment. In short, I did not give up my trip so far but I ended up being afraid.
I have traveled everywhere, but I have always been well aware of the significant risks involved in crossing a conflict zone. Or any areas in fact. No place is really neutral. I had already landed in a tribal conflict in Kenya where I was kindly escorted by an armed guard to the door of the only hotel in a small town because two tribal groups were in the middle of a major negotiation.
Or, I was promptly signaled to move away from an intense political demonstration in the center of Dhaka in Bangladesh. I was also particularly struck by the feeling of insecurity I faced in Cape Town, South Africa, where apparently inter-community tensions are still present, even today. Even in Papua New Guinea, it was absolutely impossible to get alcohol because of the ongoing elections, a subject that Papuans are passionate about.
In short, traveling is completely political no matter the place in my opinion. All this to say that I was now riding in a jeep looking for an inexpensive hotel for the night. I had done my research and the idea was to avoid the North of the country where tensions were possibly underway.
But let's start from the beginning. After I got all the vaccinations, all that was missing was the interview at the Nigerian Embassy. To get a visa for Nigeria, the embassy demands that I introduce myself and answer a few questions. So at 11 o'clock, I had the appointment in the embassy.
The next morning I went to the embassy. There I was received by an employee with two more men who led me to the embassy. We went through the metal detector and, as you can imagine, that of course rang, but that did not interest anyone and we were able to go through it that way.
Now the waiting started although we had an official appointment. After about 1.5 hours it was time and I was called and ordered to a room to talk. We were told from the beginning that the interview was in English. In the room a woman greeted me and asked for a seat. After about three minutes, after she had finished reading the news on the internet, the conversation began.
She asked me a question that I did not understand because of my nervousness the first time. The second time I realized what she wanted. She wanted to know the reason why I want to go to Nigeria. My answer is that I am going to travel there. Then the lady wanted to see and copy my ID card and that was the end of the conversation.
After seven minutes everything was over. Well, that's it. If I ever fly back to Nigeria, all I have to do is apply for a visa, which will be approved without a call. The week after that I received my passport (which I sent to the embassy before) with a telegram, which is the permit.
Not an hour later, the company called me to make an appointment with me. After two short phone calls I got the flight confirmation by e-mail and so the flight is now to Abuja.
My flight departed at 6:15 am, where I had about 4 hours to catch my connecting flight. The 5-hour flight to Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, was a bit strange. During the flight, I was sitting next to a thick, after perfume smelly fellow, who got drunk on the plane. As it turned out in the conversation, in the last 25 years every Mondays he takes a flight to a new country around the world and thus traveled to about 120 countries.
Arrived at the airport, an elderly man, who in turn directed me to another person, who then escorted me to the bus stop where a bus was waiting on the way to the hotel. I can tell right away that I landed here in another world. However, I was not shocked by the situation, because I had either already prepared for the situation mentally or I had no ideas about Nigeria.
In any case, I looked at the first streets. The road was full of garbage and everywhere stood people who wanted to sell something or rum. On the Airport Highway, it became very interesting, because it is pretty wild. Everyone overtakes right and left. There is a lot of honking, trucks with people in the back of the truck over the highway and although footbridges are available, people walk on a busy 4-lane highway.
I followed the road following the indications for a long time, without finding anything yet. On the way, other hotels were too expensive and I had to continue my way each time. After a few minutes, the road started to get a little smaller, then frankly bumpy. I stopped several times to ask my way to people I met, and all told me to continue, which really reassured me.
Early morning, I was at the station to take the vehicle to Seme, the city on the border between Benin and Nigeria. Once arrived, young people come to me to offer to cross the border on a motorcycle. Their appearance is not reassuring especially since my mind had been conditioned to the utmost mistrust towards them.
I first changed my currency to Naira and I got together with a motorcycle taxi to take me to take a vehicle from Lagos. I saw that we had passed a border crossing without stopping in front of the customs officers. I thought there was another one in front of us.
I do not know the deal that existed between my driver and the agents but I had just crossed the border between two foreign countries hands down. We pass without control, without a seal on my passport, let alone go through the health service inspection.
We cross baobab forests. Trucks pick up the accumulated cotton between high walls, one would think snow. Jute bags containing peanuts are oddly arranged in true pyramids. Other than that, the road is monotonous.
The bike took me to a place where a Lagos vehicle drove me to Badagry. Less than 2 hours later I was at Badagry Roundabout, the place indicated by my travel guide. While waiting for the car to pick me up, I'm looking for something to nibble on. In a small shop, the saleswoman tells me that the biscuit I want costs 50 nairas.
I have the amount requested in my hand and I see it's a ticket. I'm surprised it's not a piece, as the biscuit is small. I think direct to a scam and I deprive myself to eat until the arrival of my car. I will learn later, that coins do not exist in Nigeria. That's how I arrived in Nigeria. It was almost too easy for me.
We stop to wait for a car that does not arrive. A gravel broke the windshield. We have lunch without enthusiasm. We buy ten grapefruits. Sitting on tree trunks we listen to the soothing reading of the Quran recited in a monotone tone. The man sitting on the floor does not take care of us and inscribes weird signs on a wooden board.
An amiable person offers us water at the post-office and we drink copiously under the amused eye of the employees. We decide to walk back but the city is immensely big and we would be lost if a compassionate soul had brought us back by car kindly. The lambs abound on the trees and I see a beautiful green orange tail that measures at least twenty centimeters.
We head towards Kano and our journey continues for the whole night. By night Nigeria's roads will remain in my eyes as the image of a nightmare. There is heavy traffic and the trucks have dazzling white headlights. We cross villages where emerge at the entrance and exit, frightful smells. The inhabitants uniformly dressed in djellabas and dusty white toques spend their evenings in the street by the light of the oil lamps. The crowd is so dense that it has invaded the road. If we crush one, we will not come out alive.
We arrive in Kano around 5 in the evening. We cannot leave Kano without seeing the mosque. It's too hot to walk. In the spiral staircase, we miss crushing little vultures taking their first steps and leaving their nests. From the top, the view is very beautiful on the Hausa roofs of the native districts.
On the way back we cannot avoid the crossing of the native city and indigo dyes that smell so bad. I have the audacity to knock on the door of a parked car to ask the direction of our hotel! In the center of this industrial and ugly town, we chose a pitiful hotel. We were lucky to find Indian food and then go to a corner bar to watch football.
For our part, the dinner will be expeditious and the bedtime is early.
We leave relatively early, around 8:30. A puncture in Madaoua allows us to admire ostriches in a pen, that we photograph avoiding grilling. The children sell marshmallow sticks. In Maradi, we water ourselves from head to foot at a tap in the city before having lunch in a restaurant run by a woman who knows our guide for twenty years and who takes care of us. In a shaded dining room, we have refreshing drinks, tomatoes, and zebu liver.
In Jibiya, the border of Nigeria, we deal with narrow-minded types who do not know how to calculate the three months for the validity of a visa and make us wait for the big man who will decide the case! Another half day is lost in an uninteresting place with the only distraction of a faucet at our disposal.
We see a bus van full of blacks with head covers of small white or embroidered caps, where we buy pieces of sugar cane from a young boy and who leave without having to pay!
Getting up at 4:50 am is not very nice, but since I could not sleep at night anyway, it did not really matter. At 5:40 am I headed for the clubhouse to get the shuttle to the airport. After half an hour we were already at the airport and check-in. The plane tickets are written by hand. It is also interesting that I check in with my ID card and do not need a passport. So off the plane and we on to Port Harcourt.
We continued towards the parking lot where our driver already waited by car. When I get on board, I'm very much aware that this one is armored, as the doors are incredibly heavy. After a brief demand, my guess was confirmed. This is a Mercedes jeep weighing 5 tons. Straight from the airport parking lot down two more cars were added to provide escorts.
There are three men armed with Kalashnikov in each of these cars, escorting us to Port Harcourt harbor. With a monkey tooth, it went through the metropolis. There were much honking, sharp brakings, and acceleration again, but the car never stopped and when the three cars had to squeeze through the narrowest gaps. It is a strange feeling to know that there are six armed people in Port Harcourt. I was sitting in an armored car.
At the port, the check-in started for the speedboat, which is accompanied by a heavily armed speedboat of the military. Arriving on Bonny Island I was in another world. Here strict rules prevail. These are two different worlds. On Bonny Island, everything is really sealed off, fenced and guarded and clean. This is probably attributable to the oil and gas industry. The heat on Bonny Island is overwhelming. Bonny is also right on the Atlantic.
Then we went back to the clubhouse for lunch and then back to the harbor and all the way back to Abuja.
On the speedboat ride, I started to read a book. Arriving in Port Harcourt we went again with the armed escort to the airport. In the parking lot, I got a strange feeling when a Nigerian approached, secretly, and quietly. That was a grotesque sight. I do not know if that's paranoia or just an anxiety. In the end, it turned out that he probably only wanted to have money.
In the airport, we checked in and I was asked by a female security check for Chop Chop, which means as much as food. Of course, I did not know what that is and asked. She then asked for money. At first, I was perplexed and at the same moment I started to laugh and said no, took my things and left. It's definitely funny that a working person demands money.
At half past six, our flight should go, but this was delayed by a good 1.5 hours, but that is probably normal for evening flights in Nigeria. At some point, we started for Abuja and reach there. After the brief glimpse of the local hip-hop culture, we drove on to a club. African music was played and almost only consisted of prostitutes.
Then we drove to the hotel. At 11 pm I finally lay in bed. Exhausted but still relieved to be back.
It was time for me to return to Ivory Coast after Nigeria. The question was how to get out of the country? Remember that officially, there was no proof of my presence in Nigeria, as the customs did not register my entry. So I had to leave the country in the same way. We head back to Badagry. We made our trip to the Gurara Waterfalls, which are really cool. At the waterfalls, we had to pay nearly double the price. It does not bother me that I paid twice that. After all, they were worth it.
I swam there, grilled and relaxed. I also got the first sunburn there, despite creaming with SPF 50+. Luckily not so strong.
A vehicle drove us from Badagry to the border town with Benin. On the descent, motorcycle taxi drivers have invaded us to offer their service.
Seeing my confusion in front of these dubious looking individuals, one of the passengers with whom I came from Badagry took me under his protection. He himself was not reassuring. He was a big fellow, with muscles everywhere with biceps and calves. I noticed all this because he was wearing shorts and a basketball jersey. If he had to hurt me, he had only to point the tip of his finger on my forehead and I will fell backward.
Well, it was either with him or full strangers in search of customers. Especially since I had already gone a long way with him. So I explained to him that I had to go around customs. He carried my bag and took a different path from the one I had taken earlier. He then negotiated for me with a gentleman who was watching a large portal. After several minutes of discussion, I saw my bodyguard give money to the guy in front of him.
We are finally allowed to cross a parking lot. I am almost stupidly my guide. I told myself that the bill could be heavy if I came out unharmed and alive. The gentleman would certainly ask me a lot of money. So I began to search my pockets to gather my last nairas.
As soon as we passed the other door of the car park, I was in Benin. I was expecting to take another vehicle or motorcycle taxi. So grateful to my companion, I did not wait for him to ask me. I handed him the rest of nairas in my possession. And there, he refuses to take the money. I have difficulty believing it.
Not only does he help me, he carries my bag, he negotiates my exit, he pays out of his pocket. We walk back to Benin and he refuses any financial compensation. He said goodbye and we left. Indeed there are still some good people in this world. They do good just for good. Beyond appearances, I was wrong on his account!
Indeed, I did not really walk in Lagos. I was not in the north of the country. I did not get close to the extremist bastions of Boko Haram. In Badagry where I lived, I also did not see the beautiful beaches, the slave house, the door of no return. Because in this city are all the marks of a slave coast like that of Goree in Senegal, Cape Coast in Ghana, Agbodrafo in Togo or Ouidah in Benin.
On the trip, I collected my first impressions of Nigeria and thus my first visit to the African continent.