It was tedious mission to obtain Nigerian visa. To copy up with this situation I adopt life in Cotonou and fall along. If find myself in the simple routine; to the embassy, to the printing shops, to the restaurant where I had expensive but good branch which doesn’t make my stomach run like most of food here, back the hotel in the mid day to hide under fan from heat. In the evenings I would take a walk into the busy street to the beach, where predominant activities in this time will be drink beers, playing soccer, woman opening they food stalls. All over would noise of metal music, mosque callings, church loud speaker preachings all accompanying the sun as it sinking into Atlantic Ocean.
Finally, visa came through and I had no much to do with this place which I was starting to get used to. I cycle off the city which due to high number s of motor bikes they construct a separate lane. I had to share this lane with motor bikes loaded with different cargo. In several occasion I had to stop to let the one with sugar canes or bed to pass. There were some which caught my attention like a woman on the motor bike carrying big bundle on head, this is not ease as the bike has to go through traffic. Other make me smiling; some one on the bike holding screaming goat on his lap.
Benin – Nigeria border, welcome to Nigeria…
So far this is the most hustling border I have been. It is crowded place of shouting, jostling and pushing. I had no option but do like the rest, I stick behind motor bikes and refuse to get off my bike, anyway there was no much resistance since I was only one in the bicycle. I was looking around for a Benin flag so I could stump exit but the crowd kept on sweeping me forward along several road blocks most with ropes, wood sticks, tires, etc. Further on were mans with sticks, golf bat, metal sticks with nails, all this to manage this swam of human beings. At last when the crow broke lose I asked where is stumping offices. Surprisingly, I was told that I was already in Nigeria. When I consider the crowd I though of continue but for the visa which took me about two weeks to obtain was better to stamp. I went back into the crowd find small Benin immigration office which could not be spotted without guide who at the end ask for coins. Nigeria immigration office was not much better compared with Benin hot container. In the Nigeria offices I was hustle for gifts but manage to get around and make friends.
I was surprised with the size and function of Nigerian border post which doesn’t resemble with those Nigerian embassies I have seen neither reflect the big country in the region. Well, my expectations were still high at the time but soon I will learn that, the giant of Africa is selling good images abroad but inside lies the necked truth.
After border the four lane road leading to Lagos through Badagri in the begin didn’t pose much challenge to cycle on. There were many check points of police which also seem to represent different squads. All has nothing to do with bicycle,there were too many vehicles already to deal with. This was great opportunity for me as I had to do Cotonou-Lagos in one day (130km). When there were no road blocks and urban vehicle peak up the speed about 100km/h, that wasn’t quite pleasant when there is no shoulder. Cars pass me very close in crazy speed, this was scaring but to this point there were no options than keep on pedaling, stick on white line and no warbling.
I stopped at Badagri for lunch, I was hopping to see some sign of this historical town, ancient port for trans atlantic slaver trade but there were non. It big urban which I think make the begin of Lagos though it about 60-50km to the heart of Lagos. From here on was another show, the road got busier with VW old vans which are preferred min busses in this area. There were people everywhere, some shouting to me things which I couldn’t understand. Faces didn’t look so welcoming but nether too aggressive.
Traffic become madness as I approach the city, loaded wagons, trucks, busses, people; at certain point when I stop and look around, it was like i was in the sea of chaos and disorder. In general cycling across Nigeria I find out that there is one or two words may not exist here ‘ organization and order’.
To get trough this I had to do like everyone, push and shout. This isn’t ease when you are not used to, and especial when one is on the bicycle. For the 130km I saw only one bicycle. I don’t know what do people here think when they saw someone in the loaded bike trying to make through. 90% of cyclist I saw in Nigeria which are most in rural areas were woman caring their farm products.
Well, the accounts I read from touring cyclists who cycled in Nigeria, it clearly sound ease for a European or any other foreigner of different skin color since it is rare accession to see foreigners even in the normal activities. In my cycling here I saw only two Europeans, I was told there were some especial in the oil regions but they are in those tinted vehicles which race by with sirens and two quipped military vehicle in between. It is African county I have see least number of Chinese!
I was blamed by drivers for being the road with bicycle, some will show this by literary stop on may rear wheel or push me out. There are few who pity, give way or give some sign of appreciation. Telling you what? This make lots of different here, it compensate for 100s.
In this ocean of people, with limit infrastructure, broken vehicles, heat, noise, air pollution, shouting, pushing; after 130km I wasn’t tired because of cycling but rather tired of having to deal with all these. I made to the house of host in the neighborhood of Somolu. This place didn’t inspire courage when I arrive from big street, it is sort of bit up lifted slam. It is dense populated, sewage and electricity is big problem. Most of faces were unpredictable, the man who point me direction seem like he want something. My host showed up and assure me that is safe.
We wonder around the dark street with diesel generators to find food. We find pond cassava and maize mail with quite spice sauce, the common dishes of West Africa. Every single piece of small meet is sold separate for about a dollar per piece. Nigeria like most of West African countries there are no sufficient supply of meet, when available it is not cheap. In the rural and semi urban there huge consumption of wild meet. In the road I saw monkeys, rabbits, snails, etc all for sale.
I spent a day try to do sight see Lagos but that was impossible to do much because of transport. It is so difficult to fight for public transport in the rush hours. It just ease to seat in wood plank seat in the 35 celsius traffic jam.
The worst day of the journey so far…
I left Lagos, managed to get less busy road for half a day then joined express to Benin City which is more or less four lane high way. The road is busy especial with trucks coming from Lagos port and busses rushing to central and south east of the country. This road is good at some part while other are under construction and others have those big potholes which make cars to slow down or go around. The road was so noise especial with horns, some tracks will not give way if someone do not horn.
In the two days I made it to the Benin City where there was slightly change of atmosphere. I learned that this make the end of Yoruba ethic group and it is start of Igbo region. It said that the people in this region had less exposure to formal education, I wouldn’t agree less just for what happened to me here.
I was cycling across the city heading to the Delta State, as always I take it ease in the crowd watch life activities. At the edge of the busy central I stop to check direction. I check my paper map then confirm with one in my phone. A man walk to me and ask me ‘who are you?’ , that is not ease question so I take time to figure out how to replay. But the gentleman keep on talking asking and answering to himself, not real addressing me but crowd which swell so quick. I try to explain to him that I was tourist from Tanzania, this didn’t made much sense so I try to produce my passport. When I open my front bad they saw my camera, this worsen the situation. The crowd roar with discussions, discuss about me like I wasn’t there. Before I thought it was just curiosity but at this point it have turn to some sort of street court of more than 30 judges and some keep on coming. What I could here mostly is that I’m terrorist, some shout ‘Boko Haram’, saying that I have some bombs in the panniers.
The crowd of more than 50 people now was getting restless with many suggestions, some calling for police some being police by start to back orders to me. I was quite anxious and terrified try to hold on my bicycle and check my pockets.
Fortunately or unfortunately, military vehicle showed up, they push the crowd which wasn’t ease to manage. Their commander come to me and ask was is the problem but the man who start the mess answer all, claiming that they suspect me as ‘Boko Haram’ terrorist. I straggle out of shock to answer and producing my passport but the commender refused to see the document. He say I should follow him to his office, I try to resist but that was worse thing to do. He say I’m challenging the authority so he ordered his man to lift me into the car. That wasn’t difficult for these big mans but the challenge was for heavy bicycle with the gadget which threaten them. They disconnect my hub dynamo charge for the claim that is bomb and the small speakers as recorder saying that I’m recording them.
We drove to the well guarded military barrack but the senior refuse to buy terrorist claims. He gave me the look but say nothing. He told my captive to release me or take the matter to civil police. My captive didn’t seem to be so happy, we start driving to the police station. They were now into argument suggesting that I gave 5000 Naira and they late me go. But I remain silent, already terrified and angry, I remain calm and look at them.
At the police station I was shuffled around with backing of orders like I was deaf criminal. For all the time I was thinking about this situation and the statement I have been hearing, non of them make real sense. If I was terrorist with bombs what I was waiting for, I could blew all of them in the street as they surround me or at the barrack or the police station. I think it was just a cynical behavior, show of power, luck of experience with foreigners especial the one who you can not real tell. At the police station I show them my visa and told them I was a tourist but this seem to make little sense, they all repeat ‘ African Tourist?’
The ask to search my bicycle, to search for bomb which I think they had no idea how look like because lots of my equipment capture their attention and they ask for explanation. Final they end up noting my name passport number and number of visa in a piece of paper. At this time they were now talk rather friendly anyway it dint ease much my anxious but I appreciate. I told them that I have never been harassed like this before but the answer was ‘this is normal’. I went on and say that I was peaked up in the street without explanation or prior interrogation, I felt like my basic right were violated. But the police who seem to be senior at the time he said that I wasn’t Nigerian so I don’t have any right. At this point I just realized I was talking with someone who probably has little understand or he is trying to annoy me.
I cycle off the police station trying think what has just happened,I could be killed in that crown with their mob psychology. I’m sure this is how they end up chopping the hand of those hungry and desperate thieves or stone the adultery to death. I was angry but couldn’t find who to blame; Me for coming here? The boko haram threaten mob?. As I was still in this personal discussion a black Mercedece Benz horn at me and try to push me out of the road, people inside waved me to stop. I pulled off, then in the vehicle come out two sweating traffic police with two civilians. The questions was the same ‘who are you?, where are coming from? where are going? what do have inside the bags?
I bust out of anger and desperation stetting that I’m traveling with bicycle and I have just come out of police station. Unfortunately, my voice was swallowed with horns and shoutings, there is already a traffic jam and the crowd is forming again though they are alerting each not to come closer because I might have bombs. But Alas! this people were so curious, guess they would die for seeing. They just push and push, I was in the middle of big crowd in the less that 3 minutes.
The police who seem to be of high rank than the one I talk with before with three armed polices he push his way through the crowd and greet me. I show him my document and explain the I have been at the police station, he seem to pay little hid to my explanation and busy himself into the page of my passport. As he was going through or just admiring my visas and stamps. A man in the civilian dress but with quite authority voice started to interrogate me. Everyone seem to want to interrogate, i’m used with this in the places I stop for food, water, etc but this man was asking reasonable questions. As I answer him few questions the policeman confront him with voice which come together with command and hostility ‘Who are you?’ The man produce his ID which I couldn’t understand but seem to make sense to the policeman anyway he dismiss him. Telling him I was under his control, the argument went on. They start pulling my bike. The people who stopped me they have already disappear.
The man who look like intelligence he lost the battle and reman in the phone trying to get his squad but I was driven away before his squad arrive. We drove to the same police station, people were surprised to see me again but the police who brought me now he is of high rank, they had to salute him. He address them like he was talking with deaf. Anyway he got the story and shown the piece of paper with my info. guess for avoiding to look stupid he say I should meet his chief. He called his chief but over the phone the chief doesn’t seem to buy the story. I sat around waiting for the chief, I took time to study the details of the police station and the people around. It didn’t look like the place which should be avoided for all price not to looked inn, such a skin body within these giant fellas. It is place where cockroach and rates chasing each other, I think they will eat someone who fall a sleep. Most of the police doesn’t seem to be in the better shape either,their uniforms looks like have been worn for long time. The front desk doesn’t have much to record informations or to facilitate their job.
My study was interrupted when every police around jump out of the seat shout and salut to the big man on his white tradition attire; a white cap loosely hang on head, a loose white robe which goes together with long pants. He definitely look like cheif but not a police chief. Anyway he had a look at me seating there may be terrified like chicken waiting for slaughter or may be I was looking bravely to scare him not look at my eyes or address me. He quickly scan my passport and told the standing polices ‘what is wrong? this man has visa and passport. Why do you have him here?’ He didn’t wait for answer but gesture to me and say ‘please go’. He kept on lecture the police about the question of liking to ‘chop money’ ‘to take bribe’. I excuse and tel him I was here before and was released but arrested again, i ask if he could give me some form of latter. He said he doesn’t have that authority but the visa is federal legal document for me to be in the county. He point at the emergence number at the wall and ask me to take them if they would be a help for me.
I was off again, I was so busy discussing the situation myself but with pedal seem to take what I couldn’t take inn. At lunch time I find out I was already covered 51km for less than 3 hours. On the way there were many other check points but I was stopped only at those which din’t seem to be busy. They let me go quick because they were loosing money, the bride which they collect as it is their salary or official payment. At the evening before sun set I was in Warri, 105km my original goal, I did it for about 5hrs. I was exhausted but far less tense, the morning event seem like 2 days ago.
That kindness and place made me feel like I was out of Nigeria for a while except that the gate man at the hotel almost refused to open me a gate. I’m sure for him I total look like a person who do not belong in this premises; dressing in the broken pants, sweeting with the sink which absorb all tropical sun everyday. On the dusty loaded bike! But Zuwairat is a strong lady also with authority voice when needed.
The next morning I left Warri, taking all precaution not to look like boko haram. A difficult job since I don’t know how these muslim extremist look like. The road which wonder into the delta was again partly new, partly broken and the rest under construction. The flat terrain made me go fast and that was my intension. In this part there were few urban but villages are big. At the evening I was 15km before the city of Port Harcout. The next day I cycle across the city. It was sunday, most of the things were closed down but those hundreds of churches were flooded.
I have never being in the place where there are such highest numbers of churches or sort of churches like Nigeria. The road is full of sign boards bare quite hopeful and promising name with rhetoric slogans. The churches which vary from open space one with just canopy to keep sun out to the massive buildings.
I’m so intriguing with religion/spiritual activeness of Nigeria. It was also here where I find out, it not just for the introduced religion but this place have been active with this sort of philosophy long ago before contact with foreigners. The Orisa/Orisha religion seem to be among old African religion which survive even across the Atlantic, it was carried on with slave with slight modification to master’s believe Orisa continue and nourish in Brazil and several Caribbean states. The home of this religion which recently received international recognition from UNESCO is in the heart land of Yoruba people, Ile Ife.
Orisa shows how people here used religion for healing and so on but with little resemblance with modern religion structure. It is the main instrument used by tradition healers (Baba Lao). Though this kind of practiced was condemned and made as ant-christianity I think the religions here are twisted to fit the former one which I assume was more practical. Healing by miracle is one of it aspect of these churches. By listen to the preachings and talk with different people it seem like the self appointing prophets, pastors, bishops, apostles, etc are feeling the gap of needed education/knowledge to majority. It also formulating new culture out of lost one, community life in the new urban as well as psychologic survive in this place.
The whole day of sunday seem to be total different, everyone in the sunday special, nice and clean. I couldn’t find even those mama who sale food along the road.
Small towns and cities in this side seem to be far nice in the comparison of when I passed early, some are clean, lighten with street light, has some public recreation areas, etc The scenery here is also nice; landscape is divided with so many rivers which creat shallow rolling valleys of palm trees.
It almost impossible to camp in the places I traveled through in Nigeria, I was also less enthusiastic even to try it. The cheap hotel/guest house which one of my friend describe them as ‘shit halls’ cost from 2000 to 3500 Naira ($10-20) with some negotiation because being a foreigner or villager in the city in Nigeria is everyones luck day . Most likely to have fan or air condition function when here is electrics power if one is luck.
Calabar was nicest city I visited in Nigeria; clear and organized for most part, surrounded with natural forest, likely to find relaxed people, etc. I was luck to come across well informed and experience Cameroon consulate worker. Armand who straggled to get shengen visa to visit Europe, travel alone in the different European countries with bad experience in German where he said no one wanted to share with him train or metro seat. He process my visas within 10 minutes with normal price of $100. He also offered to show me around Calabar.
The Giant of Africa….
Yes,Nigeria is the giant with population of 168.8 million people, it is predicted to even over pass South Africa economically in few decades.
I have read and hear so much of this country but negative ofter overpass the positive. Though I was aware that the travel in Nigeria especial with bicycle was going to be challenge I promise myself to open my eyes more wide so I could find answers to my questions and possibly see the other side of the coin.
Well, I started to see the complex of Nigeria from my the Nigerians I encounter abroad but that didn’t say much neither the country’s writers who enlighten me in many ways. Nigeria show evidence of distinctive African civilizations and the consequences of interruption of this system. From the south coast to the north, there are ports and cities which grew because of trans Atlantic slave trade, I assume in the north out post should be some which supply the trans Sahara Slave trade as well.
At the end of that terrible human exploitation which nourish here duet it social systems, someone drew the lines and put three distinctive ethnic groups together; the Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo. It is clearly that person didn’t had any clue about these people. For more than 50 years Nigeria is still paying the price of this mistakes.
For what I have seen I think there good number of Nigerians who don’t live very different life from what their ancestors live couple of hundred years ago, not less than my half brothers Maasai in Tanzania or Oromo people. I think that is our proud but challenge is when it disrupted or doesn’t fulfill our needs. Talking with herders who flew the poverty of north or looking at young girl tilling the land in the forest to plant cassava or yams, I cant tell the different. The system now support only few that why it is the leading country in Africa for market of private air planes while at the same time it could be leading for malnutrition and people who are feeding on monkeys and other wild animals which only gods now what bacteria they will produce tomorrow. I think it also the reason why it produce laureates but with many officers who can not tell the different of tourist and terrorist.
Nigeria is quite a different African countries or African due to the challenges they are facing. They learn quick most in the Streets university , they work hard and relay on their personal abilities. That is what I have seen in the street, if one can shout more louder and push he/she will be the right one and go through to the next level. Lot of young people I talk with who are real ambitious and determinant unfortunately, for most is to become wealth and powerful they rare talk about help and support like the most of other Africans. Anyway I only saw two sign of EU projects and no NGOs or other sort of aid and donors. I assume in this case these people are les exploited with good well and benevolent work compared to Ethiopians.
Nigeria like many other African countries is wealth of natural resources and other form of wealth although here is the one of global impotence, the oil. Apart of the fact that wealth prove to be hard to be shared among all citizen but country is pay more price for the long team environment effect which are equal shared with all citizen if not only the poor ones. The neighborhood I stayed in Lagos, is famous for printing. I visited people work day and night. They receive tenders to print all sort of things around the West Africa region, I don’t have doughty even outside. But these people doesn’t have access to energy. With all their efforts they are living in the sharing houses which are crowded and has no sufficient important facilities.
If the was energy, why not all this young people couldn’t exploit the opportunities like IT just like their counterpart in India? With such a big domestic market, all days I was cycling in Nigeria I saw queue at the filling stations and many closed down. An OPEC member who can not supply his internal market. I was told that the countries refineries doesn’t work full capacity so for long time they have been taking crude out side to refine. Well, that is opportunity for new company which will be own by politicians. That is the cry I have been hearing everywhere in Nigeria, for both those who know what they talk about and those who doesn’t know ‘Government and Corruption’
There is one of Swahili phrase say; What have been said, is there, if not there then will come’. At one point Nigeria was the first African country to pay be able to pay it external debit. I think that mean things are possible here and can be far better.
In Nigeria again like other several African countries there were little room for my package idea of environmental conservation and sustainable development but lots agree with my cry for more emphasize on education. The question which stuck with me as I seat in the boat rolling down into calabar peninsula to Limbe, Cameroon is; Is it poverty influence bad government or bad government influence poverty?