December 20, 2007 GMT

Nigeria

Nigeria’s repriation precedes it, according to the foreign office; since January 2006, 36 British nationals (including one child), and more than 180 other foreign national have been kidnapped. This is mainly in the south; in Cross River state well I don’t think I’ll go there then. Bribery, corruption, high risk of terrorism, and a country a wash with guns and more con artists than you can shake a stick at.

I passed through the Niger immigration getting my passport stamped by a man wearing military uniform and a AK 47 slung over his shoulder, wearing pink flip flops, that’s something that you don’t see in the UK.

I rode through no man’s land to the Nigeria border control. To be welcomed by the Nigerian police, “welcome to Nigeria you must be Michael” yes I am thanks very much. Chris and Nick had passed through the day before I was planning to meet them that afternoon in Sokoto. They had advised them that I was going to be passing through. My passport was checked and stamped into Nigeria.

Then I was told to go to the SS room, I was led into an office the official told me he was with the “Nigerian, Special, Secret, Security Service pausing between each word for effect. He filled out a dog-eared looking form asking the same questions that the immigration police had asked.

Next was the Anti drug squad the process was much the same as the previous two offices, until he asked me what drugs I had. I’m carrying many different drugs, which I got prescribed to me by a doctor before I left, just in case. I showed him the contents of my first aid kit, which he took great interest in, after checking each package, he said I’m worried that you are abusing these drugs, but as you are a tourist I’m going to let you pass. Then he saw my codeine he cross-referenced this with an anti drugs poster on the wall and told me this was a narcotic. He was going to have to call his boss to who happened to be in Niger praying until he arrived I was detained “I’m sorry to delay you he added”

To cut a long story short I was detained in the office for a few hours while his boss got back then after answering a few questions totally unrelated to the drugs I was on my way. I think the drug squad just loved to invent work and have me around and to ask questions about how they could move to England

I met with Chris and Nick in Sokoto we took a rest day in which I met many Nigerians who were all extremely welcoming and friendly, no hassle at all and the following morning we headed south following the River Niger. We stopped for the night staying by the river and headed down to catch the sunset, no sooner were our cameras out of our pockets we were apprehended by someone who jumped out of the bushes and told us that we couldn’t take photos. It was just a river with not even a bridge or building in sight although we put our cameras away and headed back to the hotel.

Once we were round the corner another random person who claimed to be CID came up to us and told us we had to leave this place right now, which we gladly did. Once back at the hotel our friend from the “CID” turned up again. Don’t worry I’ve sorted it all for you but you’ve got to pay 5000 Nira (£20) for a permit to take photos. He couldn’t show any ID so we didn’t pay and eventually he left. We’ll never know if he was the police or not. He said he couldn’t leave empty handed, as the other police would think he had pocketed the money. “Your problem not ours mate”

We left Yelwa when the sun came up eager to get as far away as possible when we were a sufficient distance down the road we pulled over for breakfast. Immediately we were the centre of attention with hundreds watching us eat our omelets from a radius of a few metres. After we finished eating one of the enterprising locals produced a camera and was charging people to have their photo taken with us.

There were roadblocks all the way down this road at times every couple of miles we were being stopped and welcomed to Nigeria. This was all very friendly but stopping every five minutes was not getting us anywhere fast. One roadblock was not so friendly though as soon as we pulled up you could tell they were going to try to get money out of us one way or another. They checked over my bike looking for faults; your front tyre is too worn, you have to have a Nigerian number plate to drive in this country, I was not having any of it! Especially after the state of every other vehicle on the road, he ended up extracting some money off Nick for not having any mirrors after that he had the cheek to ask if I could invite him to England when I returned home! You can imagine my reply.

The construction of Abuja the capital of Nigeria started in 1981 and it was declared the capital in 1991. Abuja has wide streets and modern buildings with a huge cathedral and mosque dominating the skyline. Once again we were the centre of attention with extremely friendly people welcoming us to their city and asking questions about the ride. When we were preparing to leave a TV crew showed up and interviewed us for the evening news.

The most frightening thing about Nigeria is that it has cars and all Nigerian drivers have thrown away the Highway Code. Foot flat to the floor wherever they are. Over taking into oncoming traffic anything goes.

I had a night in a catholic mission in a town called JOS which is short for Jesus our savior. Very friendly people again although they seemed very keen to get me into church so the following morning I was on the road again.

When it’s time to top up with fuel no problem to find a petrol station there are dozens in every town, but to find one with fuel in it’s tanks. Just look out for a queue maybe one station in every twenty might have fuel. More often than not I was filling Mad Max style round the corner from jerry cans, only twenty-five pence a litre though.

A couple of days ride out of Abuja was a Yankari national park we were all looking forward to stopping here for a few days as there were also some hot springs here to rest our tired bones. Everywhere we set foot in Nigeria people wanted to come and talk to us and have their picture taken “look those white men where’s me camera” we would often hear. As another group would rush over. There were many students here and they invited us to a party they were having that evening, which was fun.

The next morning at 0645 there was a knock on my tent I rolled over pretending to be asleep but it turned out to be another film crew they were making a film to promote tourism in Nigeria. Did we want to come out on a safari for the day in return for being extras on the film? We saw elephants, hippos, baboons and monkeys.

Nigeria had been under military rule for many years since it gained independence in 1960 but now there is a real air of change about the place. All the people I spoke to praised the new government and had hope for the future, there is also a big campaign to stamp out corruption.

Despite a couple of bad experiences, I really enjoyed the ten days that we spent here. Through the many conversations I had with local people I leant a many things about the country and given time I think the new government could put an end to the poor management they have had in the past and put a halt to corruption.

We stopped in Yola the last town in Nigeria before Cameroon changed the last of our money and headed to immigration. While I was getting stamped out of Nigeria I had a phone call from FedEx in Abuja. I had sent my top box back to the UK with a few other things to lighten my load including CD’s with all my photos on and all the miniDV tapes that I have shot so far. The faint voice at the end of the line told me that they could not send the box as it was locked even though they checked the contents and told me to lock it at the depot. Then the line went dead, Abuja was two days ride away and I was stamped out of the country anyway. I decided that I would have to proceed to Cameroon and try to sort it from there. I’ll keep you posted on the developments on this one; I hope I don’t have to return to Abuja to put a key in a lock.

Heading to the river Faro that is the border between Nigeria and Cameroon my map shows a road, which crosses the river. The track lead through a rural area before we found the river and much to our surprise the map had lied. No bridge just a few canoes and one larger boat. A price was agreed and the BMW was lifted onto one of the small wooden boats.

Posted by Michael Beckett at December 20, 2007 05:41 PM GMT
 


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