By Pelu Awofeso
If you imagine Africa as a network of roads, Nigeria is surely the one less travelled. For the traveller who is ready to overlook some of Nigeria’s travel headaches (c’mon, which country hasn’t got its own peccadilloes?), Nigeria is still very much virgin territory, waiting to be unravelled by the most intrepid of fun seekers; and it is not for nothing that it is called the ‘Giant of Africa’.
One country, Countless Attractions
Nigeria boasts some of the most fascinating indigenous cultures anyone can ever hope to find on the continent; with more than 250 ethnic nationalities spread across 36 states (and the federal capital Abuja), there are festivals of unimaginable beauty year round, though most are not known to have fixed dates.
Museums across the country are packed with centuries’ old archaeological, historical and cultural artefacts, a tidy fraction of which were stolen well before Nigeria’s independence in 1960 and which now occupy museums in Europe; the indigenous monarchy is a widely regarded entity nationwide and so the palaces also offer their own brand of beauty and attractiveness, one that lend credence to the architectural savvy of the local artisans.
Lagos, the former federal capital in the south-west, has always been the country’s commercial and artistic hub; with an estimated 18 million population, the city bustles all night and all day. While it is no place for the faint hearted (stay away if you’re sluggish), it is where every Nigerian would wish to live in because it offers the most opportunity for fame and fortune.
Its long stretch of beaches don’t always come clean but they are a visited by residents on weekends and on public holidays all year round. For the very sociable types, Lagos offers the best collection of night clubs, cinemas, shopping malls and event centres.
Gateway to a different world
However, if you can’t stand the Lagos crowd, then get on a plane and fly away to the more leisurely paced Abuja, the current federal capital city, located right in the country’s geographic centre. Abuja is as charming as most country capitals come; its broad motorways, beautiful boulevards and breezy parks and gardens will appeal to nature lovers. The city is still literally under construction and property prices are way up, but that has not stopped people from buying outright or renting apartments for unbelievably huge sums.
Abuja is the gateway somewhat to the vast Northern region, which takes up three-quarter of the country’s total landmass and is populated mostly by Muslims who are of the Hausa, Fulani and Kanuri tribes. And the north of Nigeria is famous for its awe-inspiring Durbars, the converging of beautifully costumed healthy horses and their colourfully robed riders. The northerners are subsistence farmers, nomadic herdsmen or skilled craftsmen. The temperature there is hotter than in the south, sometimes reaching 40 degrees Celsius, and rainy season is progressively shorter as one move further north.
The southern half of Nigeria is largely Christian in its makeup, the religion having been introduced to the country 160 years ago in the slavery town of Badagry. Its early and long exposure to British missionaries and administrators has meant more educated folks in the Western model, most of whom would rather wear a tie than take up a hoe.
Good People, Great Nation
Yes, it is an overused word; but ‘hospitable’ is how best to describe Nigerians, male and female. Some foreign visitors have been treated to Nigerians’ natural tendency to engage in long drawn-out greetings. If you’re bored and need a memorable moment you can make your visit worth the while by taking out time to strike a conversation with Everyday Nigerians, the poor but diligent folks on the streets who toil and agonise daily just to eke out a living in the midst of a mismanaged economy.
Truth is: you may find Nigeria’s reputation abroad distasteful but you can never fail to admire the average Nigerian when you come in contact with them. If there was a way to weight the qualities of a country against that of its people, the Nigerian will win outright.
Call it a hangover from the colonial times, Nigerians show a certain regard and deference to the ‘white’ man. On the whole, though, they are a learned lot and they will tell you things as they are, show you where to go to really feel the pulse of the neighbourhood.
Embassies are not the natural places to turn to when you need to get experiential information about a country and its citizens; but over time some diplomats have been known to wax lyrical about how pleasant they have found Nigeria and Nigerians in the course of their stay. And more often than not, foreign Ambassadors to Nigeria have often regretted their re-posting out of the West African country; one or two diplomats have fallen for the country (cuisine and all), so much that they have taken Nigerian wives (check out Ambassador Walter Carrington).
Besides being kind hearted, Nigerians take pride in their ‘Nigerianness’ and they like to be noticed, so showmanship is a uniquely Nigerian quality, especially at parties. And speaking of showmanship, Nigerians are gadget freaks: they love their mobile phones to be the complex, multi-function type, even if they don’t get to use more than the call and text functions; they love to ride in big, expensive cars and for a country where one of every two persons is poor, you’ll be amazed to see the most recent automobile models on the streets and highways.
Now, away from earthly possessions. Nigerians love their family. The extended family integrates nicely into the regular nuclear setting. There is a strong feeling of responsibility towards ones cousins, nephews, nieces, grand-parents –and even in-laws; and it is common to hear a bride being told that to marry a man is to marry his entire family. With a steadily increasing middle class, family outings to cinemas, shopping malls, holiday resorts and beaches are becoming a regular feature of family living, something that was rare a decade ago.