1 in 5 Africans live in Nigeria – a population of 140 million people. A country of great extremes – where great wealth and great poverty sit cheek by jowl. Whilst we travelled a relatively small section of Nigeria, along the major route, the following are overall memories of the country:
- Police Check Points: if you’re in a hurry to get from A to B then you shouldn’t be driving in Nigeria. The section of 100km from the border post was littered with these checkpoints: a small structure on the side of the road made from wooden poles and slats, complete with obligatory ‘bed’ for those quite periods. A makeshift barrier slides out as you approach – it manually slides along the ground from aforementioned structure and is decorated with nails pointing to the sky. You inevitably stop, especially when armed men cock their rifles. The whole process is relatively painful – many questions, lots of small talk and of course the ‘What present have you brought for me from South Africa?’. Our standard response to this was, ‘A smile and a good attitude! Is it OK for us to continue, officer?’. And off we went! 8 seconds was our quickest stop, as we began to time ourselves to keep our interest levels up throughout the process.
- Poverty vs Wealth: driving through the country we barely came across fresh produce and how the majority of people survive is a mystery. Small villages of shanty type homes littered the sides of the roads. The roads were potholed, overcrowded with trucks and utterly atrocious. 20km from Abuja, the Capital, the roads became first class highways and Abuja sprung into sight, a view not dissimilar to arriving in Johannesburg. The shopping centre near our hotel had a 15 screen cinema, Nandos (our eyes were on stalks when we saw it and we wanted to jump over the counter and hug the attendant), well stocked bookstore, Mango, a games centre, marble flooring, neon-lit water features, a cocktail bar…and contained the well-heeled Nigerians sporting American/British accents. A far cry from what we had traversed through painstakingly for the previous 2 and a half days.
- ‘Dashing’ and ‘Snapping’: words that became part of vocabulary. A ‘dash’ can mean either a bribe or a tip. Most roadblock officials are after a dash from the drivers, but we were relentless and the most we gave was an onion, taken reluctantly by the officer. A ‘dash’ can also be a tip given to someone who has provided you with a service, or a gift from someone, such as if you bought a lot of bananas from a lady on the side of the street she may ‘dash’ you with an extra few or a couple of oranges. ‘Snapping’ is referred to when taking a photo and often we heard ‘Don’t Snap me’ or ‘No snapping’ as our Japanese influenced crew traipsed through Nigeria.
- ‘You are Welcome!’. This is thrown into greetings as casually as the South African ‘Howzit’ but with real sincerity. Throughout our 8 days in Nigeria we felt so warmly welcomed by one and all – the staff at the Sheraton who would tend to our needs as though we were full paying guests, Thelma who offered us two rooms in her hotel free of charge and took us on a tour of Calabar with her driver and mini-bus, the tourism representative for the Cross River State who gave us goodie bags of marketing paraphernalia, Mama from Mokland Inn who lovingly watched Andrew eat her Amalah (well done to Bones for managing to finish it!). Really, the people were fantastic and it is unfortunate that Nigerians have the stereo-typical image of grime and crime when in fact their country is blessed with such fabulous and down-to-earth hospitality.