The Road Chose Me – Nigeria
By: Dan Grec
With by far the largest population of any country in Africa (estimates range up to 180 million) and a booming economy and middle class, many scholars believe the future of the entire African continent rests on Nigeria’s shoulders.
Notorious for fake Police checkpoints and spikes on the road, Overlanders talk about Nigeria in whispers. Speaking of Police checkpoints, Nigeria is famous for theirs. Both in number and in unfriendliness and bribery, it seems they hold the record.
At the border I immediately sense things are different in Nigeria. Firstly, English is the official language, a huge shift from the French I have been desperately learning for many months now. After some pleasantries the large border officer sets about examining my visa in every conceivable way – under different lighting conditions, by scratching with his fingernails, and by looking through the page from the back. I assume he’s looking for forgery or evidence of tampering, trying to understand why I have a tourist visa at all. In the mean time I must fill in a document with numerous difficult details. They want the name of my employer (ahhh..nope), phone number (…don’t have one), address is Nigeria (..umm.. Hotel Jeep?) and other impossible-to-answer problem-questions for a permanent traveler like me.
Eventually, when my passport is stamped, all paperwork is complete and all ledgers dutifully updated, the passports are sitting on the table and the large man leans back and says something that is about to become very familiar:
“So. What did you bring for me?”.
With a huge grin I say “A smile from Australia”
Smiling, eventually, he hands my passport back.
“Enjoy your stay in Nigeria”.
Soon after leaving Customs and Immigration I am waved down by a group of men on the side of the badly crumbling paved road. I have been warned numerous times of fake stops in Nigeria that can turn violent, so I am trying to decide if these guys are legit or not. They are only wearing shorts and undershirts, and I see one hastily putting on a shirt and doing up buttons. The shirt says “Police”, which makes me think they are legit.
Also, they all have automatic weapons, so I am stopping.
The men turn out to be extremely friendly, forward and very, very loud. They speak very fast, and I think it’s partially pigeon English or something similar. One can’t stop saying “MY FRIEND” and “No S**T” at the top of his voice, and is extremely excited to vigorously shake my hand and say “Cool” repeatedly. After figuring out I am a tourist, checking my passport and writing down my details, they are happy to send me on my way.
“Welcome to Nigeria”.
The first few hours in Nigeria continue in much the same fashion. Each checkpoint is friendly, with lots of handshakes and warm welcomes. Most checkpoints the guys will say “What did you bring for me?” which I often reply that they need to give me something too – we will trade. Often I ask for their hat or military shirt (which they will never give) and they smile and laugh before sending me on.
I am soon on one of Nigeria’s massive expressways – a four lane highway where traffic moves at breakneck speeds, despite the rough and broken surface, extremely slow trucks and random Military and Police stopping people right in the middle of the moving traffic. It’s fast and furious, and I am concentrating as hard as I can to maintain about 60 miles an hour and keep up with traffic. The odd Mercedes or luxury SUV comes past going much, much faster.
The pace of life – and friendliness – in Nigeria are like nothing I have ever experienced before.