Today I'm in Ibadan, a sprawling and non-descript city north of Lagos. It's not the sort of place to feature highly on anyone's itinerary, but is a useful junction point for those heading north, which is why I'm here. And since transport seems to the main concern, I thought I'd try to give a little flavour of what it's like travelling by public transport in Nigeria.
The first thing to note is that white people just don't travel by public transport here. At least, that's the expectation locals have. Oyibos tend to have expensive cars and their own drivers and to not be carrying slightly battered rucksacks, so seeing one fetch up at a motor park always causes a bit of a stir. Motor parks are, like so much in Nigeria, noisy and chaotic places, with hundreds of battered minibuses parked haphazardly, each with their own barker shouting out the destination. There's no timetable, vehicles go when full, so the timing of your arrival is hugely important. Get there too early and you can be there for hours waiting for the full complement of passengers; get there too late and you get the worst seat, cramped between a seven foot giant on one side, and a wide-hipped mother on the other with a never-ending procession of children clambering about.
All this assumes that you get let on a bus. Trying to catch transport to Lagos last week, I was refused a seat by the driver in his nearly full minibus. He insisted that I go in the empty one just behind. That one was going to be 'three across', referring to the number of passengers on each row (and actually the number of seats in each row). Most minibuses are 'four across', which is a little cosier and sweatier, and in many local people's eyes, not for a delicate white boy like me.
While waiting for the minibus to fill, you can amuse yourself by shopping from the comfort of your own seat. Motor parks are also markets, and hawkers come up like clockwork to offer smoked fish, underpants, watches, popcorn, slightly disappointing sausage rolls and bags of pure water. The last is worth a mention - water is sold in bags in Nigeria, although no one has been able to tell me just how pure the 'pure' element actually is. Once sucked dry, the plastic bags are tossed out of the window to add to the growing rubbish pile on the street. And then finally, you're off!
The roads are fair in Nigeria, at least by African standards - just enough smooth tarmac to allow the driver to build up a lethal head of steam, but with enough potholes to cause him to swerve into oncoming traffic at the last moment.
Robbery is also a problem. Don't travel at night here, as certain highways have a reputation for armed robbery. Instead, travel by day and allow yourself to be robbed by the police instead. They stand in the middle of the road, looking any supposed infractions of the law that they can fine you for. Canny bus drivers have the money prepared in advance in a roll of 20 naira notes (there are about 140 to the dollar), and seem to decide whether to pay depending on how many of the police are waving automatic rifles at them. The traffic police's motto: "To serve and protect with integrity"... of course. Rumours persist that at night, many cops rent their guns out to the robbers, or at least take their cut of the proceeds.
And when you finally get to your destination, there are a dozen people around you again, insisting that no oyibo would take a motor-bike to their hotel, and wouldn't you prefer their nice, expensive taxi? So