“Nigeria is a very dangerous country”, or so we had been told by many people throughout Africa. Indeed, if we can trust the free press, it certainly is. Countless kidnappings of expats in the south of the country, especially around Port Harcourt, had resulted in extreme safety measures on the part of the party who had to pay the ransoms: the oil corporations. Moreover, in the north of the country, Islamists kidnap or simply murder Westerners for religious motives. But there was no way around it, so we decided to gun it through the country and head for Lagos.
The border wasn’t too bad, but the first night was horrible. We didn’t keep an eye on the time left until sundown, and so accidentally drove through the place we should have been sleeping, forcing us to find another hotel in the dark in the next city. “Whatever you do, don’t drive in the dark in Nigeria”; the words of an experienced oil expat we met in Luanda echoed in my head. But apart from a bit of stress, things turned out fine.
The next daywe accidentally drove through the heart of Benin City due to a few wrong turns, which led to utter chaos and disbelief on the faces of Nigerians. We also got stopped by police of various kinds close to 100 times. Every time a bribe was sought without even checking our papers or the vehicle. Sometimes, when we refused, an officer would shout something like “your steering-wheel is on the wrong side” or “you have too many lights”. They even threatened to impound our car at one point, but some threats from our side (“I will have to call my embassy if you do that”) made our mistakes vanish as rapidly as they had appeared. Eventually, after two long days of driving, we arrived in Lagos – the city people in Africa avoid like ebola and Somalia.
There, we were invited by Jaco, a South African working for a large accounting firm, to stay with him. He claimed to enjoy the challenges the city poses: continuous power-outages, no water, incredibly high prices, shortages of other kinds, and some of the most congested and chaotic traffic in the world. We stayed in his house, each with our own en-suite room, with the fasted internet on the west coast and a cook (Robert) who turned every meal into a feast. Jaco showed us Nigeria’s economic powerhouse with all its riches and its crippling poverty. We also visited the “jungle” Chevron had created on the edge of the city.
Jaco also invited us to the largest expat party of the year in Lagos, which probably makes it the biggest in Nigeria, and thus the biggest in Africa. About 30 countries had a tent with unlimited food and drink and each did a brief performance on a stage. Needless to say, after two hours, we were both stuffed with French cheese, German sausages, Dutch cheese, Greek baklava and South African boereworst. We hardly watched any of the performances and got very drunk on Heineken beer from the Dutch tent, rum-coke from the Latin community and French wine. Twan, after months of only pouring only his own drink, finally got a chance to play bartender in the Dutch tent. We then staggered home and spent the next few days getting visas and organising for what was to come.