January 26th saw me embarking on my first trip outside Nigeria in five years.
Five years ago, in January, 2015, I went to Australia.
Cameroon is our direct neighbour to the east. It is about 3 hours by speed boat through the ocean from Calabar. It is eight hours by road from Calabar. Those two options were off the table for me. The other option was to go by air. My travel agent, somehow, could not get a flight from Port Harcourt to Douala; that flight should be a maximum of one hour.
The next option was to fly from Warri to Lagos, then Lagos to Cotonou, Benin, and then from Cotonou to Cameroon. However, the cost of the flight from Lagos to Cotonou was more expensive than that of Cotonou to Cameroon.
The last option was to fly to Lagos and then go by road to Cotonou and fly to Cameroon.
Lagos to Cotonou
I was going West to eventually fly East. To get to the Seme Border town from Lagos turned out to be one of the most terrible trips I have ever made. The only trip that compares to it is my trip by road from Makeni in Sierra Leone to Monrovia, Capital of Liberia.
From the airport in Lagos to Iyana Oba, where I was to board a vehicle to Seme, took about three hours. The Uber driver was extremely clumsy; we were bumped into by a lady in an SUV when a cart-pushing young man of northern extraction came against us in the traffic. We missed where to get a vehicle to Seme because two 20-foot containers fell on each other, from the trucks carrying them, because of the terrible road. Construction on the eight-lane road from Seme to Lagos is hell on earth. Most people were wearing face masks including the traffic policemen and women that were busy collecting bribes to allow people drive against traffic.
I was informed that the border had closed by 6 p.m., so I had to head to Badagry to spend the night.
I met a young man at the bus terminal going to Badagry.
Everything around me was crazy. The noise, the fear of being robbed, the dust, the noise and crazy driving was terrible. I wonder how people live in this chaos. The Uber driver said that if you were to live up to 80 years, the traffic and stress will take 20 years out of it.
The Kombi Volkswagen bus I took to Seme must be close to 30 years old. I remember they used to be called FEDECO after the Federal Electoral Commission that existed before INEC.
A journey of about 30 minutes took us more than 1.5 hours. The noise from the banging of metal against metal along the bumpy road and the age of the car was like thunder claps. I was surrounded by noise, quarrels, dust, and the compression of four passengers in a space for three people. The young man helped me with my 2 luggage bags.
Suffering and Smiling
However, in all this chaos, people were smiling and having fun. At the same time, you could sense some suppressed aggression that could explode at the least provocation.
Flight, Uber, Thunder Clap, and Okada
The last part of the journey was by motorbike popularly called okada. We took okada to Sycomore Hotel in Badagry, where I spent the night. By this time, I was very hungry with a sore throat, and a feeling of being sick.
- Why can’t we have easy movement from Nigeria to our neighbouring countries.
- Why can’t we have Nigerian airlines that can maximise the opportunities inherent in our geographical location, large population, and the love Nigerians have for travel.
- Why is Nigeria so chaotic and stressful? You could immediately feel the difference immediately you cross the border into Republic of Benin.
- China is building two hospitals of 1000 beds each to be ready in about 2 weeks because of the recent outbreak of the Coronavirus. Why are we plagued by uncompleted and abandoned projects?
- The road to Cotonou was clean and very smooth. Why can’t we build our own portion despite the enormous resources in Nigeria? The revenue from Seme Border alone, since 2015 when I passed that road last, is enough to construct that road.
Going West to go East is not unique to this trip. You have to fly to Abu Dhabi, more than 5 hours from Lagos, to fly to Brazil for 16 hours. Brazil is just across the Atlantic Ocean from Lagos.
To be continued in the next part.