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Ω2

Welcome to Nigeria!

   We had heard many horror stories about Nigeria and we were planning our route carefully, as well as the safety precautions we should take in order to cross the country safely. In the north some extremists, claiming to be Islamists, organize terrorist attacks for the past four years. In the Niger Delta, in the southern part of the country, kidnappings are taking place for some years now.

   The conditions there are hideous, as colossal multinational companies, such as Shell, Mobil, Chevron, Texaco and Agip, benefit massively from the vast oil deposits of Nigeria. In collaboration with the corrupted politicians and extremely rich businessmen of the country, they let villagers to sink in poverty. Shell, usually being the biggest company worldwide, in terms of revenue, gets the largest share of this trade, being the main responsible for the current situation in Nigeria. That’s why we never full our tanks with Shell fuel.

   How would it seem to you knowing that you live in the country holding the tenth biggest oil reservoirs in the world but your house is usually lacking electricity because the public electricity company is unable to produce enough power? Those who have the means use generators to power their houses. These generators consume gas imported from abroad, as Nigeria is deprived of adequate facilities for oil refining. Both the petroleum companies and the corrupted politicians and businessmen of the country count their profits in billions of US dollars, while the majority of the inhabitants around the Niger Delta barely survives in less than one US dollar per day…

Fuel station in the middle of the river!

Fuel station in the middle of the river!

   The multinational companies and the apposite Nigerian authorities could not care less about the environment as well. Leakages are being spotted in the various pumps and pipelines transporting the oil, making the water around the Niger Delta look nothing like water at all. At the same time, the gas emitted during the drilling process is being burnt. The public electricity company prefers to leave it unexploited, polluting the environment by burning it, rather than using it to produce power.

The peaceful struggles of the indigenous people, set off in the 90’s, in order to change this situation, were repressed by the Nigerian authorities resulting to executions and raw violence. However, violence begets violence… So, the organization known as Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) was formed, responding with violent actions. They attack the facilities of the petroleum companies, while they often kidnap white people working there, who they gain more money in one month than locals will see in ten years’ time. You can watch the relative documentary by Small Planet, which is particularly interesting, called: “Delta – Oil’s Dirty Business“.

A car hit the cyclist and ran away. Not only was the bicycle destroyed but also a big part of the goods that were loaded on it.

A car hit the cyclist and ran away. Not only was the bicycle destroyed but also a big part of the goods that were loaded on it.

   So, we decided to plan our route in the south of the country, avoiding by all means the region around the Niger Delta. We would mostly travel on main roads, where the roadblocks set by some guys in order to rob the drivers that pass by, are not so common. They usually put a board with nails in the middle of the road forcing the drivers to pull over. Nevertheless, every Nigerian official authority uses the same method for its own checkpoints as well: the police, the army, the customs service, the immigration service, the narcotic police… Local drivers are so much used to corruption that they hold a bill in their hand and just pass it over to the officer on the roadblock without even stopping the vehicle!

   The first 30 minutes in Nigeria we came across around 15 roadblocks! Our strategy was not to pull over if we were not forced to, unless it was clear that it was an official checkpoint. This way we crossed most of the roadblocks but eventually in one of those they set the board with the nails in the middle of the road, making us to stop. It was then when we realized that we were being chased by some vehicle from a previous roadblock. A furious man without uniform came out of the vehicle, grabbed our passports and shouted us to follow him.

   He took us to the Immigration Service and he couldn’t stop shouting that we were terrorists and that they would check every single item we were carrying in our luggage. Well, that took some time… When they saw the dates I carry from Mauritania, as emergency supplies, not knowing what it was, they made me eat one to prove them that it was something edible! After having checked everything, without having found anything suspicious of course, they calmed down and cut to the chase: “Now you have to pay for our fuel and the time we wasted on you”…

That's suspicious! It could be explosives! What can I say? In Mauritania they use bags made out of animal skin to pack the dates. I had to eat one to proof that it's edible!

That’s suspicious! It could be explosives! What can I say? In Mauritania they use bags made out of animal skin to pack the dates. I had to eat one to proof that it’s edible!

   The problem was that they had discovered Christina’s hidden stash, where she kept 250 euros. Christina gave them 10 euros but they looked so low at this amount that they gave it back to her… Then they took all of her money, counted them and told her that either she would give them 50 euros or we would spend the night in jail. Christina was afraid that we would be in more trouble in case they would expose the rest of our hidden stash and handed them over a 50-euro bill. However, there were three of them and everybody claimed his own share! Christina then told them that we would rather spend the night in a cell. The merciful thieves thought it over, kept 50 euros for all three of them and finally set us free. They gave us a smiling handshake telling us: “Welcome to Nigeria! Don’t worry, we Nigerians are really nice people.”. Before we left they told us what most Africans say at the end of an argument: “We are together”. What an irony…

I couldn't take it anymore! I wanted to kill that bloody cop (during the filming of the movie)!

I couldn’t take it anymore! I wanted to kill that bloody cop (during the filming of the movie)!

   We were looking forward to arrive to Ibadan, where Bimbo, a young Nigerian girl, would host us in the vast university campus. For us the university campus was the haven that would keep us safe for a few days, away from the paranoia and the dangers of this country. Unfortunately, getting inside the campus proved to be harder than we thought… When the security guards saw our motorcycles, they immediately stopped us, claiming that we might be terrorists.

   The situation was getting worse because of a huge bombing that had taken place in the capital of the country just a few hours ago. The terrorist organization Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the attack. It took place in a bus and taxi station, where 88 people were killed and around 200 were injured! The media had spread out the news that a white lady was responsible for this terrorist attack, the British Samantha Lewthwaite, also known as “White Widow”. So, you can imagine how highly suspicious we seemed as white guys…

That's how the food in these countries usually looks like: a ball is made out of mashed corn, yam or cassava and is accompanied by a soup of leaves, vegetables, fish or meat.

That’s how the food in these countries usually looks like: a ball is made out of mashed corn, yam or cassava and is accompanied by a soup of leaves, vegetables, fish or meat.

   Bimbo came at the gate, explaining to the guards who we were and what we were doing there, but it was not enough… They demanded for a written permission from the students’ dean in order to let us in! We were held at the gate for three hours before this procedure was completed. Meanwhile Bimbo sent some friends of hers to keep us company: Tejiri and Belit. The news of our arrival were soon out to the local motorcycling club and David arrived on his Varadero to meet us. For the next days we had a hell of a time with these guys, making us forget about our nasty introduction in the country.

Christina loved Belit's chopper, since she could reach the ground even with her knees bent!

Christina loved Belit’s chopper, since she could reach the ground even with her knees bent!

   In fact, something unbelievable happened… Some film producer had come over the theatre school of the university to look for actors. When he met me, he got excited, as he was looking for some white guy to play the short part of a serious-looking expat doctor inspecting a psychiatric clinic. When I had the chance in India to play in Bollywood, I hadn’t done it because of a throat infection caused by the polluted air of Bombay. But eventually I played in Nollywood, the third-largest film industry in the world! Nigeria turns out over 45 movies every week. It was very interesting to see how a movie is being made and it was great fun to be on set and listen to the director shouting: “Action!” and “Cut, cut!”.

Unbelievable: I acted in a Nollywood movie (and I wore a tie for the first time in my life)!

Unbelievable: I acted in a Nollywood movie (and I wore a tie for the first time in my life)!

   When we left Ibadan, David accompanied us on his Varadero for the first 60 kilometres (37 miles) of the route. The next days we realized how wisely we had chosen our route, as we did not encounter many roadblocks and the few times we were stopped by police or military officers they were very friendly and never checked anything.

David accompanied us during the first 60 km (37 miles) from Ibadan to Benin City.

David accompanied us during the first 60 km (37 miles) from Ibadan to Benin City.

   On Easter Sunday, celebrated the same day as it’s being celebrated in Greece, we found ourselves in Benin City. There we were hosted by Pastor Mac, a former schoolmate of David. He gave us a tour around the city, giving us the chance to admire the bronze sculptures for which the artisans of Benin City are famous. For many centuries they have been making sculptures using a unique technique, acknowledged even by UNESCO. They make the sculpture out of wax, casting a clay mould around it. When they bake it, the wax melts and runs out from a hole, leaving the mould empty. That’s where they pour the melted brass to have the final outcome!

The famous bronze sculptures of Benin City are made with a unique technique which is acknowledged even by UNESCO.

The famous bronze sculptures of Benin City are made with a unique technique which is acknowledged even by UNESCO.

   We made our next stop in Enugu. We pulled over our motorcycles on a main road and Christina waited there, while I was looking around for some hotel. A Nigerian lady happened to pass by on a rickshaw. When she saw Christina, she immediately asked the driver to pull over. She started asking her questions like what are we doing here, what is our mission, where are we going and so on. She wrote down the number plates of our motorbikes and our names while she kept asking Christina how was it possible to travel in Nigeria without being afraid.

   When I arrived, she suggested us to follow her to a hotel. I told her that we had already found one and we jumped on our bikes ready to go. That was when she threw herself in front of us telling us that we couldn’t leave! When I asked her why, she told me that she was a member of the security service and that we had to wait for a colleague of hers, in order to check us out… Of course, she would by no means show us her identity, which is a common attitude for officers in these countries. Happily, she proved to be true. Her colleague was friendly and he was more concerned for our own safety. He noted down our telephone number and spoke with someone from the hotel we would be staying at. But that was not the end of our troubles…

   When we arrived at the hotel where I had already made arrangements, they told us that all rooms were suddenly full! Something was not right here… The young guy I had initially talked to showed up and he was truthful to us. He told us that everybody was afraid of us being terrorists, that’s why they didn’t want to give us a room! Here we go again… We opened some of our luggage to show them that there were no bombs inside and we showed them our passports in order to keep them calm. Finally, after a couple of hours, we had a bed to sleep on.

In Nigeria there is a middle class which, despite of being a minority, it supports the malls and the many fast food eateries of the country.

In Nigeria there is a middle class which, despite of being a minority, it supports the malls and the many fast food eateries of the country.

   In order to get to Calabar, we cut some distance through dirt roads. Even there, some villagers took us for terrorists. However, when they found out that we are harmless, they were quite friendly. It was the second time in Africa that we had to load our motorcycles in pirogues, this time to cross the Cross River.

   In Calabar we were hosted by Babson and the three girls he shares the house with. Babson teaches at the city’s school of arts and has lived in Switzerland for some time. His house was the only house of an African that we saw which was no different from a European one. He even got a home cinema, where we could watch our photos and videos from our trip!

The rare drill monkeys exist only in some parts of Nigeria, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. The organization Pandrillus in Calabar tries to save them from extinction.

The rare drill monkeys exist only in some parts of Nigeria, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. The organization Pandrillus in Calabar tries to save them from extinction.

   Calabar is considered to be the most beautiful city in Nigeria and not for nothing. It sits on a lush hill overlooking the Cross River, while many old buildings bear witness of its past as a main colonial post of the British. From there we headed 250 kilometers (155 miles) northeast, in order to cross the border to Cameroon.

Felucca on the calm waters of Cross River.

Felucca on the calm waters of Cross River.

   Until now Nigeria was the first country we left with so mixed feelings… It is true that at the end of the day we did not find ourselves in any danger, although quite a few Nigerians gave us a hard time. On the other hand, we must admit that most of the Nigerians were very friendly to us. We also made some friends we really want to meet again sometime. Nevertheless, we feel that both the Nigerian authorities, as well as many citizens, discourage the foreigners of visiting the country. Even though in Nigeria we had some interesting experiences, we would unlikely visit this country if we didn’t have to cross it. We keep the sweet memories in our heart, the bad ones in our mind and the only thing there is no doubt about is that we felt quite relieved when we crossed the last checkpoint at the border of Nigeria…

 

Here you can watch the video about our trip in Nigeria:

Soundtracks (Nigerian music):
Femi Kuti – E No Good
Kayode Fashola – Rantiomo Eni Tiwo N’Se

 

That’s the trailer of the movie in which I acted in Nigeria (you can watch me at 2:17):


 

Παρουσιάσεις

Κοζάνη
Σάββατο
30 Νοεμβρίου 2019, 20:00
Όμιλος Δικυκλιστών Κοζάνης
1ο χλμ Κοζάνης - Κρόκου

Kozani

 

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