The Wings of Nigeria – a rude awakening

Disclaimer: For purposes of true authenticity I will not mince words and will simply call my experience as it was.

I spent a part of early October flying across the continent, nearly 5000 kilometres from my home country, from Entebbe via Ethiopia through to Lagos. I must say travelling there was nothing like I imagined it to be. I was a little disappointed with myself for having set such high standards for the country because not five minutes into international ground and I was already marvelling at the economic bareness of the country. Please understand that I am an investor myself and one of the most dangerous things to do as an investor is to see an investment through rose coloured glasses and refusing to accept what is right in front of your very eyes. This is one sure-fire way of losing all your money.

First off always travel with USD or GBP currency to avoid being a victim of devalued currency. I certainly learned this the hard way. Imagine my horror when my very precious Ugandan Shillings got devalued right in front of my eyes. The explanation to this was a smooth talk about how difficult it is to find visitors travelling to Uganda, etc. etc. I didn’t believe a word of it but I also needed the cash quite urgently and settled for what I could get at the time. I usually travel with credit cards and converted cash, but for this particular trip I neglected to do the latter and paid expensively for it.

Exit Murtala Muhammed International Airport and you quickly realise that the glitz and glam advertised on websites and online magazines bares no resemblance to what is actually on ground. The roads leave much to be desired and the buildings are wanting of fresh paint or a complete overhaul. Even the cars were of 1988 models which would not be a problem if they were being maintained with care, which they weren’t. I kept wondering to myself throughout the ride to the bus terminal whether Nigeria was really rising or simply struggling.

loading cargo for over two hours

I was due to board a bus to Port Harcourt at 5pm with Chisco and arrived two hours earlier to book my ticket. If you checked out the chisco website and then went to their actual offices trust me you would think you entered the wrong premises. I had an extremely rude awakening. The lower ground floor was lined with worn out metallic benches and the dirt inner walls were designed with hand-written instructions for electronic charging ports and booking instructions. The upper floor was a supposed restaurant where a group of men were huddled over their Heinekens drinking the afternoon away with their lunches over worn out melanin saucers. From the way they were licking their fingers I gathered the food had been prepared rather well.


We eventually left Lagos at 8:00pm after very slow turn boys took their time loading cargo into the bus and arguing with customers about how much to charge for this cargo. I sat on my suitcase the whole time staring at this fiasco and wondering how on earth this bus company expected to make money running a business like this. I got the explanation from the next door shop attendant who said that even though my ticket read 5:00pm as departure time, the bus crew needed to wait till at least 40 passengers were registered for the destination as the bus was licenced to carry 56 passengers. That was enough to tell me the level of daily sales this bus was making on one route and also question the viability of the business model.

On the bus we had the most interesting prayers and speeches from self-proclaimed pastors and doctors alike. The doctor did know his anatomy and diagnosis, talking about diabetes, causes and traditional ways of controlling it. He enthralled the audience with his gimmicks and gestures. Believe me when I say he acted out every single symptom. It was entertaining. We passed through a couple of towns whose names I couldn’t quite recall but whose physical appearance will remain etched in my mind for a very long time. Streets streaming with stagnant water from poor drainage and sewerage management, makeshift houses falling apart, the rabid stench of decaying matter masking the fresh air. We reached one town in the middle of the night and the men eased themselves right into an open man-hole that was just at the side of the road with no remorse. I looked on in utter disbelief because this would never happen in Uganda. Right then and there I lost appetite for the food that had been graciously prepared by the Chisco team in Lagos for our trip.

Arriving in Port Harcourt I now had my expectations in check. No more dazzling roads and glassy sky-scrappers. Hello Africa! You may be rising but you still have quite a long way to go. My stay in Port Harcourt was quite pleasant, I guess partly because I was no longer hoping for impossible customer care. Oh and yes they do have these matatus in PHC. I honestly enjoyed that ride, I think it must have been one of the best things about my trip there.

img_20161011_101436Returning back to Lagos I was definitely not going to jump on a bus. Plane it was. Little did I know that booking a domestic flight was going to be more of a hassle than I had imagined (no predetermined expectations!). My intention was to fly Airpeace, and even though the steward had said there were “plenty flights” the booking team looked me up and down and said “no flights-oh”. I was teeming with anger deep down but kept my calm. The driver however was a champ about everything! He simply walked over to ArikAir and asked for a flight. The lady made the same statement. Refusing to give up, he approached one of the workers of ArikAir who introduced him to the owner of ArikAir who immediately gave me the cost of flight that was taking off in less than an hour. Five minutes later I was paid and checked in. The driver simply commented, “It pays to know people”.

Would you believe, as the plane prepared for take-off there were so many empty seats, it would make your heart cry. Some rows were completely empty. But why Nigeria!? Why would you do this to a fellow African? Would you have treated me any different if I were Caucasian? Would I be standing in front of your booking office requesting to pay if I didn’t have the cash to secure my booking? I can’t be mad anymore because the sad reality is that Nigeria is literally on its needs economically. People are struggling to make ends meet. Poverty is real. Electricity is unreliable and “scratch my back I scratch your back” is the order of the day. I cannot explain passing through a slum where a huge prosperity gospel banner is towering in front of the town folk who can barely afford to send their children to school. Am I missing something?

an empty row in the cabin just before ours

I do want to help the country. In fact my next trip will be to visit potential investment opportunities, but I need Nigeria to realise that the change starts from within. People need to realise that the only treatment to lift their economy from the distress it is in is to start treating each other with compassion. Otherwise, investors will continue running away instead of towards Nigeria.


IMG_20161009_081206.jpg IMG_20161009_081117.jpg


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