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Top 10 Interesting Things about my trip to Nigeria

January 20, 2009

I could probably generate quite a few blog posts about my trip, but I figured in order to be true to the blogging genre as well as spare me some more procastination, I decided on a simple top 10.

I debated top 10 good things, top 10 bad things but there turned out to be too many overlaps so it’s just top 10 things. I’m pretty sure many of you out there have more to add but here goes my 10 pence….in reverse order.

10. Nandos in Lagos – Not many people realise that Nandos was originally set up in Angola/South-Africa so it is not surprising that the franchise extends it’s reaches into Nigeria. And true to the Nigerian love of fast food, you have to stick the staple slow foods on the menu too. Peri-peri chicken and jelof rice…yum!

9. Mr Biggs vs. Tantalisers
– Speaking of take-aways; they are all over the place. Any excuse to minimise the hours spent cooking the dishes we love to eat is welcome, especially when so many Nigerians work ridiculously long hours. Mr Biggs was among the first to establish a McDonalds style monopoly, but the Tantalisers, Drumstix and Chicken Republics are coming up! Drive for 5 minutes in any direction in a major city and you’ll see all four of the above…scary!

8. Police checkpoints – What to say?!?!?! The shock this time round for me was that they did not all want money…..some of them seemed happy to be acknowledged, so a simple ‘Good Morning’ allowed you to pass without spending money and gives them a little bit of dignity back. Unfortunately I did see several people not even bothering to slow down for the checkpoint and just throwing a 50 Naira note out the window. Not pleasant.

7. Potholes, craters and gutters – Vehicles I travelled in spent time in all 3!! The potholes to be expected, poor road materials and a lack of maintenance are common place. The craters however are really shocking, when you have to slow down and dip 2 feet into a crater in the middle of a highway, you wonder….how the hell did a hole this deep get here without a meteor shower? And as for gutters…well reversing out of a gate and a little bit of understeering left us with one wheel in a gutter one fine evening. We nearly blew a tyre trying to get it out…shhh, don’t tell my mother though!

6. Water, water, water – Thankfully my mother has a borehole in the backyard with an automatic pump which (touch wood) has always been reliable. As a foreigner you think, I’ll trust that and only buy bottled water outdoors and that will keep me safe. Wrong! There is ‘fake’ bottled water. They’ll take a well known brand like Eva (run by Coca Cola), or even the Nestle bottled water, wash the bottles, fill it with local tap water and re-seal the cap. How to tell the difference? The washed bottles always have scratches on them, avoid at all costs if you like your tummy!

5. Power, power, power – See my moan about this in my Stepping back in time Post. In one word the situation is catastrophic.

4. Officers at the National Immigration Service, Abuja – apologies in advance to all those who know good people working there, or have friends and famlily there, for I am about to make a huge generalisation; they are all buffoons. My experience of attempting to legitimately get a passport photo taken crossed my path with illeterate, power-hungry, rude and egotistical punks. Extremely dissapointing experience, and they wouldn’t even stamp my passport when I was leaving the country!!! They argued they had to stamp the passport that gave me entry to the UK i.e. my British one. Even though I was in Nigeria with a Nigerian passport as a Nigerian…..right.

3. The red-light district in Abuja aka Hilton Hotel – Wow!! I have never seen so many prostitutes in one place, I have never seen so many punters in one place. We were only barely prevented from stopping the car thinking there was a club in the vicinity by the fact that when we slowed down it looked like there was a scramble to see what new ‘customers’ there were….scary! Rumour is a lot of the girls are uni students trying to pay their way through education….sad.

2. 9-hour night vigils and church in general – Yep, that’s right. A 9-hour night-vigil. I did it. I was there. About 6 of those hours spent on my feet. I made it through….barely. This was after a 3-hour night vigil the night before and I even went to a 5-hour night-vigil the following night. Why? Family pressure. Verdict? Nigerians need more sleep! Am I going to church any time soon….NOPE!

1. Okadas wearing ‘bespoke’ crash helmets – It’s now a law punishable by arrest, a fine, or if you come across a lazy police officer; being beaten on the street with a stick. The interesting thing about this is the ingenuity of the okada drivers as they find alternatives to buying a proper crash helmet for them and their passengers. The most common sight was the wearing of builders helmets in all the primary colours. A friend recently reported seeing one with a paint can on his head. I tried oh so hard to get a good picture, but they were all fuzzy. Was absolutely the highlight of every car journey though.

So there it is. Looking back you might be thinking there are lots of negatives, but actually I think they all lend themselves to the quirky nature of the Nigerian spirit. There are rules, yes, they bend them, manipulate them, find their way round, make the most of a bad scenario, manage to survive in the worst scenarios, never lose hope and best of all don’t pretend to be anything they’re not. If you don’t like it bugger off, and if you do like it they’ll let you stay there and join in with the complaints if you wish!

*Okada image from Africa files

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