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[Nigeria]Nigerian glossary

7/5/2008

Published

Filed under: books,bradt,travel,VSO — kevin @ 16:36

The second edition of the Bradt guide to Nigeria is finally out, complete with my updates to the northern section and seventeen of my pictures (unfortunately the cover photo isn’t one of mine).

My copy should be on its way to me now, I’m really looking forward to seeing my photos in print. I suspect the money I’m being paid for the photos is going to be spent furnishing my new apartment, when I finally find one, maybe I should have asked Bradt to just pay me in IKEA vouchers…


5/10/2007

What I did on my holidays

Filed under: bradt,travel — kevin @ 22:32

I just went back and started updating the posts from my trip round northern Nigeria in July.

As well as a farewell tour I was being paid by Bradt to do the research for northern Nigeria for the second edition of their Nigeria guidebook.

23/7/2007

Back from my travels

Filed under: bradt,travel — kevin @ 16:30

I’m back from my tour of northern Nigeria. After two weeks of travelling I was pretty glad to get back to my own house and especially to a comfortable bed.

When I have time I’ll sort out the pictures and upload them. They’ll appear on the date I took them rather than the date I post them.

21/7/2007

Abuja

Filed under: bradt,friends,travel — kevin @ 08:34

My trip finished up back in Abuja, after another unpleasant journey. This time I just missed the first New Bussa to Suleja car and the second one took four and a half hours to fill. Then we had a blowout just outside Bida, with the driver whinging that somebody had cut his tyre. I was pretty sure it was more likely just down to lack of maintenance, given that the car’s exhaust had already dropped off, most of the door handles didn’t work and most other parts were damaged or worn out.

Dropping in Suleja gave me my first opportunity to use one of Abuja’s big green buses. They have a little desk for the conductor, behind the driver, where he collects your money before letting you through a turnstile. I noticed that occasionally they’d let passengers on through the back door instead, ensuring that they weren’t counted by the turnstile, I wonder where the money from those fares went?

The next day was my last chance to see Dave before he headed home, we went to Sitar Indian Restaurant for lunch. I’d never been there before, it’s very good but also very expensive.

20/7/2007

Nigerian mobile networks

Filed under: bradt,General — kevin @ 20:52

On my travels I’ve ended up watching a lot of TV in hotel rooms.

Tonight the Nigerian version of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ was on. The contestant was a bit stuck, so phoned a friend. The friend’s side of the conversation went something like this:

Hello? I can’t hear you. Who is speaking? Hello?

It continued like that until his 30 seconds ran out. The joke is that the show is sponsored by MTN.

New Bussa

Filed under: bradt,travel — kevin @ 08:27

I’d heard that it’s possible to take a boat down Lake Kainji, which sounded much more interesting than the usual bush taxis. Things were looking good when there was an almost-full car going to Yauri, from where the ferries allegedly leave.

Once we got there things started to get complicated, with a large crowd of motor park officials appearing to tell me that there are no boats and never have been and that I should just take a car. Of course, I knew they were lying, they’d swear blind that there was no lake if they thought it would get you in one of their cars.

After asking around a bit more it seemed that there really weren’t any boats at that time, the lake is very low and as a result quite far away from Yauri. Instead I took a car to Kontagora, thinking it would be easy to get from there to New Bussa.

In Kontagora I found a cheap hotel, another one of these bizarre places staffed entirely by teenage boys. They were overjoyed to have a baturi staying and kept popping up to check if I needed anything.

The next morning I was at the motor park early but there were no cars going to New Bussa. One of the drivers took me out to the road and found a car going to Mokwa, which is on the way. The local taxi of choice seems to be a Toyota Starlet, a small three-door car about the size of a Nissan Micra. Into one of these they’ll cram up to eight people, four in the back, two in the passenger seat and two in the driver’s seat. After three separate taxis I finally reached Mokwa and found the car going to New Bussa.

An hour and a bit later the driver still had no passengers apart from me, so he decided to drive me round the corner to the other motor park. Realising that that car was now at the back of the queue I noticed that there was a minibus almost ready to leave and hopped aboard.

New Bussa is an odd place, basically a company town for NEPA. It has the distinction of being the only town in Nigeria to have constant electricity, due to being beside the hydroelectric dam that produces much of it. I even stayed at the (very cheap) NEPA-owned hotel, where the helpful receptionist sneaked into town to bring me a beer against Niger State’s sharia laws.

To occupy myself I took an okada out to the dam. It’s not terribly impressive, even if you’re interested in these things. I asked around about boats to Yauri and they confirmed that they’re seasonal, depending on the level of the lake. I also chatted to the National Parks staff sitting at the upper entrance to the dam’s defunct lock. They’re there waiting for any tourists who might happen to want an outing on the lake, but you have to buy your ticket at the office elsewhere.

18/7/2007

Sokoto

Filed under: bradt,travel — kevin @ 08:24

Another early start to get to Sokoto. I was surprised by how quickly we got there, it seems the road has improved considerably since my last visit.

I wandered around town a bit and then called Bashir, who I’d first met on my placement visit to Sokoto two and a half years ago. He came and met me and then insisted on driving me around town.

The Sokoto State museum was very interesting, one of the few where I’ve met a knowledgeable guide who could answer questions. They have quite a collection of artefacts and letters from the period before the British conquest of the Sokoto Caliphate. He also showed me around their archive, with official records going back to pre-colonial times. It was interesting to note how the language changed from Arabic to Hausa written in Arabic script (ajami), to Hausa in Roman script (boko) under the British, to English since independence.

I spent a few hours watching TV in the hotel, with the staff doing the usual Nigerian hotel staff trick of changing the channels on the satellite decoder if they get bored of the programme. This usually happens just when you’ve got into a film, they’ll then change it to Africa Magic (24 hour Nollywood).

In the evening we met some of Bashir’s friends at Daddy’s Smart, a sports club, restaurant and non-alcoholic bar. It seems to be where most of Sokoto’s young middle class spend their evenings, unexpectedly relaxed and pleasant if what you’re expecting is a strict sharia city.

Sokoto seems to be developing a bit these days, lots of new businesses going up around the bypass and the old city is being tidied up a bit. They’re still using tiny 50cc motorbikes though, mostly ridden by 12 year old boys or very old men.

17/7/2007

Kano and Katsina

Filed under: bradt,travel — kevin @ 08:21

The journey from Maiduguri to Kano was much easier than the one from Bauchi, no changes or huge traffic jams.

On my first night I stayed at the Tourist Camp, a state-run hotel/hostel targetted at overland tours that seldom come. It’s cheap and does seem to attract an occasional genuine tourist; it’s also very handy for Bompai road, where there are several nice restaurants and bakeries.

In the evening I had dinner at an Italian restaurant. It seemed nice but the service was very strange, both my starter and main course appeared at the same time, so I had to eat the main course first before it got cold. The food was OK, but not as good as Ciao in Abuja and fairly expensive.

An early start the next day, a taxi to Kofar Ruwa motor park and I was on my way to Katsina. The road seems to have been repaired fairly recently, but there are signs it won’t last long. The contractors will have been diverting money from the materials to bribe the officials granting the contract.

Katsina is a fairly small and quiet city, with a nice big square outside the Emir’s palace and Nigeria’s tallest remaining mud building, the Gobarau Minaret.
A painted cocrete wall with a gateway topped by a clock tower, outside is a sandy square. A three-storey mud building behind a concrete wall.  A boy is playing football in front.

It’s surprisingly green at this time of year, I was expecting it to be much drier considering how close it is to the Sahara.

Back in Kano the next day I got soaked on an okada on my way to the railway station. After poking around a bit I found some staff, a young guy who told me that trains to Lagos are now weekly. It seems they leave Lagos on Friday and usually arrive in Kano on Monday or Tuesday but “sometimes there is breakdown or derailment”! While I was trapped in the station by the rain he then gave me an hour-long (it seemed longer) lecture on the joys of accepting Jesus into your life.

Once the rain had stopped I took a taxi to Gidan Dan Hausa, the former home of British colonial official and Hausaphile Hans Visscher. It’s built in traditional style and is very pleasant, although suffering from a serious termite infestation. Now a museum I had to be escorted by a guide, which was unfortunate as he could barely speak or read English but insisted on reading out the labels on items anyway.

In the evening I met up with Susan for a nice Chinese meal and then retired to the ECWA (Evangelical Church of West Africa) guesthouse. They have a new accommodation block with hotel-quality rooms at very reasonable prices and it’s very nice, although the list of house rules is a little intimidating.

14/7/2007

Still travelling

Filed under: bradt,travel — kevin @ 07:53

Today I’m in Maiduguri, right up in the far north east, close to (what’s left of) Lake Chad.

Yesterday’s journey up from Bauchi was difficult but with a happy ending. I got to the motor park and found the car with the “Maiduguri/Potiskum” sign, it was almost full. Then the driver announced that he was only going as far as Potiskum, although everyone in the car wanted to go to Maiduguri. The driver of the next car in line was willing to go to Maiduguri, but the union man wouldn’t let him take us because it wasn’t his turn!

So, a cramped journey to Potiskum and then squeezed into an even more cramped “Borno Express”. Despite the discomfort the journey was going well, on a recently resurfaced road, until we reached a huge queue of traffic 33km from Maiduguri. People had parked all over the road, blocking both lanes and the hard shoulders.
A queue of vehicles parked all over the road, people standing around. Black smoke rising in the background.

Everyone came down from the bus and I walked up to the cause of the problem, a big truck slewed across the road. It seems (based on later information) that it had tried to go through a police roadblock, the driver not noticing the plank with nails in on the road. One of the front tyres had blown out. The driver and some others were under the truck jacking it up and changing the tyre.

The police roadblock (tyres and bits of wood) had been dragged off the road and set ablaze, a huge plume of oily black smoke was drifting across the road. I didn’t find out what happened to the policemen, angry truckers tend to gang up together.

After about fifteen minutes a police pickup turned up and drove up to the truck. It was immediately surrounded by a crowd of people, pushing and shouting. The police kept moving on, away from the crowd and eventually drove off again.

Eventually, with the truck’s tyre replaced there was still no movement. It seems that the truck driver was demanding that somebody give him 70,000 Naira for a new tyre, otherwise he was happy to stay there all day.

One man in the bus had phoned ahead to Maiduguri and arranged for someone to come and pick him up, he offered three of us a lift. We walked to the opposite side of the huge queue of vehicles, quickly scuttling past the truck (somebody decided that because I’m white I could easily pay the whole 70,000).

Just as our lift arrived it seems that people had had enough and were just driving off-road around the blockage.

So a long, uncomfortable and tedious journey but with a lovely act of kindness at the end. Instead of the remaining 33km by bus I got to travel in a Mercedes.

Like most cities in Nigeria Maiduguri is a mixture of squalor and beauty:
A road bridge over a small stream with both banks covered in rubbish. A peacock walks along the top of a concrete structure.

12/7/2007

Bauchi

Filed under: bradt,travel — kevin @ 08:09

My next stop was Bauchi, mostly of interest as the nearest city to Yankari National Park. It’s quite a nice city, although the only thing you could call a tourist attraction is the crumbling but still impressive tomb of Nigeria’s first prime minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.

In the evening I went for a stroll around the old city, the old mud walls seem to be in slightly better condition than in Kano and Zaria.
In the foreground a hill slopes down towards the remnants of a mud wall and a modern white concrete gate with a major road passing through it. Crumbling mud wall with a goat standing on it.

I took an okada to the Emir’s palace, the young rider took me on a slightly roundabout route, showing off his baturi passenger to his friends. I was amused to see that he’d painted a thin beard on his chin, to augment the few hairs growing there. In the square outside the Emir’s Palace and the prison local youths were playing football. It seems to be quite organised, with a referee and someone who seemed to be a coach. Lots of local men and boys were watching, with various vendors selling fried yam, akara (kosai in Hausa) and other street food.
An impressive concrete building, painted a kind of dull tan. Young men playing football on a dirt pitch in front of a high wall.

As the dusty pitch is surrounded by a prison wall on one side and busy roads on the other three sides the players often had to run out into the road to fetch the ball. I’m surprised they never got run over.

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