With gunfire, blasts and religion clash in the north, the locals claimed the south areas are quite safe. Not enough though for a white man to take a walk in the evening or take a taxi from the street; stories of kidnapping remain deeply in unconscious mind not to tempt fate. The challenging engagement in Nigeria started with series of vaccination shots, astonishing visit to embassy and ended with connections to positive and open folks. Here comes my observation taken mostly from behind the windows of taxis, the hotel and the office.
Getting Nigerian visa is not fun at all. Trying to find embassy website you get at least two that looks genuine. Called embassy I was pointed to the right one, yet it has inconsistencies that had to be clarified with another call. That would be too easy just to collect all documents and to make appointment in embassy: firstly I had to manage payment for visa processing while they accept the only Visa card and nothing else, secondly in embassy there is yet another list of required documents that differs from what is online and what was said over the phone. Finally, ambassador picked up a template of some certificate that Nigerian company had to give me, a certificate never mentioned anywhere. I grit my teeth and pushed all things way down on time, just a few days before going for short vacation.
Two weeks later I was packed up and heading to Lagos. After series of vaccinations, armed with Mugga spray to keep insects away and Malarone, malaria prevention drug, I landed in a place I would not name an airport. Ruined corridors with heaps of rubble, broken pieces of furniture looked more like battlefield. That was an undergoing renovation without shutting down that part of the airport. Also passport control was improvised: a row of school desks formed to block passengers from freely entering main hall and group of officers sitting behind. Most funny part was that toilet was accessible from both sides, for people waiting for control as well as already passed through. The only security was one officer asking people walking out of bathroom if they have stamps in passports (!). That is a pure form of security theater.
While passport control was quite quick I stuck for good waiting for luggage: there was only one carrousel working and most black people were collecting dozen of packs or suitcases each one of them. An hour later I was heading towards the exit where transport was already waiting for me. Passing through the hall I was suddenly approached by a man with “health check” badge asking for yellow card of vaccination. With a twinge of anxiety I answered that I left it back home. It was pointless explaining that yellow card is required to get visa, which means I had been vaccinated. Officer explained me that he knows the rules but I need to be transferred to hospital for blood tests to check if I was really vaccinated. I agreed. To my surprise officer was constantly repeating that in I will wait for a really long time in hospital queued with locals. It took me couple minutes to understand that he just wants a kickback. Asked about alternative option he responded $200. I laughed in his face. I had only 10 euro in cash, some banknotes in polish currency, and a bunch of credit cards. I had shown my wallet and asked to take me to the hospital. That confused officer but after a while he simple asked me for 10 euro to enter the country. I was lucky negotiating over 90% discount 🙂
I was heading towards exit when customs officer approached me asking for… a gift for him. Then another lady officer asked the same. WTF appeared on my face and then immediately I realized they had to see the incident with health check officer. I knew they don’t have rights to do this and I answered with a little smile that I do no have anything for them. Asked for gifts again I replied I am from central Europe where neither Euro nor Dollars are used and if they want to get some gifts they need to catch an American or any other westerner. After short and a bit uncomfortable opinions exchange they let me go.
Outside the airport I quickly found my driver and the road to the hotel was quick but surprising again. Despite sleepy I was truly amazed by the view through the window. Lunar landscape in short: every sign of civilization seemed to be broken, here was an old devastated truck turned over onto side, some time later there was a completely burnt car (or at least smoked that way), district of shacks and shelters in a distance looking worse than poorest parts of Soweto district of Jo’burg. Add to it barber wire holey fences, abandoned tires, metal boxes and rubble; actually any imaginable hard to identify objects typically found on thrash dumps.
Business district in the middle of Lagos was only a bit better with more contrast within. On one side you could see businessmen in suites walking sidewalks between office buildings, on the other hand ruined roads and pavements, guarded gates to properties with barber wires on every wall, dust and dirt, stands for a time being, tradesmen walking from car to car, jammed in the street. What was looking like a rubble heap, in closer look was another street store with tiles for a kitchen or bathroom. Graffiti on street walls were actually ads: “bore hole well”, “diesel engines”, “secure transport” plus cell phone numbers.
Power blackouts happens surprisingly often. Disastrous inefficiency of power grid pushes every building administrator to have at least two oil-fueled power generators working almost 24/7. Some places have even three machines due to higher break chances working constantly. Locals say a joke that power grid is a backup for local power generators. Even though sometimes it is not enough: I experienced at least 1-5 minutes blackout every evening at the hotel and the single visit to superstore has ended with blackout in grocery store that did not recover before closing the shop, pushing me to abandon my cart with fruits and water.
Despite streets look safe, locals told me not to catch the taxis on the street. Safe transport in turn are easily available but cheap. I spent fortune on traveling short distances, temptation to do it on my own quickly disappeared when I realized I was just only white man on the street.
Jammed streets, plenty of scooters and small motorbikes, and power generators raise fuel demand. I was not surprised by pushcarts stacked with tens of petrol canisters on every crossroad. Especially that I could not spot any gas station around.
Another interesting observation was street traders holding wads of banknotes bound up by elastic bands. I guess this is due to galloping inflation. I experienced this myself when I withdraw money for food, taxis and airport transportation – pile of banknotes that barely fit into wallet which I could not bend and close shut. And I needed this to pay for almost everything. In Nigeria I could pay only by Visa card, any others were not supported or transactions rejected.
At the end I was really pleased by the people I was working with during the week of my stay. It was most chatty and positively relaxed group I ever had. I wish I had more time to hang out with them to see the Lagos from different angle. Greetings to you guys!