Nigeria Memoirs – 7 : A Medley of this & That

Nigeria Memoirs – 7 : A Medley of this & That

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Nigeria Memoirs – 7 : A Medley of this & That

I was running out of interesting events for Nigerian memoirs and had planned with the last one on Health. It was not to be. I felt I would miss out a multitude of smaller memories. I have hence picked a few of those to share and enable you to have one more look of Nigeria through my eyes.

WILDLIFE

I reached Nigeria hoping it would have forests and large reserves teeming with wild life. Herds of deer and wildebeest being actively hunted by pride of lions would be a common sight. It was a disappointment. A large part of the country was a harsh dry land. Dense forests were absent. Much like in Angola, where I travelled immensely in my region by air due to unmarked all pervasive antipersonnel mines. No amount of flying overhead gave views of elephant herds, zebras, antelopes or wildebeest. Even the famous Zambezi River that entered Zambia through my Eastern Region hid no surprises. The Africa, I had read from books of Wilbur Smith was not to be seen in Angola or in Nigeria. We in India take it for granted our heritage of a unbelievably large number of game reserves.

The rich and famous in Nigeria do maintain a few exotic birds, more as a mark of status than any love for them viz Peacocks, Ostriches and Emus. All of these are not native to Nigeria and are rarely bred there. Whatever little wild life is available in Nigeria is restricted to its South Eastern stretch. It is said that Cross River State (CRS) that enjoys the tropical forests extending into Cameroon boasts of Gorillas, Chimpanzees and Baboons. Our extensive work in CRS took me deep into jungles where communities needed basic life support and yet in all my interaction with them, I found little reason to believe until I stumbled across a fully electrified-ranch developed exclusively as a rehab and breeding centre for highly endangered Drill Monkeys.

An exotic CANOPY WALK, 50-60 ft high up from ground, anchored on trees enables one to enjoy the enhanced beauty of the dense tropical forests. It is indeed an out of world experience walking over the tree tops. The view of the nature below is breathtaking especially with sunlight filtering down in scattered beams highlighting patches selectively.

I spent a thrilling night in their wild outdoor camp. These monkeys are characterised by red colour hairs around their genitals especially when in breeding season, though not as colourful as their cousins Mandrill found in Cameroon. They breed in groups of 20- 40 with Alpha male having a harem of 5 – 10 females lording over the pack like a royal. Early in the morning, a wheel barrow full of bananas were thrown into the enclosures. Since this was a daily ritual, all the monkeys were waiting but did not dare to rush or even touch a single banana untill the Alpha had come down at his own pace, picked the best of the lot and returned to his resting branch.

STATE MOTTO

Every state in Nigeria has its own slogan e.g. the slogan of Lagos state is Centre of Excellence, Borno state is Home of Peace (unfortunately today a very disturbed state), CRS is The People’s Paradise and Abuja is Centre of Unity. It is eulogised alongside all state emblems, forums and official seals. It is even compulsorily shown on the vehicular number plates like in US.

Argungo Fishing Festival.

In the NW geo-political zone, Argungo fishing festival is celebrated for the past 90 years.

Started initially as a mark of friendship between 2 emirates viz Sokoto and Kebbi is now a major annual cultural event.

UNESCO has included it as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Human Celebrated with competitions participated by 1000s of fishermen and others is spread over 3-4 days. Events are local style wrestling, boxing, wild duck catching, bare hand fishing, canoe racing, swimming on gourd (Kalabash ) with pot on head, archery, music and dam troupes, horse and camel racing, cultural displays, art and croft shows. In 2020, the large fish catcher came up with a 78 Kg catch and went home with a cash prize of Naira 10 Mile+cars+ Hajj seats. Due to our extensive work in Kebbi, we are invariably invited to attend.

Carnival. To CRS Governor’s credit goes the starting of an annual grand carnival on the lines of Brazil’s Rio Carnival and developing a retreat in nature’s lap in the hills (Obudu Cattle Ranch). The entire state goes into a holiday break for 20 days from 15 Dec till 05 Jan with only emergency services functioning. Christmas, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day is celebrated with much pomp and show.

Besides others, every Govt department presents one theme troupe. We have become a permanent invitee to be part of Governors troupe since 2006, once our cause of helping the poor and disadvantaged was fully recognised. The fortnight long celebration consists not only of the carnival but also dance, drama and song. Various bands croon throughout the night and the whole show ends with Miss Nigeria/ Calabar pageant.

BUISNESS RESORT

Governor CRS (1999 – 2007) had a dream plan to make his state as the tourist destination for Nigeria. He planned to give his state a make-over and indeed succeeded in beautifying the capital Calabar. More than $500 Million was spent trying to develop Tinapa, a business resort area close to Calabar that would serve as a trading paradise for the rich and affluent, something of an integrated centre in the mould of Singapore/ Dubai in Africa and also be a tourist destination.

Unfortunately, this could not take off, the project has turned out to be a gargantuan elephant that has gulped billions of Naira.

A few pics taken by me in Sep 2009 shows a ghost town – deserted empty spaces/ roads/ malls/ hotels/ beach resort.

COMMUNICATIONS & CONNECTIVITY.

In the initial few years of my stay in Nigeria, the connectivity with projects and expatriates managing project was a major challenge. Internet was only available through cyber cafes only in state capital cities from 2005. The Project Managers would have to frequent cyber cafes to access their mails and submit reports. To be seen in a cyber-café became almost a standard practice in the evening hours.

One of our projects, in Kachia LGA, just 175 Km from the capital Abuja, was so challenged that only option to be in communication was through a Sat-Phone Thuraiya. Surprisingly the cost call on Thuraiya would turn out same as that of an international call. The first cyber cafe came up in the city along with GSM mobile network only in 2007.

In 2003, the SIM costs at 20-15 cents a minute for $180 were higher than domestic. This trend Nokia 3310 mobile hand changed only by late set for $150. Call charges 2010 when the SIM costs were same through came down to 10$, landline or mobiles international call cost to equivalent to a dollar a 35 and domestic calls to minute for international & 12-10 cents each.

Due to low connectivity, at one time most of my colleagues including me were dependent on 4 Sim cards and 2 mobile phones to ensure reliable communication. One mobile with 2 SIMs exclusively for internet and international calls and the other domestic calls.

CURRENCY WOES.

Nigerian paper currency is counted in Naira while their coins are Kobo. 100 Kobos make a Naira. They started at a positive rate since their currency was pegged with British Pound but look at the table where they are now with a runaway inflation. The table is pegged with USD and also shows our INR in comparison. Prayers for Nigerians but definitely a pat for our economic policies too.

By Colonel Akhil Gupta, Retd