Nigeria - Facts and Factoids

  • Nigeria is a large country; it has 36 states, and 350+ ethnic groups, speaking 500 distinct languages. The three largest ethnic groups are the Hausa–Fulani in the north, Yoruba in the west, and Igbo in the east, together comprising over 60% of the total population
  • Nigeria is often referred to as the "Giant of Africa", owing to its large population and economy. It is the most populated country in Africa estimated at 206 million. Its economy is the largest in Africa.
  • Nigeria is the home of Nollywood, Africa’s film industry.
  • Nigeria is extremely hot and humid, especially by the sea.
  • Everyone speaks English of sorts - though some of it may be pidgin - it is the official language.
  • The traffic in Lagos is awful.

Why is Nigeria Called Nigeria?

Nigeria get its name from the River Niger that runs through it, although no-one is sure what Niger means.

Who Colonised Nigeria?

Britain annexed Lagos in 1861 and established the Oil River Protectorate in 1884, effectively occupying the whole area a year later. Nigeria gained independence from the United Kingdom on October 1, 1960.

Is Nigeria a Poor Country?

There’s often a stark juxtaposition between affluence and poverty in Nigeria.  Nigeria is the most populated country in Africa and has overtaken India as the country with the most extremely poor people in the world - over half its 180 million population. The causes are income inequality, ethnic conflict, and political instability.

Is Nigeria a Safe Country to Visit?

Parts of Nigeria are not considered safe – because of terrorist activity – check before you go. Sadly, and annoyingly, corruption here is rife.  My check-in clerk for my journey home won’t acquiesce to my request for a window seat without a bribe and he puts me in the middle of the back row to make his point. When someone inquires, ‘Are you my friend?’ they’re asking for money.

Where Am I Visiting in Nigeria?

I am visiting the old colonial capital Lagos and the historic slave centre Badagry

Getting into Nigeria

My flight from Mali arrives on time and my visa on arrival is relatively speedily executed in a special office just before immigration. There are signs up saying that no additional payments are required for visas under any circumstances. So that limits the possibilities for bribery. The men on the immigration desk welcome me to Nigeria.

It takes two hours to drive from the airport to the hotel - it's under a mile.

Getting out of Nigeria

There's no traffic on the road to the airport , but it is five o'clock in the morning.

I refuse to bribe the check-in clerk, to back up my request for a window seat, so he puts me in the middle of the back row. All the way home to London.

Badagry is the nearest thing to a tourist sight that Lagos possesses. It’s an old slaving centre.

Getting to Badagry

I’m whisked off to the docks in Lagos Island and ensconced in a little speed boat, as Badagry is to the west, along the Badagry Creek off Lagos Lagoon for 43 miles, and almost at the border with Cotonou and Benin. This system of creeks, little islands and waterways is navigable all the way to Porto Novo. The boat has padded seats and I’m happily perched at the front of the boat with my video. So, I can get a good view, I think. Almost immediately we dip under a bridge into a boiling pot of foam. A cascade of water comes into the boat and I’m drenched from head to foot. So is my bag (again).

So, it’s not the most comfortable of rides - I can’t dry the back of my dress unless I take it off. There’s more chop, as other craft cut backwards and forwards, especially in the port area. Then it’s banks of palm trees and more fishing and boat building villages.

Badagry - Centre of Slavery

Badagry is another sombre reminder of man’s inhumanity to man. Slavery here was, in the main, organised by the Brazilians and Portuguese, who cooperated with the local chiefs to export slaves. The chiefs therefore became very rich and powerful. They also started to engage in what is known as domestic slavery to demonstrate their wealth. The more one had, the more respect one garnered. At the height of the trade in Badagry, the White Cap Chief Sunbu Mobee traded many of his own people with the Portuguese in exchange for valuables. His son abolished the trade in 1886. Today, the relics of the family’s participation in slavery and many of the tools used to capture and hold captives are found in one of the two privately owned (so you pay to go in) museums, the Mobee, Royal Family Museum.

The other is the barracoon of Seriki Williams Abass,. These are the original cells, where the captives were imprisoned and rammed into tiny spaces. Abass was captured as a slave by a Dahomean slave merchant (after whom he was named Abass) and sold to a Brazilian slave dealer (after whom he was named Williams), who took him to Brazil as a domestic servant. Abass returned to Nigeria on the condition of working with Mr. Williams as a slave trade business partner. He was very successful in his slave-trade business and is believed to have married 128 wives and had 144 children.

The First Storey House

There is also the first Christian missionary’s house, an interesting juxtaposition. It’s possibly more famous as the first two storied building in Nigeria – though the sign says, ‘The First Storey House’.

The Point of No Return

On the other side of the creek here is Gberefu Island, the road to the slave’s Point of No Return. From the point of their capture, African slaves were grouped by gender and age, shackled with an assortment of chains and marched down the path.

Along the way is a well, bordered by a small wall, that discourages anyone from drinking from it. During the slave trade, the well is said to have been charmed by shamans and chiefs. Slaves on their way to the Americas were given water from the well to help them forget their home and cut their psychological ties to Badagry. It is said that the water would take effect three months into the journey, supposedly leaving the slave with no connection to anything but the lives they had been sold into. The locals claim that no one has drunk from the well in over a century.

There have been attempts to turn this into a national pilgrimage site, along the lines of Ouidah in Benin. There is paving along the road and a museum by the ocean, at the point of departure to the sea, but funding was withdrawn part way through; the building, with its modernistic design and sloping walkways is closed and dilapidated, sitting amongst a sea of litter.

Welcome to Lagos. A very congested city of approximately 22 million people (though no-one is quite sure exactly how many.) It’s the most populous city south of the Sahara and one of the fastest growing cities in the world. That’s why they moved the capital to Abuja.

I've arrived from Mali.

Lagos and the Traffic

All is well until my new guide, smiley Hassan and his aide, Cousin Abu, put their car on the road. The journey to my hotel in the Ikeja, airport neighbourhood, is projected to take ten minutes. But the traffic is hardly moving, and it takes just under two hours. The day begins with me accidentally pouring a litre of water over my day pack, when I’m having breakfast. Then I’m off to see what Lagos has to offer. Lagos was named by the Portuguese - the word means ‘lakes’. The original capital was built on Lagos Island, one of several islands floating in the huge Lagos Lagoon, formed by the delta of the River Ogun. It houses one of the largest and busiest seaports on the continent.

Lagos Island is reached by several bridges. Ours, at 11 kilometres, is the longest in Africa. Lagos is a major financial centre in Africa; houses unlike any other African capital, more Asian, even European, with its tower blocks and glass fronted shops. It’s a mass of elevated roadways, characterful touches, whole buildings painted vividly, as advertisements, and slow-moving traffic. Hawkers weave in and out of the cars, trays of fruit and drinks balanced on their heads, ignoring the signs threatening six months imprisonment for doing this. There’s a huge fishing village lining the edges of the lagoon and heading towards the island, where it becomes an enormous logging village. Teak and mahogany are floated in the water here to make it easier to saw up. Then it’s dried over ovens. There’s a pall of smoke over the whole area. And over the whole of Lagos for that matter.

Lagos Island

Lagos Island isn't really an island. It's a whole series of islands in the lagoon, joined by bridges. like Venice. but not quite. It has an Afro-Brazilian quarter, created by the families of returned slaves. The streets are narrow and it’s impossible to stop and admire the Portuguese colonial style architecture. We do manage to look inside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, though the cleaning women scowl when I try and go inside. Cleanliness is next to godliness.  Hassan tells me that the architecture is ancient Brazilian style. It looks like ornate neo-Romanesque to me. Most of the houses have been demolished or torn down to make way for apartment blocks or shops, sold off by the descendants of the original owners. What could be a very picturesque area is sadly turning into a nondescript hotch potch.

Up the road are British colonial buildings, most notably the pastel walls and towers of the Mapo Hall, as well as the old racecourse entrance decorated with statues of horses rearing on the gates. These and the abandoned national administrative buildings are now all dedicated to civic affairs.

National Museum of Nigeria

The National Museum is closed at ten, as no-one has come with the key yet - it was due to open at nine. So, we go back later, for a tour of the mainly animist related exhibits, masks and initiation ceremony explanations. The boards tell me that there are many ethnic groups in Nigeria, as in most West African countries, but the three principal tribes are the Yoruba, Hausa and Ibo. If you are an Ibo wife, you get presented with a special stool after you’ve had 12 children. There's also the car in which revolutionary general, Murtala Muhammed, was assassinated.

Next Badagry Island

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