My trip to Abuja a few years ago was highly rewarding. I found Nigerians to be friendly and felt right at home in the capital city. Getting around the city was very easy with its well-laid out roads. Sustainable water and electricity can be a real challenge in parts of Nigeria though. Generators have since become standard household items and it is quite normal to buy drinking water.
I was happy to finally be in the heart of Nollywood, the Nigerian popular film industry that keeps the rest of Africa entertained for thousands of hours every year. And yes, some of what we see in the movies is actually true, such as the big luxury vehicles and multi-storey mansions. After all Nigeria is now the continent’s largest economy. Paradoxically, as one of the world’s biggest oil producers, its citizens are sometimes faced with petrol shortages simply because there are not enough refineries to meet the ever growing demand. Other times if the price is too low, fuel shortages may be caused by wholesalers keeping it back in order for there to be an escalation in their selling price.
I did not let the negative stories on how corrupt Nigerians are with their 419 scams that will see all your money gone within a few seconds get to me. If anything I looked forward to seeing this country that has contributed a lot to the continent with my own eyes. Nigeria, with its population of over 180 million that has over 500 ethnic groups, is Africa’s most populous country. It is jokingly said that if you throw a stone in a room full of people from different countries around the world, there is a one in ten chances that it will land on a Nigerian. Jokes aside, Nigerians are some of the most assertive people I know. Everybody seems to have a strong opinion about something. On the same token, the people I met in Abuja were also very hospitable. I also saw for myself how enterprising Nigerians can be. There seemed to be no room for idle hands as everybody was hard at work earning a living. A local compatriot made a general assertion that every Nigerian was loud, aggressive and could hustle from a very young age as one needed those skills in order to survive and be heard in a country with a population of 188,737,908.
It was also while in Abuja that I finally learnt to enjoy Nigerian cuisine. Prepared in the true traditional fashion, each bowl of stew contained no less than three types of meat. Apparently in Nigeria it is only stew that is prepared in a poor man’s pot that contains only one type of meat. Having tasted the hot pepper stew on the first day, I made my mission to sample as many different dishes as I could before I left. One of the dishes I will never forget is one that contained dried fish and goat’s tripe. Smeared on some pounded yam, I went back for seconds as I could not get over the fact that I was trying out a novelty dish. I also learned that in Nigeria, a banana is not eaten on its own as a fruit, it is consumed together with roasted groundnuts.
All went well in Abuja and I enjoyed listening to and trying to follow some Pidgin English. It was a pity (or relief, depending on how I look at it) that I could not take back home any 419 or Africa Magic stories. Whatever small audience I had upon my return would be disappointed by my lack of encounters with such experiences. The trip had been almost perfect to the tee, until the day of departure when at the airport, having been stopped at a security checkpoint for what seemed like the umpteenth time, a female security officer ordered me to open my handbag so that she could search its contents as per procedure. While doing so, she came across some money and asked if I could give her at least half of it as a friendly gesture. Of course I refused and firmly shut my handbag! ©Mwanja Ng'anjo