Entering a War Zone!!

(Extract from my diary of my trip from Harare, Zimbabwe to Bamako, Mali 2011 
- in eBook "10(k)m to Mali")

"...adversity favours the versatile..." "History of the World" - Andrew Marr

3 Sept 2011 (Banki, Cameroon to Kari, Nigeria)

My passport was processed by 7:30am and I set off with Lawan to the Nigerian side. The passport took awhile, not because there was a problem with my visa but because the visa said “30 days” and “transit” and apparently it was law that transit visas were not allowed to be valid for longer than 7 days. The long hanging around and constant opening/closing of the passport I think was in lieu of extra money (that I never paid) for which I would then get the 30 days. Anyway, 7 days it was then.

Then the Health Officer took me to his office with my Yellow Fever Certificate which he told me was fine but his office needed something. Oh ffs! My Nigeria visit was not off to a great start. He said that “officially” he needed to do a health check but he could see I was healthy and also had several other vaccinations. This was the 1st of what I realised noticed what turned out to be quite a common trait of many Nigerians...stating the obvious as many times as you could bear and then at least one more time (in my experience)!

I still had to wait for the senior Customs officer who would process the carnet and although there were 2 customs officers there, they were apparently not “allowed” to process it. It was just after 7:40am and the guy eventually turned up around 8:20 after I’d had two large mugs of delicious local tea. We then set off and also with the wife and (her baby) of a cop who was getting a lift to Maiduguri.

Route as per GPS from Banki, Cameroon to Kari, Nigeria via Maiduguri

It was slow going winding around bad sections and then also a section past yet some more trucks It was slow going winding around bad sections and then also a section past yet some more trucks that were stuck on the road. The 1st 20km probably took us almost 3 hours to do and weren’t even near Bama yet - this also made me realise that staying over at the border was a really good idea. The road gradually got better in that there were less potholes but this also meant the mad Nigerian drivers could show-off their lack of care for any other vehicle passing or approaching for that matter. Also a heap of barriers where an array of uniformed (and un-uniformed) people hung around with their AK47’s slung over their shoulders. The array was made up of police, traffic police and security police (in civilian clothes). All were quite friendly except the traffic police who seemed to go out of their way to be twats of note by shouting about random issues they made up re safety equipment.

Most of the stopping by police though were friendly chats and I think more out of curiosity or for conversation than for anything else. That was when I could understand their english though, sometimes I had no idea even what language they were speaking before it turned out that it was indeed english or some odd form of it anyway.

On the way to Maiduguri from the border

About 30km before Maiduguri, Karen called and said that Ousman had arrived at a bus-station in Maiduguri and I should get the guy with me to call him and in french find out where he was. It was one city I was not going to be hanging around or just simply driving around. It turned out well though with the particular bus station Ousman was at, being along the road we’d be entering on. Entering the city we went through 3-4 heavily armed and sandbagged control points with soldiers in full combat gear and also a variety of automatic weapons pointed at us, including at least one larger calibre at each one - this was a war zone! (the weapons weren't only aimed at us but sighting through the scopes and with fingers on every trigger!

Author Note (2014): Maiduguri has since gained even more coverage and notoriety in the international media as the base of the "Boko Haram" group and extremist violence. According to locals, a few hundred people had lost their lives in the 2 weeks preceding my arrival in the city. The recent abduction of a large group of schoolgirls is just the latest of a string of events that have focused the world's attention on this region.

At the bus station we managed to find Ousman and then Lawan negotiated with a taxi to lead us via the safe routes (this changes every day!) to the other side of the city and out onto the main road to Bauchi and Kano. From here the road got even better and eventually a little bit less roadblocks although the traffic police didn’t get any friendlier.

In Potiskum we filled up with fuel before setting off for Kari, our target for an overnight stop. We reached the town/large village just as the sun went down and very quickly we’d secured a safe parking spot at a service station. The security guy and the manager sorted some water for us to wash and use for the toilet before we walked into the village and got some meat and yam for dinner.


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