I have been going off and on to Lagos, Nigeria now for close to 20 years. My impression of Nigeria is that of a country that has managed to turn a beautiful dream into a recurring nightmare. When going to Nigeria, one needs to be prepared to cast aside every logic and ratio that one grew up with. The only way to enjoy a visit to Nigeria is to leave one’s senses at home and allow Nigeria to take control of one’s imagination. In Nigeria, not all that glitters is gold and not all that dirty is trash.
You begin to get a sense of how different Nigeria is from all the other countries you have visited from the time you go to any random Nigerian embassy to apply for your visa. Whereas most countries view the tourist as an important source of revenue for their economies, you get a sense that you, as a tourist to Nigeria, are viewed as an unwanted irritation. Most of the front office staff at Nigerian embassies are rude and unprofessional. I have been to Nigeria embassies in Belgium, Great Britain, The Netherlands and Germany. Appointments are almost never kept. You never know whom you are dealing with and you’ll be lucky if your passport gets returned to you on time. In the Netherlands, many potential tourists have learned to sidestep this problem by applying through a visa agency. You have to pay a bit more to this agency, but at least you are saved a lot of valuable time and frustration.
At the airport in Lagos, Nigeria, you might spend anything between an hour to four passing through the immigration queue. At the airport, everything moves at snail’s speed. Once you finally get past the immigration, you have to endure another long wait for your luggage. Nigeria is a country of 150 million people, you get the impression that half of them are at the baggage belt. If you are claustrophobic, the Lagos airport is not the place to be. The funny thing is that more than half of the people at the baggage hall are not even travellers. They are mostly airport workers who are supposed to be somewhere else in the building but who have decided to make an easy buck by “helping” you to retrieve your luggage.
Don’t be scared once you get out of the airport and you see hordes of gun-trotting men both in uniform and civilian clothes. They are just there in theory to safeguard your security. Whatever you do though, just obey whatever directive they give to you even if it sounds illogical. If you argue, they may get confused. A law enforcement man in Nigeria is used to being obeyed without hesitation. If you hesitate, he might be tempted to use his weapon. As long as you say yes, you are good.
Once you get out of the airport into the city of Lagos, you will be face to face with reality as you have never been. A couple of things will strike you. According to the last estimates, there are 17 million people living in Lagos. It always seems to me that all of these people are always on the street at the same time! There are no rules on the roads. From the moment you step inside the car taking you out of the airport, the palm of your chauffeur will seemingly be permanent glued to the klaxon of the car. Since every other driver on the road does the same thing, you have to brace yourself for this loud symphony of the absurd attacking your ears. Don’t be afraid if you think your driver is driving crazily. First rule of driving in Nigeria: there are no rules. Second rule: there are no drivers, just people shifting an auto mobile from point A to B. Thirdly, the traffic warding is just there as an irritation. He knows next to nothing about traffic rules and regulations!
What to see in Nigeria.
First of all, if you really want to enjoy Nigeria, stay away from the big cities. They don’t do justice to the beauty of the country. The countryside and the villages provide the backdrop to a serene and peaceful atmosphere at which you can enjoy the country. More importantly, the people are generally more relaxed and helpful than those in the big cities.
When in Lagos, you can go to the numerous beaches. Avoid the more popular ones. The National Theatre is an architectural delight to the eyes. The Olumo Rock in Abeokuta, Ogun state is also worth seeing. If you are in Lagos at the right time, the Eyo festival is really worth seeing. The former slave port of Badagry is also recommended for those who are interested in the history of the forced Diaspora that ended during the 19th century. Visit the palaces of the local chiefs and kings. But be careful to always take permission before you take pictures in certain places. The markets are the places to be if you want to understand the chaos that Nigeria is. At the markets nothing is arranged with any logicality in mind. But appearances can be deceptive. Anything and I mean anything you want to buy, they sell. If that fails, chances are that you’ll find whatever you want to buy once you get bogged down in the Lagos traffic. The road (not only the roadside) hawkers sell everything from snacks to a WC!
Are you feeling me? Nigeria is a fun place to be! You only begin to discover this once you get acclimatised after about a couple of days depending on how fast you can adapt to situations. Once you’ve settled down, you’ll begin to make sense out of the nonsense that Nigeria is! Nigeria is not expensive for the tourist who is smart. There places to eat nice food. There are places to relax. The night-life is very vibrant. In places like Ikeja, Victoria Island and Ikoyi you can have fun all night long. But you have to be careful not to travel at night. It is one thing to be stopped at the roadblocks during the day, but in darkness of the night it is impossible to distinguish the armed robber from the police man. In most cases, they are one and the same so you have been warned!
Nigeria has the potential to be one of the great tourists’ destinations in the world if only the powers that be know how to exploit the huge potentials of this country. I will list a couple of things that make Nigeria unique and therefore very interesting for the tourists.
- More than 1 in every 6 Africans is a Nigerian. In fact 1 in 5 black persons in the world is a Nigerian!
- Nigeria boasts of several natural vegetations. There is a long stretch of natural, tropical and rain forests that will rival those of the Amazons.
- Most kinds of weather patterns are in Nigeria. From the tropical temperatures of the South to the Sahara heat of the North to the temperate climate of the Jos plateau, the tourist can chose a place of his liking to see and stay.
- The waters! The whole of the southernmost part of Nigeria is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean. This means there are clean beaches to lie around, sunbathe and take in the local atmosphere. Inland, Nigeria is blessed with a network of rivers like Niger and Benue. The former (ca. 4200 km) is the third longest river in Africa. Its source is in the South eastern Guinea and runs through Mali, Niger, Benin and through Nigeria, finally discharging through a massive delta into the Gulf of Guinea. There is also the Ikogosi River in Ondo state where 2 little rivers converge. This river is unique because it has 2 sources. One is very cold and the other is warm!
- Nigeria has the Ife staff which the Yorubas believe was erected by the first human being on earth Oduduwa. It goes without saying that the Yorubas believe that Ile-Ife is the centre of creation! The Yoruba folklores are as rich as any in the whole world.
- The slave forts of Badagry tell their own stories!
- The Yankari Games Reserve in Bauchi will more than stand its own when compared to all the games reserves of Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana and South Africa.
- A trip across the country is a trip across many cultures and peoples. Nigeria alone comprises of more than 300 different languages with more than 100000 different dialects! The more you travel, the more you begin to appreciate the cultural richness of Nigeria.
- If one is looking for a modern city that can compare with any modern European city, one just needs to pop into Abuja the federal capital of Nigeria. It is the first planned city in Nigeria.
- The potpourri of festivals highlighting the cultural diversities of Nigeria is surely a reason to visit the country. Whether it is the Argungun Fishing Festival or the Kano Durbar or the several colourful masquerade festivals in the East and West of Nigeria, a tourist is guaranteed to get his money’s worth in Nigeria.
- The groundnut pyramids of the Kano may not be what they used to be, but what is left of it provides enough curiosity and excitement for people visiting from outside Nigeria.
- One can practise all kind of (extreme) sports in Nigeria, whether it is mountain climbing or abseiling or whether it is diving and snorkelling or just fishing.
- Believe it or not, Nigeria is the 8th largest country in the world with a population of more than 170 million according to the last reliable estimates!
Given all of the above, it is beyond belief that Nigeria always hits the headlines for all the wrong reasons. It is really a beautiful country that has lost its focus.
In conclusion, I will recommend that if you visit Nigeria in the coming years, make sure you are well prepared for the unknown. Be prepared for pleasant and non-pleasant surprises. It is the way the Nigerian beast works. Nigeria is an inward looking country waiting for the Almighty to come and rescue it from itself. I am afraid it may have to wait forever.
Those are my current Impressions of Nigeria. In spite of all the headaches and hassles I get whenever I visit Nigeria, I will visit the country again and again. I don’t have a choice. It is the country of my birth!