How to Enjoy A Holiday in Nigeria

Everything they told me about Nigeria turned out to be true. They are loud people. They talk as though they are quarreling, much like Indians and Nepalis. I have a theory that a combination of high temperatures, humidity, and eating too much pepper (piro in South Asia, pepe in Nigeria), gives one a big mouth and a hot temper.

A street food vendor in Lagos. The city is full of yellow and green.

On the plane, one Nigerian man made the Ethiopian air-hostess cry, because she couldn’t give him the food he wanted. She tried to tell him, ‘I’m sorry I can’t serve you that,’ but she doesn’t know proper English, so she said, ‘I’m sorry for you.’ The Nigerian exploded. ‘Sorry for me? Did you pay my air ticket?’ The others seated around him soon joined in harassing her. They wanted wine. She served them. They insisted on getting more than the tiny bottle they were being given. It nearly turned into a riot. Too much pepe, I think. Their outburst made the poor woman cry. I felt bad for her. I nearly cried too. I had to explain to the ogah what the woman was trying to tell him, and then he felt so ashamed of himself that he followed her to the back room (what do they call that room in the airplane where hostesses hang out?) and he apologized to her.

Boarding the Ethiopian airlines
Granted, not all Nigerians are like this. I was there for only a short time, and didn’t get the chance to see the places I wanted to visit, like the Badagry slave museum and the Fela Kuti museum. But I totally enjoyed it. And would love to go back there. The thing about Nigeria is not its many attractions, but it’s people. They have a unique culture, a way of life that is close to the comical, for an outsider, and for me who sees humor in everything, I had a great time. I would love to go back.

The streets of Lagos are full of Maruwa, three-wheel cars.

They warned me before setting off that I needed to have a yellow fever vaccination certificate, that I would not be allowed into the country if I did not have one. I set off with a vaccination card, which had a bunch of shots that I had got before going to Nepal. I assumed yellow fever was one of them. But at Entebbe airport, an official almost stopped me from boarding the plane. I think she wanted a bribe. She said I did not have a yellow fever vaccination. It had happened to me before, but this was at the boarder inMalaba, never at the airport. I told her that I travel a lot, and surely of the twenty or so shots listed in that card, yellow fever had to be one of them. She insisted she could not see it, and so she would not let me board the plane. She claimed she was doing me a favor since the moment I reach Nigeria without a yellow fever card they would deport me immediately. That is when I became certain that she wanted a bribe.

They call this a bus.  They overload passengers.

I then played a trick that I always do whenever confronted with such corrupt officials. In the pretext of looking for my wallet, I opened my bag and pulled out my DSLR camera. When she saw it, like all the other corrupt officials, I saw panic leap onto her face. ‘Are you a journalist?’ she asked. I smiled at her, and she gave me a nervous laugh. She handed me back my vaccination card and passport, and said, ‘If the Nigerians ask you for yellow fever, say it is this one.’ She pointed at an item in the list of shots, Typhod, and before I could say anything, she shoved me away towards the Ethiopian Airlines desk.

Lagos is full of vehicles in
dangerous mechanical conditions

But all the way to Nigeria, I was worried. The camera trick worked on the Ugandan official, because she was afraid of the Ugandan media, but a Nigerian wouldn’t give a rats ass about my camera. I was nervous as we queued up to face the immigration officer. A guy from Curacao was pulled out of the line. ‘You don’t have yellow fever vaccination’, they told him. Of course all this was done hush-hush, without anyone overhearing, but he later told me what happened, when we met at the function which we both were going to attend. ‘Why do I need it?’ he asked the official. ‘To enter the country,’ the official said. ‘Isn’t my passport and visa enough?’ he asked. ‘No. The yellow fever vaccination is more important. If you don’t have it, you will be deported.’ The poor guy was at a loss of what to say. Just as he thought they would deny him entry, the official said, ‘But if you have a hundred dollars…’ The Curacao guy’s face lit up with a smile. ‘No,’ he said, I don’t have a hundred. But I have fifty.’ The official then walked over to his boss, whispered, and the boss gave a slight nod. The official came back to the Curacao, ‘Boss says fifty is okay. But you have to add ten for me. Put it in your passport.’

A palm wine seller. When in Nigeria, make it a point to taste it!

They took his money. Crafty like immigration officials everywhere. At least in Kenya, when they fleeced Reiza of a hundred dollars because she did not have a yellow fever vaccination (and she was not even going to Kenya, she was changing planes enroute to South Sudan), they gave her a certificate. The Nigerians just took the sixty dollars and sent the poor guy on his way.

When my turn reached, they did not even bother to look into the card I was carrying. They saw it was a vaccination card and assumed it had a yellow fever shot. I secretly sighed in relief.
The airport itself was hot and stuffy, without any air conditioning. It looked dirty and overcrowded, too noisy, with hundreds of Nigerians screaming at immigration and customs officials. It might be richer than Uganda, but at least we know how to give visitors a good impression of our country. The Nigerians had to pass their baggage through customs. Foreigners however were not required to go through customs, which I found weird. They do not trust their own people? One very fat custom official was yelling into the face of a pregnant woman, in pidgin English. I didn’t understand most of it. Two of his friends were trying to calm him down. ‘She’s pregnant, don’t shout at her.’ The woman was shouting back. I wonder what that was all about.
eba, one of the delicacies of Nigeria.
And below, wild meat on sale at the roadside.

Outside the airport, we were taken to a taxi that had been sent to pick us up. ‘Hurry! Get in!’ the driver shouted at us. Then I saw two soldiers running towards us, weilding guns. ‘Go! Go!’ One soldier shouted, holding his gun like he wanted to shoot. ‘Get in quick!’ the driver yelled at us again. We scrambled into the van. I was certain Boko Haram had attacked the airport, and they were whisking us quickly to safety. The vehicle sped away. My heart was pumping fast, like in the cliché, expecting to hear gunfire at any moment now.

Only then did I notice that we were the only ones being whisked away. Other people stood idly on the kerb. Other soldiers looked bored. ‘What was that about?’ I asked the driver. I did expect to hear something about terrorism, but he instead said, ‘We had parked in a restricted area. You see, you are international guests. We did not want you to walk all the way to the car park, and the soldiers gave us only one minute to let you board.’ I felt anger stir. I would not have minded the walk to the park to board the taxi without any drama. Maybe this guy gave the soldiers kitu kidogo to allow him to park in a restricted area, but I never understood why he did it. The soldiers must have put a ‘No Parking’ sign in that area for a reason, but why then do they allow some people to park for only one minute, even if it is to pick ‘international guests?’

The word international, I later came to learn, has a special place in Nigera. I spent so short a time that I never fully comprehended the value they put on that word. But I’ll give you two examples to illustrate. Markets and churches. We went to a rundown market along the Highway from Port Harcout to Bayelsa. It had only a few vegetable stalls, and a few concrete stands, but it had a big sign proclaiming it to be an ‘international market’, because it sold goods from outside Nigeria. I wondered what then they called the high class shopping malls in Lagos, ‘super international markets’?Yet, calling a market ‘international’ just because it sells goods from across the boarder would mean every market and every shop is ‘international’, why then call some local? It defeated my understanding. But I could see why churches include the word in their names. To attract more worshipers (and therefore more money). It seems to me that to say something is ‘international’, it then is of superior quality. In Bayelsa state, I had a chance to see one of these international churches. The photo says it all.

God’s Grace Ministry Inc. Worlwide, Bayelsa, Nigeria.
Why would a church have the word incorporation in its name?
A friend who is married to a Nigerian woman told me that their version of Christianity is rather comical. They are very religious people, I think. As we drove to our hotel, I asked the taxi-driver, ‘Who is Murtala Muhammed?’ for I noticed that the airport is called Murtala Muhammed International Airport. And he replied, ‘A prophet’. I was stunned. Why would they name such an important airport after a prophet? Is he a very powerful prophet? ‘He is a dead man,’ the driver said. ‘They cannot name a place after a person who is still alive.’ Only after I had reached the hotel did google tell me that Murtala Muhammed was once a military ruler of Nigeria, and is considered a hero. It amazed me that the taxi-driver did not know this, and instead associated the name with some religious figure. 
The nine commandments of dressing, according to
this church in Bayelsa, Nigeria.

It confirmed to me what I had heard, that Nigerians take their religions too seriously, maybe so seriously that it becomes rather comical. Like this church in Bayelsa, that has a set of guidelines for its worshipers. I have heard of other crazy churches, like the one in South Africa where they eat grass, and those in Uganda where they have banned offering coins and where blessings are on sale. But this one, with its own version of the ten commandments, which you can see in the inset, made me laugh out loud! Women, among other things, cannot wear wigs and attachments, nor can they wear trousers, or open back dresses that show off their breasts or shoulders. Reading this list of prohibitions makes me think of radical Islam, not Christianity, yet it is called God’s Grace Ministry Inc. Worldwide. The term Inc., (an incorporation) should give you a hint on what it’s motivation really is. 

Next time I come to Nigeria, I will look out for such hilarious churches. But I will also look out for the food. It’s the one thing I totally enjoyed there, and it’s the one thing you should look forward to in case you ever find yourself in Nigera. I ate snails, for the first time in my life. They taste like chicken gizzards. I ate bush meat, antelope, the butcher told me, though I wonder if that was really true. And then there was the palm wine, which deserves a whole post on its own. It gave us diarrhea though, so maybe I shouldn’t be talking about that!

A snail on a plate, ready to eat, and below, snails on sell.
You Might Also Like

1 thought on “How to Enjoy A Holiday in Nigeria”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.