Arrival in Lagos, Ordeals allround, and mugged on Day 1!

"Into Africa" More than a Motorcycle Adventure
Howard Fairbank
Sat 29 Mar 2014 21:00
06:47.75N 004:52.39E

27th March 2014.

Well the heading says it all…. I hit a big low point today, the stuff that calls on one to dig deep!

I woke around 3am, feeling restless, and knew it was about a sense of uneasiness about what lay ahead in Lagos.

I haven’t mentioned it so far, but both my bike tyres were at the end of their safe usable lives, and while they were OK, to get me to Lagos, I’d planned to replace them both there. This was always part of my plan, as of all the capitals along the Central / West Africa route, Lagos had the best chance of me finding tyres suitable for my bike. Although there are lots of motorcycles around these capital cities, there are only very few that use my size of tyres, and those guys normally have special imports, and there is no local stock. I was lucky tracking down tyres in Dar-es-Salaam, Nairobi, and Lusaka, and all of these required very creative sourcing / networking techniques!

My reference in yesterday’s blog about an unproductive day in Calabar, was about trying to source tyres. One of the locals working at the hotel, I stayed at convinced me that I’d be able to get tyres in Calabar, which if true would have saved me a huge amount of Lagos hassle. Although I was sceptical, this guy was adamant he knew where, and so we set out, with him on the back tapping his contacts and riding the town. It was a wasted mission without no success, resulting in giving a free teaching moment about risk and time productivity, to my passenger friend! We did have some fun, and I had an interesting tour of Calabar…… So, I now had to get tyres in Lagos!
With me now arriving in Lagos on a Thursday with a non-negotiable, timeline, that needed me to leave Lagos by Sunday, I knew I had my work set out for me to source and fit new tyres within that window. Behind me and the bike arriving in one piece in Lagos, sourcing these tyres were my top priority. The internet had not produced any clues on where to start, but a guy I met yesterday at my late lunch stop, had a Honda version of my bike, and said he could help, once I was in Lagos. I have learnt that offers to help are easy, but actually delivery on hard stuff like this is not easy to find.

There was then the drive chain worry, but I felt this was under control, as long as I rode conservatively, and not push the bike. That was at least in my control.

From my experience of ‘the highway’ yesterday, I knew it would only be more intense today, and I was preparing myself for Luanda type traffic jams.

Lastly, once in the Lagos city limits, finding my around this multi-island metropolis, and avoiding it’s crime hotspots, and securing a suitable place to stay for three nights, was also an unknown magnitude of challenge….!

My leg, although far from 100%, was the least of my worries, I just had to stick to the, every 8 hours, antibiotics schedules.

With all this create varying levels of both conscious, and unconscious, anxiety, it was no wonder I was restless at 3am! And many would think I was having a relaxing, dream ride, through African paradise!

Not really getting back to sleep, thinking about strategies for each of the challenge areas, I was up at very first light, and walked outside to check the ‘state of the nation’? To add further challenge to my fighting spirit, there were dark clouds around, and the early raindrop was being oozed out of the laden sky! “Hmmm, imagine ‘the highway’ in the rain”, I thought. Anyway, this is an adventure, and that’s why you have rain gear with you!

I was on ‘the highway’ by 6 30am, and using the 4 hour estimate I’d been given, I thought it would be still OK, but getting tight, if I’m in ‘sourcing tyres’ mode by 11 am. It was now time to now 100% focus on the ‘now job’, of getting to Lagos in one piece.

Well the highway was surprisingly light on trucks for the first hour, and my donning rain gear, had chased the rain away, but the bike chain drive problem was definitely deteriorating, but still well within my management. So all was sort of OK, and even though the density of traffic increased the kilometres flew nicely by. I even had this wave of excitement run through my body, as it hit me that I was now riding into the African capital I most feared, and similarly most valued conquering. The challenge was now with me live! This caused me to shout out, impulsively: “Lagos you beauty!”

The city limits approached, and I was on a much better than I expected huge highway, the traffic was heavy, but flowing OK. Drivers were hooting like mad, as I had now got used to, but now it seemed like every road user was hooting at every other road user. I just ignored all this, and focused on not be the reason for antagonising other road users, and keeping a safe distance from all those in close proximity. Turnoff signs that I didn’t contextualise, nor recognise came up, but I just listened to my strong gut signal and carried on the main artery I was on. I could see the slum areas of the mainland off to the right, the areas that my guide book had warned about. Passing that seemed all was on track, I had no business there.

Eventually I was on a bridge going across a huge open water expanse, and I could see the downtown skyscrapers ahead, and knew this was Lagos island, and I need to get off for that area as a starting point. There were signs for Victoria island / Marina, and I noted that, thinking I’ll go there ‘later’.

The chain drive problem was noticeably worse now, and sometimes if I took off in 1st gear a bit quickly, I heard the chain jump a few teeth of the front sprocket, making a noise that caused pain within me! With a real nursing approach, I was still OK.

I was soon right in the central CBD area, immersed in heavy traffic, but with the bike I could weave around it pretty effectively, and was quite enjoying exploring/ It was 10h30 as I passed a building called “Lagos City Hall”, and soon another called “Lagos Post Office”…. Yeah, the primary mission had been completed, I had technically reached the Lagos, ‘tick off’ goal, albeit the bike wasn’t healthy!

I now moved to tyre sourcing mode, and after seeing a whole fleet of parked delivery bikes, I stopped nearby, approached the security guards looking after them, who was in the process of reprimanding me about where I had parked my bike…. This caused a bit of a stir and interest by passers-by, and soon I had four guys wondering what I wanted, and how they could help. I gave them the we are all African story, and there was much laughing and warm African handshakes. This was the CBD business area, and these were nice guys, genuinely wanting to help me. Three agreed that and area called Oyinbo was my target, and they independently, and collectively, all looked confident that that was where my success would be guaranteed. I didn’t even know how to pronounce the place, and so asked one of them to write it down for me. “Ok, now I know what area is, where is this place?” They asked me if I knew of certain places, but I knew zip, just the way I’d come. Anyway I got the gist of had I had to do, go back over the water to the mainland, that was enough to get me to the next information point…..

Another three information points, one of them some very friendly armed police, and with a fair amount of ‘non-direct’ travel in between, I was soon going down a busy road with sign saying “Oyingbo Bus Station”. Hey I was there, but the area I was in was just food and domestic goods stalls, and packed with people. I was probably in the mainland area, not only not recommended for tourists, but of no attraction to tourists. I turned off this main road, and suddenly there were many car tyre shops. I stopped outside one of the larger ones, took off my helmet, and said hello to the totally confused, and uninterested, owner. I pointed to my tyres, and asked him if he had any? He said he only did car tyres and that I must carry a long way further on, cross the railway line, and I’ll find the motorcycle tyre guys near there. “Hey, this was going well….” I got right to where he said, and another guy told me to go right and then down that road, and I’ll find them. The roads were now a bit narrow, with few cars, and mainly full of people walking and shopping. This was not an affluent area by any stretch of the imagination, but I remembered where I’d found the tyres in Dar-es-Salaam, and it looked very similar and ‘right’! I felt I was close, when suddenly as I crossed a road to enter another one, this guy jumped out in front of me, forcing me to stop. He pulled out a plastic card that had his photo on, and flashed it in front of my eyes, showing he was a ‘Plainclothes Local Government Authority’. I was OK with that, as I thought he would then help me, so told him what I was here for and looking for. He just said, that I can’t go any further, and he was in control of access. He then glanced down at my bike, and before I could register he swooped in and stole the keys out of the ignition. I immediately grabbed his arm and tried to get the key back, but as he moved away, I was restricted by me being on the bike. A group of four circled me, and they were all excitedly bidding with the guy with the key, for a split of their new, captive prey’s, rewards. I was shocked, and my mind was racing. I was in a very bad place, and then I realised that in my preparation for this exact type of situation, I had done away with my normal backpack today. My backpack had my spare keys, and was in one of the panniers, so if these guys essentially now had the keys to everything of value I had with me, save for a small amount of cash I had one me. If they took my bike now, I was in a real bad spot! These guys had mean looks, almost of hate, on their faces, and I sensed they knew how really vulnerable I was. As they debated my future, I instinctively pushed my bike around so it was facing a route of exit. This seemed to make sense, but was also seemingly pointless, as without the keys, my bike wasn’t moving anywhere, and I had visions of me being forced to part with my bike with the threat of a gun or some other life threatening method. One of the guys approached me and said that I have to pay money to get my keys back. Well that was sounding better than I thought but how much? I told them I didn’t have much, and they demanded the equivalent of about $20. I said I only have $10, so as I tried to get the keys as I gave him the notes, he snatched them, and I didn’t get the keys. He then demanded another $10, and I didn’t like how this was going…. This time I insisted he gave me the key at the same time, and to my surprise he did, and I got my keys back. They then tried to move to help mode, by offering a guy to help me back through the street to the tyre guys. I was now glad I’d turned the bike around, and just started it, and moved off as fast as I could, with the chain jumping, slowing my escape, and the one guy shouting and running after me to try and catch me…… I was dodging people in the road, and was hoping there were no car, road blockages ahead. I made it…..

Well I was shocked, angry, but also thought how lucky I had really been. This was a real wake up call to take Lagos seriously, these guys feel nothing for life, and easy money is their daily search. As the only white guy for miles, and searching like I was, I was easy prey for thugs with this mind-set….. It was true, I had knowingly put myself in a high risk situation, ignoring the specifics associated with the ‘Lagos factor’.

I must say I lost all my appetite for going back to Oyinbo looking for tyres, and decided to head back over the bridge to Lagos island, and then further on to the Victoria Island / Marina area, I’d seen the sign for, earlier. The bike was not going well on first gear take off, the traffic was horrendous, but I managed to nurse the bike till we were over another bridge and onto the more affluent, beach island of Victoria. I found a decent hotel, checked in, and then checked into its restaurant with an overloaded mind, for an unusual for me, midday beer and, problem solving, lunch!

Nigeria, with all its lawlessness, pervasive police / military presence, and uninspiring infrastructure, just hadn’t felt good since leaving the strangely friendly guys at the Cameroon / Nigeria border post. Now Lagos had just taken that to a new level that was aligning with my very original, fears and expectations of Lagos, and Nigeria.

I put a phone call into the guy who said he could help me with tyres, and waited to see what his network could deliver, and then set about working through a plan for moving forward. I also contacted the Yamaha agent here, and was told it would take 2-4 weeks to source the parts I need.

I was scheduled to meet Ruth in Accra, Ghana on Tuesday, and with no tyres, and a crooked bike, I had quite a challenging situation to be solved, but maybe she would be part of a solution option of tyres and chain drive from London? There was much, clear mind, thinking to be done. For the moment I was currently in, if someone had offered me an immediate way out of Nigeria, I would have taken it without debate or fighting over cost. However, having been in many foreign space, tight spots before, I knew this was a knee jerk reaction to what I had just been through, and I needed to be more rational about getting myself back on track. Time will deliver an opportunistic solution, and in future reflection time I will value the personal height this situation adds to my life……

As my story came out to people I met in the hotel, all just opened up to me how dangerous Lagos was, and the desperate, low value of life, mind-set of many of the people here….. They told me that people are angry that they can’t find jobs, angry that the government is so corrupt, and angry that life is so tough for them…. They confirmed that white people were so rare, and they are seen as easy prey, and very rewarding prey. They warned me about frequenting places where I am the only white person around! They all said that this anger was building rather than residing, and I just wondered why anyone would want to live here….. But, it’s never so easy, hey, many can’t move, and many can’t leave their friends and loved ones…. Those bonds blind them from there prison…..

I’m taking time to work through this challenging situation I am in, and in my next blog posting I’ll share with you my way forward….. There are many options, it’s just finding the best one…

I’m fortunate in having Ruth to talk to, as a tower of strength and understanding……