Skip to content

Wednesday – Roadblocks and oil cons

January 25, 2006

Suzanne’s bloody rooster woke me up at 5 o’clock this morning. If the damned thing had just crowed non-stop or in some discernible pattern, I probably could have got back to sleep, but no. It would crow five times, stop for a minute, crow three times, stop for five minutes, start up again. After half an hour I was ready to kill it myself, although of course I am completely incapable of wringing a rooster’s neck or chopping its head off (assuming I could find an axe). At 6:30 I gave up and got up.

Apparently Suzanne also heard Foghorn sound off at 5am. Not having the room adjacent to the garden, she was, she tells me when she emerges, able to smile, think ‘That’s my boy’ and go back to sleep. I tell her she’s lucky her rooster’s still alive.

Godwin, Gimba and James come to collect us. We get to Marablau market at 8am. We get to the gate. Lo and behold there actually is a woman in a COWAN-print dress waiting for us at the gate. Hallelujah, for once a plan has actually worked.

Justina and Gimba, Marablau market © Suzanne Porter

Justina and Gimba, Marablau market © Suzanne Porter

We get photos of Justina with her maize, Mary picking up provisions for her shop and Suzanna selling her locust bean cakes.

Suzanna at the market © Suzanne Porter

Suzanna at the market © Suzanne Porter

Somewhat belatedly we remember we had been planning to take a photo of the Land Rover in use in the field on the off chance that it might come in handy trying to schmooze Rover into doing something nice for us. So, in the spirit of better late than never, Suzanne gets some pictures of it in the marketplace.

Godwin, Marablau market © Suzanne Porter

Godwin, Marablau market © Suzanne Porter

Then it’s time to say goodbye to the women, thank Justina profusely for her delicious chicken, drop Gimba off at the guest house and hit the road. As there are only three of us now, the front passenger seat is vacant. I ask Suzanne if she wants it. She says no, so I claim it. Amazing how different the view seems. Although Jos isn’t on the agenda, it’s not really out of the way, so we stop there for lunch. Since about the third day out, Suzanne’s been fantasising about pizza. Apparently this always happens to her when she’s in Africa, particularly if she’s in the desert, which she has recently been. Usually she deals with this when she returns to the UK, but this time she only had two days between trips and didn’t manage it. At first I think this, like waxing lyrical about camels and trashing penguins (bad experience on a South African shoot once), is one of her little quirks, but by about the fifth day in the bush, I’m also fantasising about pizza. Godwin says he knows where we can get some pizza in Jos, his home town. We’re raring to go. Unfortunately, the place he had in mind was closed, so it’s chicken and jollof rice.

As we leave, Suzanne tells me a kid’s story from Mali (which Godwin confirms is also told in Nigeria) about why certain animals behave the way they do in the road. According to the story, a bus pulls up at a stop, a donkey gets on board, tells the driver where he wants to go, pays his fare, reaches his destination and gets off. A dog gets on the bus, tells the driver where he’s going. He doesn’t have the right amount of money and the driver tells him he will give him his change later. When they reach the destination the dog gets off, then remembers his change, but when he turns around to ask for it, the driver pulls away. Then a goat gets on the bus, tells the driver where he wants to go, says he needs to find his money and will pay when they get there, but when they arrive, the goat jumps off the bus and legs it without paying. And that, according to the story, is why donkeys stand in the middle of the road, dogs chase vehicles and goats (with the exception, it seems, of brown ones) run away when a vehicle approaches. I tell Suzanne that I have noticed she is right about the brown goats and that every time I see one standing there in my head I start singing ‘Brown goat in the road, tra la la la.’

Just outside Jos, Godwin stops at a Con Oil station to get some diesel. As he gets back in the Land Rover I tell him that was quick. As he starts to pull away, he brakes suddenly. When I ask what’s wrong he tells me he’s just been ripped off. He’s paid 2500 naira for 29 litres of diesel, but there’s no way, according the gauge, he’s had more than eight or nine litres put in. He tries arguing with the woman, but she’s not budging. The pump says he had 29 litres, so that’s what he had and that’s what he’s paid for. He’s mad as hell, but there’s nothing he can do. Apparently this particular con is not uncommon. The problem is that the large chains seldom have any diesel and the reason they seldom have any is that they sell the majority of the diesel they receive over the pump price to the smaller stations who make their money ripping people off. I do manage to make him laugh as we drive away, pointing out that the company pretty much warns you what to expect. It is, after all, called CON Oil.

Driving through Plateau and into neighbouring Nasarawa state we pass huge craters in the landscape which is, Godwin tells me, where they used to mine tin. It was an enterprise which brought considerable prosperity to the region at one time. The mines, like the workers’ accommodation that went with them have long since been abandoned. Since independence and the discovery of oil, all other industries have been left to rot by the government. Plateau, it seems, gets by growing produce which feeds Nigerians (unlike Kenya where most of the crops are grown for European supermarkets), but Nasarawa is now destitute.

As we drive through Lafia we are confronted by yet another roadblock. For the first time since we left Abuja last week, we are flagged over. In an urban area, especially with a nailed plank put down in front of the tires, we have no choice but to stop. An aggressive man comes over to the passenger window and starts yelling over me at Godwin. Godwin’s having none of this. We are a charity. We are exempt from these (bogus) road tax demands. The man does not or will not comprehend what’s being said. WaterAid has paid employees and is therefore a company which means our vehicle is a company car which means we are liable to pay these fees. Okay, says Godwin, if we’re breaking some law, we’ll go to the police station and sort it out. He tells the man to get in the Land Rover and direct us to the police station. No, screams the man, reaching across me to point an accusatory finger at Godwin, we deal with him. Godwin tells him to get his arm out of the car and stop disgracing himself and therefore the country in front of visitors. A more senior shakedown artist appears at Godwin’s side of the car and tells us that all vehicles must have (a) road tax stickers, (b) radio stickers (yes, we do have a radio), and (c) several more that I can’t remember. Godwin pulls out a binder full of vehicle information, including a photocopy of a letter from someone quite senior in the government, stating that WaterAid is a charity and therefore exempt. He again suggests we go to the police station to sort this out. The senior guy grudgingly agrees to let us proceed, warning that there will be several more roadblocks and, if we don’t pay now we will be expected to pay later. Godwin says fine, he’ll explain it all to the other roadblocks. That guy, says Suzanne as we pull away, acted like he was drunk. He didn’t act as if he was drunk, says Godwin, he was drunk. Not surprisingly, between the diesel con and the shakedown, Godwin is fuming and a rant ensues about the hopeless corruption in Nigeria. It is, he says, so ingrained now he despairs of anything ever changing. This is not the first time I’ve heard this concern voiced and I admit that I’m more than a little stunned by this state-sponsored shakedown. Then I remember parking permits and parking fines in London and wonder what the difference really is.

As predicted, there are a few more roadblocks. Godwin does not bother to explain the situation again. He guns it through all of them. Fortunately none of the roadblock guardians are armed.

Back at the Rockview. Still on the wrong side of the hotel, so still no view of the Rock, but, as foreseen, it does seem like five star luxury now compared to the places (particularly the Langtang shit hole) where we’ve been staying. As lovely as the Peace Guest House is and as happy as I would be to go back there, a toilet that flushes without pouring water into it from a large bucket, is very nice. (Why the ‘Peace’ guest house, I asked Louis before we left this morning. Turns out the motto of Plateau is ‘home of peace and tourism’. The latter seems overly optimistic in a country that simply is not set up for tourism, but Louis certainly plans to give it his best shot and I will certainly recommend visiting him to anyone going to Nigeria.)

Suzanne and I plan to meet up with Godwin later. Apparently Wednesday is Ladies Night at the clubs and we’re keen to get a piece of that. At seven she rings me to say Duncan is back from Lagos and Jonathan Burton, the country rep, has offered to take us all out to dinner. Although we’d both rather go clubbing with Godwin, we concede that it would be inexcusably rude to decline Jonathan’s offer, so I text Godwin to let him know he’s off the hook. We meet up with Jonathan in the lobby and he asks what we want to eat. Without hesitation both Suzanne and I say pizza! And, bless the man, he takes us to a lovely wood fired pizza establishment. It’s delicious.

Jonathan, it turns out, is the brother and son of the Burtons who were kidnapped in Gaza over the Christmas holidays. Jonathan and his wife Selma, who works for the UN in Abuja, were on holiday on her native Mauritius at the time and were scarcely able to take in the news when they got the call. This is not the sort of thing that happens to your family. Quite. Nor is it the sort of thing that happens to the family of anyone you know. His sister Kate has returned to Gaza. His father just can’t believe they did something so dangerous.

I mention that one of the things I am looking forward to about returning to London is being able to bathe without immediately having to slather toxic chemicals all over myself. There’s no problem with mosquitoes in Abuja, Jonathan tells me. Really? Fantastic.

From → Nigeria

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: