This week saw my first visit to Nigeria, which has a reputation of not being a recommended place to visit. Prior to travelling here, anything I read, were told or investigated spoke of not being able to venture out, would most probably be kidnapped or targeted in random restaurant of store robberies.
Smarttraveller, the Aussie government website lists it as ‘Reconsider your need to travel’, mainly ‘due to the high threat of terrorist attack, the high threat of kidnapping, the unpredictable security situation, the possibility of violent civil unrest and the high level of violent crime.’
With this as my pre-amble, let me share my experiences of 4 days in Lagos, the coastal port side town.
A visa is needed to travel to Nigeria, even with the good old Aussie passport, and we travelled on a business visa, with a pre-approved invitation letter to make our arrival seamless..What happened in reality went something like this.
I arrived, and although there are separate channels at immigration for Nigerians, Foreigners and Visa On Arrival, the V.O.I line was blocked, but after walking half way down, I saw a room where people with this were inside so I asked a big scary guard and he said ‘why are you here, why you not in this line, they are fools, why they not send you there, I told them to open it’ and i subsequently walked back and down into the room to be met by 5 women sitting behind a desk and just told to ‘sit’. After some time I decided to ask what was happening, to be told to fill out a form, which I already had so my passport was handed over.
After more waiting and seeing my passport sit at the desk motionless, watching them WhatsApping their friends, talking to each other and painfully manually write details from passports into a big paper book, not much occurred. Eventually I was asked to pay, and I had brought USD with me to pay so as to not use my credit card (it is Nigeria after all)…This conversation went like this. “How are you paying?”, ‘By cash’, I replied…..“No cash, you pay card”…’No, I will use cash’….“No cash, only card!” she demanded, the continued with “Why didn’t you pre-pay online?”….I replied, ‘I didn’t know you could’….“You use card! Only card, No Cash!”, clearly getting annoyed with me…I protested, ‘I don’t want to use card, this is Nigeria and cards get stolen, copied etc and what if I don’t have a card?’….“You do have card, and you use card…this is official government machine, it is safe”…so I used my card and shall wait for my identity theft and fraudulent usage to occur!….
I thought I was done, but no, still not done..my passport then moved to another spot to sit and rest, while the woman got up, walked outside and came back about 20 minutes later…then she carefully ruled the pages on another exercise book and copied down details again…Not sure what the computers on the desk where for, decoration I am thinking, as they were not used.
As I did this, I watched not much happen, except, many people paid cash, others faced the same berating as I did, but generally nothing happened quickly. My passport was again on the move….this time out of the room, then back, on the desk, to the photocopier, some more details into another book, and eventually handed back to me to exit the the main customs gate some 10 metres away. Here I was met by the immigration official who said, “Where have you come from, why are you in this line?”. As I pointed to the room he watched me walk from I said, ‘over there…from Visa on Arrival’….Oh…”Go!”
Welcome to Nigeria…a 2 hour wait to get my super easy Visa on Arrival processed…and I’m out of the airport…
The only way to describe the traffic was horrendous! Lagos has the mainland (where the airport is) and the ‘Island’ or Victoria Island which includes the what was longest bridge in sub-Saharan Africa until the Egyptian 6th of October bridge opened in 1996. The bridge from Lekhi to Lagos Island is just under 12km long, and traffic jams to and from the mainland, as well as all over the city are commonplace.
Days were spent simply sitting in traffic for hours at a time to get between destinations, with our driver having a lot of aggression in driving to match it with fellow motorists, even our policeman security guard who travelled with us would occasionally jump out to clear pathways….never argue or challenge a massive Nigerian man with a machine gun in military/ police uniform…people soon moved.
Nigeria has the Naira which has been a traditionally volatile currency, as can be seen from the chart below, with current issues being the official rate is around 350-360 Naira per USD, but there is a black market rate, a bank rate, a tourist rate and a religious tourist rate, making lots of issue occur!
USD are scarce, and it is illegal to use them as currency as they are contributing the the devaluation. To put things into perspective, average minimum wage is around 18,000 Naira per month. The one issue this causes is you are forced to carry massive amounts of cash around, and very dirty cash for your spending. Below shows $200USD converted!
The only local food we tried was Suya. Suya is a spicy shish kebab (skewered meat) which is a popular food item in West Africa. It is traditionally prepared by the Hausa people of northern Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, Ghana and some parts of Sudan (where it is called agashe). Suyais generally made with skewered beef, ram, or chicken.
At the local pizza shop, Pizza Eera, where we had the best pizza cooked in the most basic of outdoor kitchens, we tried Suya (both beef and chicken) whilst the guys prepared it in front of us. Probably not the most hygienic of preparation was occurring, as the pile opposite was being prepared in about 35 degree heat with about 85% humidity, but we ate it and we didn’t die., and the taste was amazing! Highly recommended!
Almost everyone has had the famous email from some wealthy Nigerian banker or military person attempting to share in the millions of USD they can’t get out and need your help for a ‘share’. These are known as 419 scams, and they also are used with property rental and sales as well. They are known as 419 due to this being the relevant section in the Nigerian penal code law.
Many houses have plastered all over their walls that this house is NOT FOR SALE and to be aware of the 419 scam, where people try to sell properties they don’t own.
The roads are littered with graffiti type adverts for all sorts of jobs, not sure if they are scams as well, but certainly a cheap way to advertise for a position…
Other bizarre things:
A couple of other things, one what may be expected based on reputation, and one which was highly traumatic occurred whilst there.
Firstly as we were unusually stuck in traffic, an armed policeman and another guy started running towards a bus that had just passed them, yelling at them but they never stopped. Then the second guy started smashing at the bus as the policeman waved his gun at the bus and he smashed the window all over the road, but the bus kept driving and drove off.
The second, upsetting moment occurred in a shopping centre as we walked past what I think was a child’s play area. We saw a man run out carry a young girl, who for some reason had no pants on and he was slinging her over his shoulder hitting her and other people ran out screaming. This was about 5 metres from us and we didn’t know what to do or whether we should run, help or something else. The girl was motionless and they then ran off towards a pharmacy and crashed through the door. From all we saw it really didn’t look like the girl was alive. It made us all feel ill, and we just hope it wasn’t as bad as it looked.
The trip to Nigeria was without incident or anything that resembled incident, apart from the above two situations. We moved around (yes with a guard), but did get left in various coffee shops etc alone and spoke to the locals, chatted to random people and everyone was very friendly, but certainly there were areas we went through where I don’t think you would want to be left alone!
As we will start doing business in the market next year, I am sure more trips will occur and I will get to see and learn more about the place in whatever way that happens to be.