Location: National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos
Mode of transportation: Bus
I was excited and thrilled. Having never stepped out of Nigeria in my entire life, I had every reason to be. I had already met a few friends and we had discussed how we were going to enjoy the scenery, have fun at the borders and marvel about being in 4 different countries all within a day. Unfortunately for us, we were about to go through some shocking experiences which made me conclude that most of the problems we have in Nigeria are caused by Nigerians themselves. I’ll start the story from the departure point.
The next experience was at the Seme Border. Some curious okada-like tricycles were riding past and a friend of mine (Gbolade) brought out his camera and took a picture. Suddenly, Customs officials appeared in the bus as if from nowhere and started shouting furiously, "Who is that?", "Bring that camera here", "Move outside" and other such phrases associated with the military. His camera was confiscated and he was taken away for some brief "questioning", during which his memory card was explored and the images deleted. I thought to myself, "OK, even if there's a law against taking pictures at borders, and yes someone broke that law, why should you talk to him like a kid, snatch his camera and march him outside like some criminal without exhibiting one iota of professionalism?" I realised that that was just the typical Naija definition of Law enforcement which we're supposed to be used to.
The next experience was when a friend and I stepped out of the bus in search of a toilet or secluded area where we could do the No 1. Finding no convenient place, I left my friend and turned back, when suddenly, some rough looking fellow approached me and said, "Officer dey call you". I looked at the "Officer", and behold, I've never seen a more shabbily dressed officer. This "officer" guy was in ragged jeans and a dirty T-shirt. Thinking to myself, "This guy think say them born me yesterday", I said to him "Which officer? Wey im uniform? ... Tell am make he come meet me for inside my bus". Nonsense and Concorbility. However, a fellow traveller was not so lucky. He obeyed the "officers" and they told him to declare the currency in his possesion. He did and after their "inspection", N500 had disappeared. Now what do you call that? Theft, extortion, or what?
We spent the next 4 hours at the border waiting for our passports to be stamped for exit from Nigeria. 4 hours in the hot sun in a bus with the engine and AC switched off is no joke in any way. During this time, the frequent travellers amongst us (apparently identified through the VISAs on their passports) were invited for a special session of silly questioning like "What did you go to do in France?" , "Who did you stay with in London" etc. all this while, I noticed Okadas crossing the borders freely with passengers without any such thing as a security check. All they needed to do was drop an undisclosed amount of money with the guards at the gates. Eventually, we were stamped out of Nigeria and surprisingly we were stamped into Benin Republic in under 30 minutes. We crossed the border and drove into Cotonou, and lo and behold ... it was like heaven ... compared to where we were coming from.
Cotonou is a beautiful city. During our drive through, we did not step into a single pot hole in the roads, neither did we pass through any undulating patch. The street lights were all complete and shone brightly. There were no traffic jam and we soon got to the Benin/Togo border. In about 20 minutess we were in Togo. I then thought to myself, "Have we just crossed a border?". It took us just 20 minutes and I couldn't believe it. We crossed a border in a strange land in a fraction of the time it took to cross our own border. Did those people trust us more than our Nigerian brothers did? We got to the Ghana/Togo border and it was the same thing. Within 45 minutes we had gone through. The Ghanian officials were very polite. A soldier came into the bus to look through the bus. He was very well mannered, friendly and looked quite decent and neat. He soon became a subject of discussion on the bus. On comparison with our recollections of Nigerian soldiers, he stood miles apart.
At the Ghanaian border we were treated like invited guests and tourists. At the Nigerian Border, we were treated like spies and criminals ... without any reason. At the Ghanaian border, we were people to be reckoned with. At the Nigerian border, we were just another number of people, opportunities for the Nigerian officials to make money. I used to think that the whole of Africa was like Nigeria, but like the popular yoruba adage, I had to visit another farm to know that my father's farm wasn't the biggest. Nigerians really do cause problems for Nigerians.
The trip opened my eyes to 3 problems that are prevalent, and need to be addressed ASAP.
- Autocracy. The "Do as I say, because I say so" syndrome exhibited by everyone with any measure of authority.
- Corruption. In many places, the officials are not just corrupt, corruption has become official.
- Crime. Starting with such little things as swindling innocent people of little sums of money, it soon blows out if not arrested.