Welcome to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, commonly referred to as Naija, land to some 186 million inhabitants, over five hundred ethnic groups, thirty-six states, a country with huge potential but plagued with a systematic problem of rampant corruption and tribal indifferences. I am sharing my experiences from the most populous country on the African continent; both the good and the bad. And even though the bad outweighed the good, it’s imperative that I share with my readers.
I’ve traveled throughout the globe and so I decided to visit Nigeria with an open mind. After all, this is what visitors to a foreign country are supposed to do, and since it was my first time on the continent, I was ready and prepared for the adventure. I left the United States on Christmas night, with two of my best friends and transited through two major cities, London and Amsterdam before we finally got to our destination…..LAGOS.
Hot and tired yet excited, we approached the immigration officials with some level of apprehension for our legal entry into Nigeria. After all, it’s no secret that the Officials operating out of the Muhammad Murtala International airport are some of the most corrupt beings on the continent. Nevertheless, we presented our documents and went through the process of questions and responses. It was at that moment, the immigration officer decided to “move in for the kill”. In essence, I was like an animal wandering the unfamiliar plains of the Savannah and he was the king of the jungle, waiting to attack. I was in his court and had to play by his rules. He spotted my colleague’s immunization card, which by the way, is not a requirement to enter Nigeria. Sensing that time was running out and he had to “collect”, he made the bold attempt to do just that. I was asked for my Immunization Card; I told him that I did not have it with me and that upon obtaining my visa and researching on required documents for Nigeria, there was nothing that stated, I had to have it. Regardless, he dismissed his government’s website as full of inaccuracies then proceeded to let me know, that he could deny me entry into the country.
Really? Yes, really. However, if I gave him “something” he would let it slide. Discretion was not even a thought, indicating to us that extortion and bribery is the norm. Interestingly, large billboards at Lagos airport urge travelers to call a hotline to report officials asking for bribes. But there is a problem with this attempt to fight the corruption that plagues Africa’s biggest economy. The phone number does not work, an indication of how little progress President Muhammadu Buhari has made in tackling a problem he promised to address when he was elected a few years ago.
Exhausted, upset and shocked at the blatant act of solicitation, while in uniform, I obliged. I gave him $20 USD (7,300 Naira), much to his dismay. At that point I was prepared to return the eight thousand plus miles I had traveled. Not another note was going to be given to this disgraceful civil servant. I then began to analyze. How could this be acceptable? Why are they allowed to continue with this? Do they not realize that they are the first point of contact for visitors coming in? What is the government really doing? What impression will foreigners have of Nigeria, when the immigration officers openly harass people and demand bribes without shame? I can say unequivocally, that I was filled with revulsion and so were my friends. In reality, this is the first contact I had in Nigeria. It was not about the money, but rather the fact that this barefaced racketeering was allowed to fester. It presented an experience of how corruption has eaten deep into the fabric of agencies responsible for facilitating air travel at its international border. Nevertheless, we were given the green light for entry and were on our way.
We headed to the baggage area to claim our luggage and after waiting for what seemed like an eternity, we were told that our bags were still sitting somewhere in Amsterdam and to return the following night to collect. Bear in mind, we were in Lagos for a wedding scheduled to happen in a day and a half; in unfamiliar territory, sweaty, upset and angry. Yet in spite of this, we didn’t allow our experiences to daunt our spirits, so with lots of optimism coupled with excitement, we set out to experience what Nigeria had in store for us………..and…….yes it certainly was an adventure.
Our residence while in Nigeria was on Victoria Island, an affluent stretch of land that encompasses Lekki and Lagos Island. It is one of the most exclusive and expensive areas to reside in Lagos and notably, it is where old money meets new, thereby creating an ideal climate for both wealthy Nigerians and foreigners alike to dwell. The Island is one of Nigeria’s busiest centres of banking and commerce, with most major Nigerian and international corporations headquartered there. In stark contrast, even though we were exposed to this opulence, the reality was obvious, beyond the bridge. The insurmountable level of garbage on the street appeared as though the government had forgotten certain parts of Lagos. I saw garbage piles on streets, outside homes and along the waterways, creating eyesores and putrid smells. The booming city also has major electricity shortages; the rate was several times per day.
It is important to note, Nigeria is the world’s 20th largest economy, worth more than $500 billion and $1 trillion in terms of nominal GDP and purchasing power parity respectively. It is a member of MINT, and is also listed among the “Next Eleven” economies set to become among the biggest in the world. Despite its vast government revenue from the mining of petroleum, Nigeria faces a number of societal issues, owing primarily to a history of inefficiency in its governance. Which brings me to this focus and it’s relevance to this article.
Corruption is bad in Nigeria—but just how bad; you be the judge. I cannot begin to explain how many times we were bombarded for money, both by people in authority and local residents. The extortion began every time we went out. Everyone wanted something for the Christmas, even though we were way past Christmas, and well on our way to 2018. “Aunty wa you deh give me for Christmas ooo; Abeg give me something so I can eat?” Their demand for our money was intimidating. All we wanted to do was enjoy the sights and sounds of Lagos without been hassled and harassed.
In light of this, we decided to employ the services of a driver to take us around Lagos. Visiting a simple place such as the market seemed almost Herculean. We had to dismiss many attempts by the “area boys” to “collect” dues for simply parking and at times, for even driving on the public road. Increasingly annoying, our complaints to Nigerians we met, didn’t give us the reaction we had hoped for. Everyone seemed shocked but was quite okay with it. “Welcome to Nigeria”, they all said with smiles. Under those circumstances, we made the conscious decision to enjoy the remaining days in Nigeria, ignore all forms of solicitation and coercion and try to immerse ourselves into Lagos as much as we could. By and large, we did just that, with the Traditional wedding in Lekki.
Traditional Nigerian Wedding
My purpose in Lagos was to attend the traditional wedding of a friend and if you’ve ever had the chance to view Nigerian weddings on social media, you will understand the level of excitement that was brewing. Like most countries, weddings are a big deal there. Everything is chosen to precision. The fabric, jewelry, head-wrap (GELE) and colors……all denote some meaning. My friend is Yoruba and her husband is Igbo, creating a holy fusion of tribes and cultures, yet very much Nigerian. The procession, the colors, singing, drumming, dancing and decor, created a vibe that was unmatched. I honestly believe that Nigerian culture has a flamboyance that is unmistakable. I witnessed the “spraying” of money upon the couple while dancing at their wedding. Especially popular among the Yoruba and Igbo cultures, it is a gift from guests to help the couple start their new life together. So much money was flowing that family members were on standby with several boxes to put the sprayed bills into. In addition, I was told that “spraying” in its modern form is probably an extension of an earlier tradition, when Nigeria was experiencing an oil boom. Nigerians had money to spend as it was a time of opulence, thus spraying quickly became the norm.
I “sprayed” and danced to the infectious beats in my Aso-Ebi. Aso-Ebi means “Family Clothes” in Yoruba, a Nigerian language. This is when family members of the couple, decide to wear identical colors and fabrics at an event to identify themselves. As a matter of fact, at a Nigerian wedding you could differentiate the bride’s family from the groom’s family based on the colors and fabrics they’re wearing. The Yoruba clan wore a light blue lace fabric complete with a Fuschia pink Gele, while the Groom’s family (Igbo), wore purple and white.
Nightlife and Food
Let me just put this out there. Nightlife in Lagos is the bomb! Aside from being one of Africa’s most vibrant cultural hubs, it is also packed with the most incredible nightlife options. Trendy clubs affixed with modern niceties and a reputation for fun, are strewn throughout the city. If you’re looking to dance the night away, it does not get any better than Club Velvett. . With its cool strobe lights and top-class, all-night DJ-ing, this spot guarantees to provide an unforgettable experience. The insatiable rhythm of Afro beats, Africa’s latest created genre of music, though most would argue that it existed well before this modern upsurge in popularity; creates an aura of vibes. “If I tell you that I love you-o”, that addictive catch phrase from Davido’s song, belted out from every nook and cranny in Lagos. Well, I’m in love with Afro-beat songs and there was no shortage of it either, in Lagos. I must commend Nigerians for being so proud of their music…..the taxi drivers, the street vendors, the salons, our hosts all had us entranced by the pulsating rhythms. I left Nigeria with a new found love for Davido and Wizkid.
I really wanted to try authentic Nigerian food and were given some options. Egusi soup and pounded yam was tasty, but not my favorite. I had Shawarma; beef or chicken wrapped in a falafel or pita and complimented with onions and spices. It’s similar to a gyro made in my country of Trinidad and Tobago. On the other hand, Shawarma, is not authentically Nigerian but rather, an import, borrowed from the thousands of Middle Easterners that call Lagos their home. Nigerian Jollof rice was pretty good and so was Suya. I had the whole spicy fish with plantains from Farm City, a restaurant ideally located on the water. I still yearned for great Nigerian food but had to settle for what was accessible.
In the final analysis, I can say my six days spent in this West African country was filled with surprises, anger, laughs, crying and at times frustration. Would I return? Certainly. I still have the feeling that my experience could and would be better. I would love to experience a Nigeria void of corruption. A Nigeria that is fulfilling its potential to really becoming the giant of Africa. I would love to see more of this country, but be free of the fear of solicitation from children, and adults, people in authority and vendors. I would love to be free of the guilt that overwhelms my being, when I dismiss their demands. I have hope for a Nigeria that does not see one’s tribe as a symbol of their social standing, but rather a Nigeria that identifies its citizens as NIGERIANS first, foremost and ultimately. During my conversations with several Nigerians, everyone claimed that they belonged to the better tribe. This is the Nigeria, this non-Nigerian yearns for. I still have hope for a future return.