Nigeria. The very name provokes a reaction. An emotion. A strong view. No-one I know has nothing to say about Nigeria. Everyone has a large opinion. And of course everyone’s opinion says as much about their own persona as it does about Nigeria, or more specifically Nigerians. Which is why this blog is just my experience, my opinion, so take it as a little window into a part of me too.
Nigeria is big. Very big. In geography and in population. Nearly a million square kilometers wide and deep. With six ecological zones from savanna to forest to wetlands and mangroves. And over 200 million Nigerians with a median age of 18, speaking over 500 local dialects and “pigeon” English as its called by Nigerians themselves. That’s large and young and extremely diverse. Half Christian and half Moslem, Nigeria is the most populated country in Africa.
These numbers are just indications. No one knows exactly. The records are unreliable or non existant. Lagos is said to be one of the fastest growing cities in the world. Officially 14 million. Locals said its more like 20 million. Again no one really knows. Which kinda sums up a feeling too when you travel by road across the country. A feeling of the unknown. We did nearly two thousands kilometers, from an offroad track to Gembu in the mid southern border, to the part surfaced Seme border on the north west coast of Nigeria. It took seven days of hard driving. And all of it was unpredictable. Uncertain. Unknown. From the roads that go from four lane surfaced highways to rutted and deeply potholed dirt in seconds, to the 200 or more security checkpoints that we passed through. Each road and checkpoint carries that same feeling of unpredictability, of uncertainty, of the unknown. It’s grips you. Inhabits you. And it can overwhelm you. Hour by hour throughout the Nigerian crossing.
It’s just a feeling I say to myself. Just a feeling. Just a feeling fuelled by the countless stories of other overlanders coming from the north. Everyone has a Nigerian scary story. maybe because I am an African I won’t experience it and I don’t experience it. Honestly. I don’t. In every engagement with Nigerians at checkpoints, markets, sleep over venues, on the jam packed streets or in the Lagos traffic, my experience is the same. And it’s a story of unbelievable energy, of loudness and overflowing warmth, in equal measure. So much so that it suffocates you at times. And you yearn for quiet time. Time to think. Time to appreciate. Time to recharge and face Nigeria again. But it is never aggressive, never threatening. It feels overpowering at times. Like the entire heart and head energy of Africa spills over in Nigeria with the force of the Congo and Zambezi and Nile rivers combined. It’s pervasive. All powerful. Present always. Strong and authentic and intelligent. It’s all that we South Africans are not. And so much more.
And yet, yet we know that it shares some of our ills. It’s has its criminal side. And has it’s terror side. And a political leadership that believes that public service is first about servicing themselves. A leadership who writes world class visions and plans and implements nothing. and a corrupt side. All of that felt like home. And yet Nigeria is so much more. “A lazy man does not deserve to eat” a elderly Nigerian man said to me in a bar when I was marveling at the fact that I hadn’t had a single destitute beggar hassle us and that I was in awe of the entrepreneurial spirit of even the poorest of the Nigerians. A lazy man does not deserve to eat I’m reminded. That’s it. The very core value system of the Nigerians is one of hard work and hussling and creating and selling and surviving by whatever means possible.
The bare reality is that in our crossing of Nigeria we never were bribed or begged at. We were welcomed and loved and engaged everywhere. Even though it’s clear that Nigerians have no tourist industry at all. None. One officer asked us if our government payed for us to be tourists. Plenty of others said simply : are you tourists when we said we were tourists and stood out like torches in a black night. We didn’t see a single caucasian. Which wasn’t odd since we haven’t seen a caucasian since Angola. But in Nigeria we also haven’t even seen a chinese or asian person. Which is not to say they not there. They all over Africa. But it is to say that we were just swamped and swallowed by ordinary Nigerians everywhere.
Nigerians are big and bold and loud. They are bright and sharp and in your face. More so in the cities of Benin and Enugu and Lagos and Jalingo. Less so in the rural areas and villages where we drove off road. But always there. Always present. And in large and loud and dense throbbing numbers. And maybe that is it. That is the beauty and the beast of the country. Wonderful in its warmth and humanity. Overpowering in its loudness and its closeness and its density.
There is a lot of Nigerians that I wish for back home. No more, there is a lot of Africa that I wish for back home. The first and most striking want for all is education. Not just as a qualification. But as a means to self empowermment. To build confidence and creativity and ingenuity. I feel that everywhere. And especially in Nigeria. These people are strong and confident because they have a foundation of some solid education. It drives their creativity and entrepreneurship. And it raises their heads. Makes them bold. And confident and energetic to achieve and appreciate even the smallest achievements. We need truckloads of that back home. that get up and go and make a pan spirit. Much much more of that. Bring on the Nigerians. They can help us be what we can become as a nation.