Feature Article of Saturday, 10 November 2012

Columnist: Chasant, Muntaka

My Journey across West Africa (pt 10)

This is the continuation of the ‘My Journey across West Africa’ episodes. To read previous episodes, click on the columnist name above.

Dear readers,

Sorry I did not write on time as I normally do. I had to attend to some matters of a personal nature.

Journal entry – start

Date: 29/11/11
Time: 6:15 PM
Location: Katsina, Nigeria

There is no doubt this part of Nigeria is an extension of Niger.

Journal entry – end

No one I interacted with in Katsina understood English. Nigeria’s official language is English, but this part of the country does not speak any bit of it.

I left Maradi, a southern city in Niger around 4:00PM. Maradi is about 750km south of Agadez, and about 230km west of Zinder. I arrived at the Jibia border to learn that no one in my bush taxi from Maradi to Kano could understand English, even though they were all Nigerians. Jibia is the northern border between Nigeria and Niger. I arrived there only to find out that I have missed the Nigerien border post where I’m supposed to have my passport stamped for exit. I reminded the driver on a number of occasions to not forget to stop at the post I’m supposed to have my passport stamped for exit, but he still did not. There were many police barriers on the about 50km distance between Maradi and the border area, so it was difficult to know which post I had to stop for the exit formalities.

“They only speak Hausa and Arabic!” A Nigerian immigration official demonstrated to me. He was making reference to the driver and passengers in my bush taxi. “But are they not Nigerians?” I curiously inquired. “Yes, they are Nigerians, but not willing to learn English,” the immigration official responded. The official is a southerner and has strong negative opinion about Northern Nigerians. In short, he thinks that they are uncivilized and backward.

“I will have the driver take you back to the Nigerien side to have your passport stamped,” the Nigerian immigration official consoled me. The immigration officers were friendly. They demanded the driver take me about 4km back to the Nigerien border post to have my passport stamped. They warned they would not permit his car through the border if he did not take me back to have my passport stamped. He refused to take me back, so one of the immigration officers charged a motorbike rider to take me back to the Nigerien border post.

The Nigerian border post in Jibia is the second border that did not extort money from. The officials were professionals and incorruptible. My first impression about Nigeria was positive.

The driver and other passengers spoke Hausa, but none of them knew I understood most of the language. “Wallahi Tallahi, I wouldn't have permitted him in my car if I knew he wasn't one of us,” the driver screamed in reference to me in Hausa after the car was allowed a pass through the border. About 10 minutes later, he started to demand money from all passengers. No, this was not another fare he was collecting; this money was going to be used to bribe the police ahead. I do not know for what we have to bribe the police. I used my hands to communicate to the driver that I’m not going to contribute to pay a bribe to the police. The conduct of the immigration officers at Jibia influenced my refusal to pay any form of bribe. “For God sake, what sort of person is this?” The driver kept shouting in Hausa whilst over speeding. He did not understand why I wouldn’t do what everyone was doing by handing over the amount he demanded.

“The stranger behind refuses to pay, so that is why I am giving you a little less this time,” the driver told the police at the first barrier. The police realized the bribe money is in short this time so there must be a reason. He ordered me out of the car. I was not in Nigeria illegally, so I had no reason to be nervous. I explained to him in English that, I am in Nigeria legally and I did not understand why I should have to pay bribe. He flipped through my passport and ordered me back into the car. “Wallahi Tallahi he did not pay any money to the police,” the driver shouted to the front passenger, reminding him how stubborn I was. He thought I was going to give something to the police when I got out of the car.

I nearly busted into laughter, but I thought they would realize I understood the language. “For God sake, where is he from?” The driver asked one of the passengers in Hausa. “Wallahi I don’t know,” the passenger responded.

He made demands again, and twice more, I refused to pay.

We continued to Katsina, where we stopped for a while. I wanted an MTN SIM card to purchase, but no one I interacted with understood what I meant. I approached a young woman whom I thought should be able to understand a bit of the official language, but to my surprise, she was completely ignorant of it. I did not bother to speak in Hausa to anyone because they probably wouldn't understand me. Their version of Hausa is different, and can be difficult to understand sometimes. Whilst I was trying to use my hands to describe to the young lady what I’m looking for, I looked behind to find the driver pointing at me with another passenger. I didn’t know what he was saying to the other passenger, but he looked frustrated. He probably was saying something like, “oh no! This fool will get himself into trouble!” I am sure he was worried I may be seen standing with a woman in the Sharia law practicing state.

We arrived in Kano around 8:00PM. My face lightened up with smile when I saw “kilishi” sold at the bush taxi station. It is dried spicy meat popular in Northern Nigeria and Niger. Kilishi is tasty, especially with a chilled drink. I tried it in Niger and enjoyed it, so I bought about two pounds and stuffed it in my backpack.

I was greeted with the sound of generators all over. Kano is home to some of the richest black people in the world, but the roads were so bad that I preferred hiking to find a hotel. It was difficult finding a hotel that evening.

Two Nigeria immigration officers waked me up early in the morning.

Some crazy thoughts started running inside my head. Could the driver have been a member of the Boko Haram terrorist organization and has informed them that I tried courting a woman in Katsina? What if it’s a plan to have me come outside to be summarily executed?

“What are you doing in Kano?” one of them inquired.

“Transiting,” I responded, “I will be leaving for Abuja this morning.”

“We have to make a photocopy of your traveling documents,” he continued, “but there’s no photocopier in this hotel, so what do we do?”

“I don’t know,” I responded.

“Okay don’t worry,” he continued, “sorry for interrupting your sleep. We are very sorry.”

“That is okay,” I concluded.

I returned to my room only to be called back again in about 10 minutes that the immigration officers are back asking about me again.

“Our boss insist we bring a photocopy of your traveling documents,” one of them started to convince me, “since you are not ready to go out yet, you can give us money to buy petrol into our car, wait and drive you to the nearest business center where we can get to make the photocopy.”

“I can’t do that,” I responded, “I’m sorry.”

“Can I see the hotel manager?” I asked the hotel receptionist, in front of the corrupt immigration officers.

“It is not necessary to call on the hotel manager,” one of them quickly interrupted, “we are very sorry. We are leaving now. Enjoy your stay in Nigeria!”

That is how I got rid of them that morning. I became uncomfortable, so I quickly checked-out and headed out to find a bank. I made sure no car was outside spying on me.

I headed out to the bank street area from the hotel. To enter a bank in Nigeria, you have to go through a metal detector and must also leave all your belongings behind. It was more like going on an airplane; you cannot have your belongings with you, and must also go through a security scanner. It was my first time to experience something like that.

With my dried meat inflated backpack behind, I hiked from the bank street area to the city center to find long distance taxi to Abuja.

Next Episode
This features the push to south and the start of the journey back home.

Sorry there are no accompanied photos today. I was too uncomfortable and exhausted to take any.