Road trip to Lagos (September 2011)

You may have seen an influx of pictures and video on my blog and that is only made possible by the fact that I am in Lagos at the moment. I am going to be visiting a tree nursery in Ibadan(about 45 minutes north) and Lagos also provides some well needed rest and relaxation for me. Our organization has a friend that provides us with a lot of support, he is basically the unsung hero of our organization. He works for a big oil company here but is an avid conservationist and loves our organization and members. He literally does so much for our organization it’s unbelievable. So when any of us go to Lagos(including when I arrived) we lodge with him and he basically takes care of us. Now it just so happened that he had sent his driver to Cross River State on business so I decided to hitch a ride back with him to save roughly $100 USD on a flight. A flight would be about an hour and 20 minutes while this drive was projected at 12-14 hours. It was a no brainer for me, not based on cost as much as it was based on adventure. I rarely get to travel outside of my state and because Nigeria is so big and diverse I’ll take any opportunity to see anywhere. An addition, I have been so overworked as of late that the prospect of being able to sit in one spot for 12 hours actually seemed attractive.

We began our journey at 7AM. My driver, Pius, has been this man’s driver for some years now and he is a native of Cross River State(the state I am living) though he has lived in Lagos for 14 years. He has done this drive several times and he’s the perfect mix of interesting conversation but having enough self awareness to know when to shut up. He also proved to be pretty knowledgeable about Nigeria, which was of course very interesting as we passed through different towns and states.
The journey got interesting as we reached Abia State. Apparently we missed a turn and ended up on a bad road. This wouldn’t have been so bad but we missed another turn and found ourselves alone. Pius realized his mistake when we came to some huge pools of water in the road and we wanted to wait for a bus to pass and see the route to take. He said there must have been a turn off we missed and decided to turn around. Just then a young boy came and said he would direct us through. We knew we would have to ‘dash’ him some money but it would be relatively small, especially considering the fact we would have to turn around. This happened a few times and later it happened on the main road(see above) which was quite alarming considering the multiple overturned semi’s lining the puddle. I guess it’s the Nigerian road sign for “Proceed with Caution”. And overturned semi’s is a pretty common occurrence on the roads. When cars and semi’s get wrecked they are simply left there, which is quite good because as I said, I think it serves as a warning. Drivers here are quite reckless and trucks are often in terrible condition. There are some pretty impressive wrecks and the majority of them you think to yourself, “well, everyone in that one must have certainly died”. So it’s good to be cautious on the road.
 
It is very common for there to be police roadblocks in Nigeria. Half for safety and half for corruption, the road blocks usually consist of a few logs or tires blocking the road into a one lane pass. This invariably causes constant traffic and delays. From Calabar to Lagos I think we must have passed through over 100 checkpoints. If you are in a public bus the check points will expect a ‘dash’ of about 50-100 Naira. This is kind of an unspoken “I won’t ask for your papers or license” rule. It happens every time I go from my village to Calabar and it always makes me laugh. Sometimes the drivers will know the officers and they will just let them pass and other times the officers are just hanging out not checking anyone. Now seeing as we were in a nice vehicle and I was a foreigner, we got stopped a lot more. Some points would just wave us through because they assumed we had our papers in order but some stopped us and asked for a variety of things. The most common was drivers license. Next were papers. Next was a fire extinguisher. Pius told me that if any of these things weren’t in order, we would have to pay some pretty big money to be let off. Some guards simply checked the papers, others examined the registration number on the vehicle to make sure it was ours and some tried to make up information to trap us “the name doesn’t match the vehicle” and other bogus things like that. Some officers point blank asked me if I had any money for them. I kinda joked with them in pidgin and everything was fine but of course it made me laugh. The checkpoints also increased in states known for kidnapping and violence. At some points it was literally every 400-800 meters.
It’s also kinda funny because wherever the road is bad and you need to slow down, or wherever there is a police checkpoint, there are hawkers selling goods. Pius said that if they don’t stay by the police checkpoints, bandits and armed robbers will come and rob them, even if it’s for some very small money. That really upset me; thinking of these kids and extremely poor people who stand in the sun all day and sell goods for a very small profit margin having to worry about being robbed. The most interesting hawker was right as we started off our journey and there was a guy selling little packets of rum(about a shot) at 7:30 AM to drivers. Hm, thanks pal, glad you’re making the roads safe.
The road itself was not so bad. There were potholes and rough patches but relative to the road I’m used to riding on, it was luxury. There was a noticeable difference when you crossed from state to state. Imo has a great governor and their roads were excellent. Delta has oil money so their road was also excellent. But literally, as soon as you cross from Imo to Anambra, the road is full of potholes. The road for the majority of the second half of the journey was pretty good. The trip was interesting and I didn’t once feel like I was sitting in the car too long. I did see a variety of things being sold along the road as well as had the opportunity to drive through some medium and small cities in various states. Some were disgusting (like Aba in Abia) with trash laying all around, water filling up streets with no drainage and derelict buildings, while others (like Asaba) were slightly impressive medium sized cities that certainly gave me an appreciation for the cleanliness and relative order of Calabar. We also drove through Owurri in Imo, which is apparently the second hand clothes capital of Nigeria. Huge markets full of second hand clothes that you may have given to the salvation army or your local church clothes drive filled the streets. It was quite impressive and certainly gave the city some character.
In the end the journey took about 13 hours. We didn’t have an accident, didn’t have to bribe anyone, didn’t get robbed and the car didn’t get stuck in mud along the way. In Nigeria, that is a seriously successful roadtrip.
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