Nigeria is an important country for many reasons. First there is the jihadist group Boko Haram which has engaged in a expansionist campaign, freaking out everyone in the free world. Then there is the fact that Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy. Most recently however, everyone is interested in the upcoming elections with analysts predicting everything from widespread violence to a breakup of the country. Expectedly, every major news organisation around the world doesn't want to be somewhere covering the escape of Llamas when this sexy, maybe-conflict story is unfolding in Nigeria. So most of them are putting boots on the ground.
Some journalists have had to wait long periods for their visas while others have come and gone in the wake of the six-week postponement of the elections from February 14 to March 28. As a local, I keep getting contacted for interviews and pointers. Consequently, I have decided, at no cost, to provide a fairly detailed list of tips for foreign journalists coming to Nigeria for the first time:
NOTE: Most of my advice is for the white or light-skinned foreigner. If you are black and cannot be visibly identified as a foreigner, then I am sorry, you will have to work as hard as every other local journalist.
- There is no protocol for the foreign journalist.
You may think, I want to interview a high profile politician and I am not sure a foreigner who just flew in to cover the elections will be able to get access. Nonsense! There are no access issues for the foreign journalist in Nigeria. You know the saying “man proposes, God disposes”? Well, here it is “foreign journo proposes, foreign journo disposes”. Especially if you are white, there is hardly any door you cannot walk right into and be greeted with a smile. If you cannot enter, then rest assured that no one can.
- You are white. Don’t fight it.
Like I said above, this article is for the light(er)-skinned journalist. In Nigeria, all light-skinned foreigners are referred to as white, or “oyibo”. Up north, where Hausa is the main language, you will be called “bature”. It does not matter if you are Algerian, Mexican or Chinese. Do not try to argue or explain that you are not white. The tag comes with a lot of perks like the one in 1. above. You will experience more love and attention than you have ever received since the nurse first showed you to your parents.
- Don’t be shy to ask personal questions
Sure there are taboo questions, but because you are foreign, most of these will not apply to you. Do not be shocked if you find people telling you their most intimate secrets. You will not need to be very influential for a public official to share sensitive government information or for a random stranger to tell you the crimes they have committed. There is something about your skin that makes us trust you. Milk it.
- Prepare for the beer gardens
Especially in Lagos and Abuja, you will find that there are dozens of beer gardens or bush bars in any one area. Feel free to explore these lively places but please do not wear those hideous shorts that foreign journos like to wear in tropical countries. Along with the general population, mosquitoes converge there and will not hesitate to feast on you. Especially you. If you have never had malaria before, trust me, the first time is not good. Plus, you don’t want to be delirious with fever while your colleagues are out covering electoral violence. An African election report without some violence is like a man with erectile dysfunction. You don't want that.
- Love is a dangerous game
Everyone needs some loving. While you are in Nigeria, there is nothing wrong in some adventure of a sexual nature. Again, it doesn't matter how you look - old, fat, sun-burnt - you will be treated like a local celebrity. Sex (transactional and otherwise) will be fairly easy to find. People will tell you very quickly that you are beautiful, or even, that they love you. Especially if you are no longer in your prime and it has been years since someone last said those words to you, it can be quite intoxicating to hear them. Enjoy the attention, but be careful. You may end up sponsoring someone’s trip abroad. Love at your own risk.
- The gay shall not inherit the earth
If you are gay and you need some action while you are in Nigeria, you might want to be extra cautious. It is a crime to show any same sex amorous affection. We can talk about how this is against human rights and all another time. Today it is a crime, and you can get in trouble. Plus, the open playing field for the gay foreigner in Nigeria is a minefield. To scam you, we will pretend to be gay. Don’t use the internet for hookups. I am not recommending abstinence (that can be frustrating), but you might want to think about it.
- We stare at exotic people. Deal with it.
You will find out very quickly that as a foreigner, you stand out. People will stare at you, nonstop. No, they will not look away when you look back. Yes, they will call out to you in the streets, referring to you by race. Calm down. This is not racist. It is endearment. Deal with it.
- You will pay more. Deal with it.
Will you be charged higher prices when you go to the market or take cabs or pay for sex? Yes. Yes. Yes. If you ask me, it is a small price to pay for all that love. Deal with it.
- The devil is in the spices
Especially if you are from places with bland food, the first time you eat a Nigerian dish will be followed by reactions that will require a long period of recovery. If you do not like hot spices, you might want to mention that several times before the food arrives.
- Vegans can go to hell
I am sorry but if you are vegan, food will be a challenge for you here. If you will not feel too guilty about it, you might want to take a vegan break in Nigeria and enjoy the meaty culinary delights for the one or two weeks you will be here. Trust me, the one or two kilos of meat you will eat in the period will not destroy the planet. However, to deal with any extreme guilt when you do go back home, you can volunteer at a homeless shelter, donate to Oxfam or to one of those animal rights organisations.
I hope you enjoy Nigeria as much I hope Nigeria enjoys you.
Love and peace.