Archives for posts with tag: travel writing in Nigeria


“The real wealth of a nation is its people. And the purpose of development is to create an enabling environment for people to enjoy long, healthy and creative lives. This simple but powerful truth is too often forgotten in the pursuit of material and financial wealth”.

UNDP 1990

I didn’t see him at first. He was crouched so low on the ground. The possibility that this object was  human, possibly breathing, with a mind capable of thought, just did not make any sense. So my mind stalled. I failed to tackle the obvious;  that this mass of withered limbs sitting quietly in the dust, was in every respect a fully grown man.

iphone pics 230

Then another object caught my eye.

Swirling with certainty in the breeze,  with its vertical bicolor of green and white stood the Nigerian flag. It’s freshly painted  pole gleamed crisp in the sunlight. Spruced up. Clean. Cared for.  This piece of cloth wasn’t forgotten and forlorn in the middle of nowhere.  Somebody clearly understood the need to keep it looking its best. This was  a construct I understood perfectly.  One that didn’t assault my senses like the half-man who rested underneath it.

I wondered about him.

 Every day he crawled to this spot underneath the flag . Every day he aligned himself with this  symbol of a nation’s sovereignty and its embedded values. Here was a mind shrewd enough to choose this exact spot for maximum effect. Certainly, he succeeded in drawing  attention to himself and making “contact” with the thousands who walked past him every day. Whatever drew him here, the ironies were not lost on me, the  juxtaposition, though tragic, was undeniable.

Here was the Nigerian flag; with the symbolic  green stripes representing Nigeria`s natural wealth. And lying in stillness underneath it, was another symbol; one of neglect, a country`s neglect of its greatest wealth; its people.


I looked away for respite. I felt sorry for this man. He  represented everything uncharitable about a country  which has so much yet pays so little attention to the least fortunate in society.   Why care so much for an object  and so little for what that object stood for?

In the end, the reality remains. Many feet walked hurriedly past the flag. Many seemed  untroubled  by this lone, dusty creature. Perhaps the novelty had worn off. This person, blackened and buried under thick blades of matted hair was now a familiar sight. Like the flag, he too had so seamlessly worked his way into our  psychological landscape; we expect him to be there. However, whichever way we try to explain it away, there is nothing  right about this image.

Nigerian greatnessss

We must do better than just a flag to remind us of our  shared citizenship and moral values.  We must continue to question images which jar our senses and challenge our most basic human emotions. Most importantly, we each have the capacity to act independently, to exercise our personal agency. We simply need to act.

As I eased into the sweet lyrics of ” Jesus Na You Be Oga, the atmosphere was electric as the luxurious bus fizzed  with  that un-matchable  vibe. That vibe  which makes you smile at nothing in particular as you join  a bus full of strangers gyrating and singing loudly to the same  Nigerian gospel song; and let me tell you, “Jesus Na You Be Oga” is up there with the best of the best.

Undeniably, in Nigeria, music, song and dance does it all the time.  Nothing I know works quite as quickly and as miraculously, morphing total strangers into laughing cronies in the time it takes to wriggle in your seat and join the melee of voices. Nothing except perhaps  the familiar phenomenon of ”

Nothing except perhaps  the familiar phenomenon of “The Forum.”

 The forum is a social construct only possible under very specific conditions: naturally gregarious people; a shared state of fermenting frustration  with  everything political and  time to kill.

And, just as we are highly attuned to  group recitals of  popular gospel songs, Nigerians have mastered the art of striking up discussion forums quite seamlessly anywhere and at anytime.

I mean you would not believe it but just a few  hours earlier, as they made their way to Yaba to catch the Cross-country bus to Accra this group of shrill debaters  were complete strangers.

Now, voices rang out in animated tones as men and women spoke in varying degrees of volume and brash eloquence. Each  voice determined to contribute to the heated conversations on the continuing quandary that is the Nigerian State and of course who rules it come …. sometime in 2015!

 And as eyes brightened and voices mellowed with laughter, I could sense my camaraderie with these voices.  Regardless of where we all started our individual journeys, we are Nigerians-we are  connected by that wistful expectation of a different future and the forum is necessary wherever it might spring up.

It provides a social outlet blanketed  in anonymity and  the proverbial “safety in numbers” as we spew and proffer about our vision of a different Nigeria which continues to sit perfectly polished in our minds.

And as dates are moved and agendas rearranged,  many voices  are jostling to be heard; eager voices cloistered in different places in Nigeria and around the world, connected  powerfully  by the uniformity of our displeasure and uneasiness with the politics of Nigeria and the disjointed narrative which permeates it.

Like millions of Nigerians, I  want to see a  Nigeria dragged out of the doldrums; but like many I am struck by the tense juxtaposition of disparate ideologies, wishy-washy dialogue, monotonous  charades and what sometimes feels like the theatre of the absurd.

So I ask- as we watch the next few weeks unfold- Naija which way forward now?


It was  5.00 am .

From the sounds of the hooting cars and voices outside my window, Lagos had  clearly been awake for much longer. My plan was simple; to take a  speedy dawn ride to the Cross Country Bus garage in Yaba and hop on a luxurious bus from Lagos to to Accra.


“Flying from Lagos to Accra is about an hour, why travel by road?  Why on earth would you put yourself through that madness. Hah!  I hear if you are lucky you might get into Accra by 12 midnight.”

My friend was desperate ; this idea of mine was altogether crazy.But my reasoning  was far from crazy. By all  my estimates,  the distance  by road from Lagos to Accra is under 600 Km, that should  take about 9 hours, as the crow flies. How bad could that be if we left early ? And in a luxurious bus with air conditioning,  plush chairs, and en-route entertainment, how bad could it really be?


28042012004 video bus

And there was the little matter of finances. At just a little over 10,000 Naira one way, traveling by road is a fraction of the cost of a air ticket which could range from about  45, 0000-50,000Naira

Moreover,  as the largest and second-largest economies in West Africa respectively,  Nigeria and Ghana have strong economic ties;  thousands of Nigerians travel to and fro everyday by road, so what exactly is  the big deal I wondered?

Traders at the Aflao border

Traders at the Aflao border

Two hours later, sat meekly in the lounge of the cross country station, I had to admit that  apart from the early shuffle out of bed,  so far it had  been a mildly pleasant experience.

The Cross Country lounge was  clean, well ventilated  with chairs designed to be comfortable  perhaps just for a few hours but comfortable nonetheless. All in all, everything seemed perfectly normal except for one tiny detail. Like  the rest of  my fellow sleepy-eyed passengers , I simply did not know when we would depart. We all  just waited for the  bus to “be ready”.

topbar crousscountry

And  at 9.20am we were ready. Taking my seat comfortably at the back of the bus, I basked  in the cool  air conditioning as the bus lurched forward ponderously curling its way out of the  station . We were off..

Then I realised  that there was a preacher on board. Well he must have been a preacher; he was  preaching and rendering passages from the bible  with such vigor that he could only have been a preacher.

I wondered about him for a minute. Was he not a preacher? 

Was he in fact a  passenger, who just felt the urge to pray for a bus load of strangers heading out on an uncertain trip? Or was he actually a paid  staff of  Cross Country performing a service for their customers, a bit like a spiritual massage before we set off. 

As I pondered, voices chorused “amen” several times in unison, spontaneous choirs sprang up as familiar gospel tunes were rendered fervently. Clearly, this was a familiar ritual for everyone except me.

naija in july 067

Then the epiphany. I smiled. I understood. I joined in.

That God is present everywhere and that all prayer, all heartfelt song whenever and wherever shared must be shared by all, was the philosophy that we all  needed to get us through  this very long trip,  this very unpredictable journey.

This  was the Nigerian flavour- ambiance is everything- eagerly expected, passionately sustained and completely unspoken by all.

 It didn’t matter that we were all strangers, it didn’t matter that we didn’t really know when we were going to arrive at our destination or if indeed, delays at border would add hours to the trip. What mattered most on that bus, on that most uncertain journey was preserving and sustaining the mood of hopeful expectancy and almost blind optimism that all would be well.

Hence, it was all  a required sequence- the prayers, the Nollywood film, the heated conversations with the conductor checking for visas, the banter with fellow passengers-all  essential ingredients to ensure that whatever else may not be happening as  desired- your sanity would be preserved come what may!

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