The West African introduction
The cackles from immigration was the first warning shot. In retrospect there were a number of other warnings that any usual traveller in these parts should take head of. Making the arrival into Nigeria from Johannesburg for a 2 hour stopover in ‘transit’ to The Gambia, we thought we were ready for the next 48 hours. We would arrive shortly into The Gambia and then to the rural village of Sibanor to start work. Instead lost/stolen luggage, confiscated passports, shower/toothbrush deprivation, carpet sleeping, food stealing and arguments with airport staff would be the mainstay of what became a classic introduction to Nigerian dysfunction at its highest.Reading our departure card her head flicked up. Where are you going? We paused not knowing if this was a real question with all the intonation in her voice. “Nigeria” we said, with hesitation not knowing what was ahead. With that she rocked her head back and started laughing loudly - catching her breath to bring herself together and form a complete sentence she finally states in a much more serious tone “ well good luck”. Clement our immigration officer smartly dressed in a khaki officer uniform, complete with a beret and stripes, first met us at the end of our first of a number of long lines. Shaking his head he kept stating – ‘I don’t know who booked this for you. How did they book this?” He unfortunately was referring to the connecting flights to The Gambia – taking our passports to “check”, we were not to lay hands on these again for almost 2 days. Confirming that Virgin Nigeria has been grounded by the government for safety concerns we started to wonder when the next flight to The Gambia would be. Using the passports as a trump card Clement stated he needs us to ‘wait here’ while he finds out what to do next. He will give them back when he knows. This classic misdirection which we will later learn is used to soften us up he goes and starts collecting other peoples’ passports and asking then to wait also. Congregating together we learn they also have connecting flights and no entry visa to Nigeria. This typical scenario is any airport from KL to Perth of having passengers have to wait for connecting flights is managed somewhat uniquely in Nigeria. A transit officer is assigned to collect all these connecting passengers’ passports and not give them back until (he) the transit officer has booked them into their next flight personally. Assured this was necessary to stop people illegally running off finding their way through custom departure (past the same 20 guards guarding this area) and then through immigration to illegally reside in his country. We were not even allowed to see where they were being kept. In fact, you are to stay in a room 4x5m with 3 couches, 2 glass coffee tables and 6 other passengers of the same fate. Being inquisitive as to where our luggage was being stored during all of this we were saddened to hear that all of Lizanne’s clothes, toiletries etc. in fact everything but her camera, laptop and the clothes she had on had “gone missing”, but no one else’s luggage had reached this same fate. Now with half our luggage, no passport, no flight out and a more and more distant immigration officer leading us around behind him like 2 prisoners in cuffs we started to pray for a way out. Approaching midnight Clement finds the time to attempt to resolve our ticket problem. Finding one ticketing official who is eagerly able to tell us there are no other airlines but his that are going to The Gambia. Over 24 hours later we left the place which made us sure that returning to Nigeria is not something that anyone should ever do. Many, many more events occurred but these events will have to be left for our face to face on return – we cannot give you the best now!