Meet Fu'ad Lawal, the man who visited all 36 states in 80 days
Fu'ad Lawal embarked on a journey to visit all 36 states in Nigeria. Here is his story.
Accompanied by a cameraman and a colleague by the name of Chris, they spent 80 days on the road, soaking up the many cultures and scenes in Nigeria.
It was indeed a great trip and an eye opening one for Fu'ad. He speaks about his passion project in this interview below;
Pulse: What led you to go on this insane project?
Fu'ad: I’m 100% an outdoor animal. I was actually planning to go to Yankari Game Reserves but at some point, I was like ‘damn I am going to do the entire country’. At first, I was like ‘how on earth am I going to go on my own?’ Someone was like ‘yo tell your boss’. So I told Osagie Alonge, I cannot forget the date, December 31st, 2016 at the office and he was like ‘yo we can actually do this thing’. And that is how it happened.
Pulse: What made you get out of Lagos to see the whole of Nigeria?
Fu'ad: First of all I am a larinka (a wanderer). My brother calls me dogleg. I love travelling very, very much. Because we were born in one place doesn’t mean we have to die there. It’s just that hunger to see outside, to see more, every time. I won’t pretend that since I came back I haven’t been thinking about more land to cover.
Pulse: You have that fever.
Fu'ad: Fam, I can’t stop thinking about West Africa.
Pulse: Was there at any point that you felt this project was too grand for you?
Fu'ad: First of all, there was this back and forth and trying to make it go live. I think I was borderline obsessed. I have never been obsessed with something like this before. I have a very poor attention span but I have not been obsessed with something before in such a long time. From my end, I knew I was going to do it. It was already beyond reason.
Pulse: Majority of Nigeria is uncharted territory. Didn’t you have the fear of the unknown?
Fu'ad: I was not scared. I travelled with Chris. I think Chris was telling everybody when we got back that I was trying to get him killed because I was not scared. It was insane. When I think back at it, I was like ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ You only die once.
Pulse: Did you even sleep at all on the night before the great journey?
Fu'ad: The night we were supposed to leave I was at the office then I went to my friend’s house the next night. I did not sleep. In fact, I woke up in the midnight and unpacked my bag and repacked it. I think I slept for like 2 hours that night. We were already at Oshodi by 5 pm.
Pulse: What was in your mind at this point?
Fu'ad: I was pumped. My heart was beating in my ears. It was so insane that when the cab finally moved I slept off. The first video we made, Chris actually recorded me sleeping.
Pulse: What did you take along with you on this journey?
Fu'ad: I took five shirts. I took a laptop that I dumped in Warri because it was too heavy. Of course a phone, chargers. I took mosquito repellents that I didn’t really get to use. Two pairs of jeans, boxers like two pairs, only the most important stuff. I had a smaller bag where I just kept my wallet, phone and chargers. I have this rule for travelling, if it cannot fit into your bag it is not important.
Pulse: Did any of your friends or family members try to discourage you?
Fu'ad: I have an incredible brother. When I told him I was going to travel he just asked for my ATM pin. So I gave him my ATM pin and he is my beneficiary. So he was quite covered (laughs). My dad did not know till I hit the road. Most of my family members did not know. My cousins were like ‘are you mad?’ You know how Yoruba people are.
Pulse: How did you guys navigate the whole of Nigeria? Where did you start from and how did you map your movement?
Fu'ad: We left Lagos off to Ogun state. The plan was to go anti-clockwise. Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, then we pivoted to the South-South, Edo, Delta, Anambra. South-South and South-East are quite intertwined so we entered both regions together. Then from Benue, we moved up to the North-East, Taraba, Adamawa, Borno. From Borno, we started heading straight to the boundary states of the North, then straight to the North-West which is Kebbi. Then we came down Niger, North-Central, Abuja, Nasarawa, Plateau then down to the South-West then back to Lagos.
Pulse: Tell me about day one, your first day on the road?
Fu'ad: Day one was actually...there was a rejection at first. The and the man was like we should get out.
Pulse: Why? Isn’t it a national monument?
Fu'ad: He was like journalists come every time and tell these stories but nothing changes so what’s the point?
Pulse: What’s wrong with the place?
Fu'ad: The place is heavily dilapidated. It is one of those places that government just lists and never really do anything. And we met a lot of places like that. We had to get approvals. They told us that before we could get a tour of the palace of the Awujale of Ijebu we had to write a letter that would be approved in two weeks.
Was Queen Sheba truly buried in Ijebu?
Pulse: Based on your journey do you think we are taking tourism seriously in this country?
Fu'ad: Nigeria has enough to decide to focus one thing and still be alright. If Nigeria decides to invest in tourism alone we will be alright. Calabar as a town thrives on the carnival and entire tourism culture there. They don’t seem to be doing very badly. First of all, the idea of rebranding Nigeria is the biggest scam. I don’t know what they rebranded. If you decide to do a rebranding campaign to promote pan-nationalism, that pan Nigerian identity, how will you keep saying great people, a great nation and keep making posters without actually telling these stories?
One interesting fact about every place we went to was that the more a people documented their history, the more they revered their kings. And people who revere their kings, revere their traditions. If you decide to just tell stories and try to intertwine them together we will feel a sense of belonging. There is no incentive to be a Nigerian. Like what does Nigeria give you for being a Nigerian? Nothing. The tourism has to be palatable for Nigerians first. We have to be comfortable being Nigerians before inviting foreigners.
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"There is a strong culture of storytelling in Yoruba land"
Pulse: How was the South-West for you?
Fu'ad: My challenge with the South-West was because I am Yoruba, it was difficult approaching the region from an outsider’s perspective. At least I went to the palace of the Ooni of Ife. I entered Ile Ase, where Ogun entered the ground. I went there and I still saw like the almost mummified head of a dog. You know it has been there for a while. We weren’t allowed to take photos. I mean I could have disobeyed but I had to respect tradition. I feel I would have preferred the wrath of the god than the wrath of the people.
One of the reasons why tourism is very vibrant in Yoruba land is because there are many places to visit. Almost more than any other region in Nigeria. Besides the proximity to Lagos is that there is a strong culture of storytelling in Yoruba land. I know my great, great, great grandfather’s occupation because of my oriki. I know he was a high priest (apena). In South-West, pretty dope. Apparently, there is an Aso-Oke festival in Iseyin and I didn’t know.
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"The South-South is actually so diverse"
Pulse: After the Southwest was the South-South. How was that like?
Fu'ad: The best part of the South-South was food. I ate something in Calabar, Ekpang Nkukwo. If I had eaten it in a woman’s house, that would have been the end of the whole trip. Culturally, the food amazing. Then the South-South is actually so diverse. It is very easy for people in Lagos especially Yoruba people to say after Edo it's basically one tribe.
Meanwhile, an interesting thing in South-South is that it is very tough being a young adult male. When we got to Benin, a police truck with about 8 officers in it blocked us. They asked what weapons we were carrying inside our bags. Every checkpoint in the South-South, when they just see two young males, they search you.
Pulse: Why is it like that in Edo state?
Fu'ad: Cultism is like a religion in Edo state. There is so much that makes being young and male in Edo very volatile. Besides the cultism aspect, there is the fact that significant part of human trafficking from Naija to Europe is from Edo state. And those cartels are run by cultists too. So even just being a young guy with a good car, you are either a Yahoo boy or cultist. It is like you have to be something. You just can’t be successful.
Pulse: How was Calabar? Did it live up to the hype?
Fu'ad: Yes. Calabar is like a giant estate, very quiet and very small. Everybody knows everybody. It’s a sexually liberal place also. Calabar is what happens when you invest heavily in tourism. Calabar does not have much when you go there when it’s not carnival season. Tinapa is completely empty but the average person wants to go to Calabar because it has invested so much in giving itself an image.
Tinapa is the perfect site for your post Apocalyptic Nigerian movie. It is completely empty except the Tinapa hotel where we met a few staff. The malls are closed. It is actually tragic.
Pulse: One of the highlights of this trip was when you went to the War Museum in Asaba. Explain how you felt visiting there?
Fu'ad: Asaba people were massacred by Nigerian forces on October 7, 1967. And the only memorial in Asaba was not built by the government but from the pockets of the surviving families. The Nigerian government chose to forget but they chose to remember.
On the plaques, you will see the names of all the people massacred. You can see a particular surname like four times in a row and you start to paint a picture that this is an entire family that was actually wiped out. We met one of the senior Chiefs in Asaba, the Onohi. He literally pointed at the place where his father and cousin are buried. It was at a junction.
It makes you question many things. The interesting thing about Asaba people is that they are not bitter. They have forgiven but they will never forget. And the Nigerian government has even failed to acknowledge it.
We met Augustine Ndili, he was a survivor. In fact, his own survival story was quite incredible. Chris was crying because he is from Agbor which is one hour away from Asaba. He never knew this story.
Asaba is one side of the river. The other side is Onitsha. When we finished meeting with Augustine Ndili, we went straight to Onitsha so we met IPOB members. It was like meeting the old and the new side of Biafra. I remember when we ran into some IPOB members, I referred to Nnamdi Kanu as Kanu and one of them said ‘you can’t refer to him as just Kanu. He is our Supreme Leader Nnamdi Kanu’. I can never forget. This was the first time I heard anyone call him Supreme Leader.
"Nnamdi Kanu saw an opportunity and he used it to the fullest"
Pulse: How was it like when you got to Onitsha because that’s when the IPOB movement was heavy?
Fu'ad: He just left Onitsha at the time. Like he does state tours. I consider him to be the most influential leader in the East since Ojukwu unarguably. In Yoruba land, you can always find that Tinubu or Awolowo, in the North you can find the Suardana, even Buhari but in the East, it has never really been like that since Ojukwu and Nnamdi Azikiwe.
Nnamdi Kanu saw an opportunity and he used it to the fullest. He was born after the Biafran war. He didn’t witness the war. He grew up on the grievances and emotions of the war. Everybody that grew up in the East or has an Igbo family has heard a war story. Every market in the entire South-East has a small IPOB outpost. It is a strong movement. I have never seen Igbo people willing to say they are willing to die for something before but many of them are willing to die.
Pulse: How was it like going to Nnamdi Kanu’s house and meeting him?
Fu'ad: Nnamdi Kanu is a very smart man. When we got to his house, we met his younger brother. They knew we were press. The thing with IPOB is that they want the attention. His house is five minutes away from the government house.
100 meters from his house you meet a security guy looking very smart. He looks like a cadet. Once you tell them you are press you get an easy passage. Interestingly there were no weapons in sight. The closest thing to a weapon was a metal detector. Everybody was dressed looking very sharp. The courtesy was impeccable. The thing about IPOB is that they are not violent. MASSOB was very violent and intimidating.
Nnamdi Kanu incited hate. Yes IPOB is a hate group but it is not a terrorist group. I saw terror in the North-East. I know what terror looks like. I know what hate looks like. Nnamdi Kanu represents something. People can say what they like, but half the time when we are talking about these things we are not addressing the issue. It is very easy and lazy for people on Twitter to say ‘is it only them that have suffered?’
Just before we got there it was in the news that the South-South region would not follow him. When we got there, we sat for like an hour. In his compound, there were at least a hundred people. There was a women’s group that came from Asaba or Anambra. The leaders in Asaba don’t officially affiliate with IPOB. Their stance is one Nigeria. There were groups from Anambra who just came to pledge allegiance that elections would not hold on November 18th, Anambra state elections.
When we got inside, Nnamdi Kanu said: “my Pulse people you are welcome.” We were in his living room. After talking for a bit he asked us to excuse him. There was an endless stream of guests throughout that day.
We tried to see him afterwards but it was not possible. We had an itinerary to stick to. They wanted us to stay. They offered to host us. Maybe we would have stayed over but we didn’t. One of the most interesting things was that at 6 pm, everybody was at attention. Everyone stood up in the compound as they were lowering the flag of Biafra There are only two flags in his premises, the flag of Biafra and the flag of Israel. Everyone marched and saluted. I was like ‘woah’.
The part that struck the most was that at the entrance of his house there were two security guys there, young chaps. When we were leaving one of them offered to see us off. We were off to Uyo that night. It was already in the evening.
I asked him his name and he said ‘archangel’. I interpreted this to mean because he was standing guard at Nnamdi Kanu’s door. I asked him “what name did your father give you?” He told me, Prince. I asked him if he was worried that this Biafra dream would go wrong and violence would erupt and he laughed and said ‘everyone you saw there, is willing to die.’ We even saw Nnamdi Kanu’s father. We saw women crying when they saw Nnamdi Kanu. Some people brought a ram to him for a blessing.
Before we went to his house, we visited the War Museum in Umuahia and some of the people we met there were survivors of the war.
They told us stories. A man named Steven told us how during the war he ate lizards to the extent that lizards became scarce in Biafra. Bombs would drop on houses and everyone would run to separate places. After like four days everyone would reunite. All the old people we met that experienced the war, except the ones in Nnamdi’s house, were like ‘we don’t want war again’. They kept emphasizing on restructuring. Even in Asaba, it was the same thing.
Pulse: What else did you pick from the South East and South South?
Fu'ad: I have lived in the East before but I have never seen Igbo people as politically charged as I did now. Normally the most politically charged region is the North.
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The North’s political awakening is from a global perspective because of Muslim sentiments. They are aligned with the Free Palestine movement. It is pretty common for you to drive by in the North and see political graffitis. The Biafra sentiments in the East are very, very strong and I think a lot of the success of IPOB is because of the religious undertone. When you give a cause a religious undertone, there is a new form of zeal. Even when you identify the problems people don’t care. Throughout this journey, there is no place where we did not see an Igbo person. Incredible people.
Pulse: After the South-East, which region was next?
Fu'ad: We exited the South-East from Enugu. We went to Chinua Achebe’s house, amazing place.
Pulse: Yeah, talk about that.
Fu'ad: I entered the study where Chinua Achebe used to write. It is now a bedroom. The house is inside the University of Nsukka, inside the staff quarters. The family that is staying there are not writers but it is a genius family. The parents are major academic people. The two daughters are lecturers. One of the sons is studying astrophysics. Chimamanda Adichie actually grew up in this house. I read that one of her stories in ‘A Thing Around Your Neck’ was inspired by the staircase in the house. I feel the house should be a national monument.
Benue state was the next stop but a short one. The first thing about Benue state that blew my mind was that we bought a bucket of oranges for just N150. That state is a food basket.
Nigeria is a very cheap country to live in if you move away from the cities. Lagos is a trap. That’s what people don’t understand. This city is a trap. If you had a pay cut and had to live outside Lagos, you will be fine. I saw a 3-bedroom apartment in Ilorin for N200,000.
Makurdi is a pretty chilled town. We left just before the floods came. It was bitter-sweet because I wish we were there during the flood. If we were there when it happened we would have given it good coverage and people would have paid attention on time.
Pulse: How was the Middle Belt like?
Fu'ad: We just stayed in Benue and headed for Taraba. You know the North is very big. The next local government can be hours away. Our welcome to the North was Makurdi to Jalingo- 10 hours. We entered Jalingo around 10:30 pm. It was insane. The good thing is that there was food immediately we dropped. I first told the mashai to give me food. The language challenge started here. It was not that serious but that was when we encountered it.
Pulse: You mean you didn’t have this problem in the whole of the South?
Fu'ad: In the South-South and South-East, pidgin is the lingua franca. In the South-West literacy levels are high but in the North people speak Hausa like they don’t even need English. The first language in the North is Hausa.
From Jalingo someone we met in Port-Harcourt was Inyang Effiong. He rode on a bike from Nigeria to Austria, 31 days. Eight African countries and four European countries. He is an insane guy. His wife is a rally driver. He even had to make a quick stop in Dakar to see her. He was even telling us about Gembu in Taraba state and how we must go there. I didn’t know about Gembu until then.
Gembu is the highest point in Nigeria. It is higher than Jos. We woke up in the morning there and it was like 13 degrees. We went to the hotel there and there was no AC and we thanked them for not having ACs. They gave us water to have our baths. We refused. A full bucket of hot water was already cold in mere minutes. Gembu is like a virgin Obudu. Atiku, Obasanjo and IBB have homes there. Atiku’s house and Obasanjo’s house are actually beside each other.
Gembu has the largest tea plantation in West Africa. In fact, most of the tea we drink is from there. It is a pretty interesting place Gembu has the potential to grow coffee and all the Mediterranean fruits that we spend major bucks on. And there is so much land there.
Then after Taraba state was Adamawa. That was where the language barrier hit us full force. You can go out and not find anyone that speaks English. I am not exaggerating. If you run into someone who speaks English, you feel like a Nigerian who stumbled on another Nigerian in Times Square in New York.
When we got to Mubi that night, it was so bad. The language barrier was so bad that I didn’t know how to tell people that I was hungry. The language barrier was actually a major disadvantage for us. If you can’t speak Hausa in the North it is a minus, a complete minus.
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"The most hospitable people in Nigeria are the Northerners"
Pulse: What were the things that surprised you about the North?
Fu'ad: There’s a perception for example in Zamfara that if you are a Christian, you are finished or dead. The North is not all roses but when you look at it from a more objective point of view, it is pretty much another manifestation of another Nigerian problem of tribalism. The most hospitable people in Nigeria are the Northerners.
In Maiduguri for example, the people there laugh too much. These are people who have seen violence and they are living life like...they say if a bomb goes off everybody scatters. An hour later everyone is back to their normal business. They are resilient. There is more diversity in the North than we talk about.
"Damboa road is the most dangerous highway in Nigeria"
Pulse: Breakdown your experience in the North-East
Fu'ad: When we got to Yola everything was pretty chilled, just another hot, sunny, town with a lot of women hawking fura. The real welcome to the war zone is on your way to Mubi.
Mubi is one of the most heavily hit towns in Adamawa state. At the checkpoints, all the soldiers are armed to the teeth. Everybody is on high alert. You cannot raise your phone at a checkpoints, they will open fire.
We entered Mubi at night so we really didn’t see much. The next morning it was like Hurricane Boko Haram came through town. There was a bank that was riddled with bullet holes.
The next day, we were heading to Maiduguri, so we went to a restaurant to eat. At the restaurant, we saw a guy who we asked on how to get to Maiduguri. He told us that there are two roads to Maiduguri. His Hausa accent was so strong so I could barely hear what he was saying. He told us to take a cab going through Gombe. We thanked him and left.
When we got to the park, a driver said that the only cab was going through Damboa road. Our driver could not speak English. Another man in the park told us that we need to make up our minds on time so that the driver can leave on time and quickly catch up with the escort. I really didn’t understand the escort part.
We left around 11 in the morning and you see that corridor it was a museum of terror. The road to Mubi has Gwoza, Askira, Chibok. These are some of the most hit towns by Boko Haram.
At the checkpoints, everybody comes down. You all walk past the checkpoint and you space out. The driver moves the car. The point is that anyone can have a rifle in the car.
During our journey, we were running out of time. You could tell the urgency in the driver’s voice and we could not speak Hausa and he could not speak English. When we got to Damboa it was like 3:30 pm. When we got to the last checkpoint, we told a soldier we were going to Maiduguri. He shook his head and told us to rush to see if we could meet up with the escort. We got there at 3:45 pm. The escort normally leaves at 4 pm so we were 15 minutes early.
Damboa road is the most dangerous highway in Nigeria along with Biu Damaturu which we passed later. For the last two years, military escorts have been leading vehicles across into the city.
We were at least 30 vehicles there. Everybody in single file, A mobile police scout car, a military truck with soldiers everywhere. For the soldiers, it is now like a routine. We wanted to approach the soldiers but it was very sensitive timing and it was like you don’t want to take any chances.
I have travelled a lot. I have been robbed before on a highway at night but I have never been on a journey more intense than Damboa road. You know when a hen is going with her chicks a hawk is flying, every chick tries to get under the hen. That’s how it was on this journey. Everybody wanted to be close as possible to the convoy. There were these two guys, who were in a Toyota and their car broke down. You know the way F1 rally is, two of got out of the car quickly and 15 minutes later they overtook us.
I saw a car in front that had broken down. By the time we got to the spot, he had repaired the car and moved. Nobody stops for you. There is no brotherhood on that highway because it is literally the front line of the Boko Haram war.
There are some places on this road where you will see spent bullet shells, burnt Hilux vehicles and bomb craters on the road.
There was a soldier we saw on our journey who had ‘Kill Them All. Check Back’ written on his helmet. We couldn’t just take his picture. When the driver got to the safe zone, the first thing he did was to park, come out of the vehicle and ease himself. All of us came out and joined him.
Afterwards, we asked the driver were Sambisa was. He pointed in the direction. The first place we went to in Maiduguri was the Monday market. I called my friend who has a morbid humour. His name is Musa, a medical student at the University of Maiduguri.
I told him we were at Monday Market and he just laughed. “You guys better leave there on time. That is the most bombed and attacked place in Maiduguri” he said.
We headed to the hospital and we met students, older students that gave us gists of when Boko Haram was literally running Maiduguri. They had checkpoints. They had offices. They were running things. You hear stories of how guys were afraid to come outside.
Musa told me that no matter how hardcore you are as a doctor when you start hearing the sirens you know that a bomb just went off. Five ambulances can roll into the hospital, stacked with bodies.
We were told a story of when they admitted a Boko Haram fighter. The soldiers are on 24 hours keeping guard and if he knows that he gets well it's over for him. The fighter was rejecting medicine and treatment. This guy deteriorated till he died. We still went to other places in Maiduguri. We couldn't enter IDP camps. No press or foreigners allowed.
When you think about Maiduguri you think everyone is in hiding. When we got to the market, it was like Idumota crowd. We met an antique seller in the market. He sells old Naira notes. He took us to a place in the market where in 2012, 10 gunmen came and opened fire on anything that was moving. And people are still selling stuff at that same spot.
Another incredible thing is the Nigerians who uproot their lives to serve there. I have a friend called Aisha. She’s a doctor and works with IRC and she lives opposite Giwa Barracks, which used to be the holding place of the most notorious Boko Haram suspects. There was a day Boko Haram attacked the barracks, all guns blazing. Aisha did not leave Maiduguri even while this happened. There are many courageous people like here there. We are not telling these stories enough.
After Maiduguri, we headed to Biu. Boko Haram almost overran the cantonment in Biu but did not succeed. That was a wrong turn for us. I have no regrets. Before we got to Biu, we already had a contact with someone on Instagram. She gave us her mum’s number and her brother’s number. And her uncle works with the civilian ATF. It’s an incredible work those guys are doing. The Nigerian army would not succeed without those guys because they know the locals.
We entered Biu on a Thursday night. The Friday morning we were at the headquarters of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) office telling them about how they are doing an amazing job and how we want to tell these stories. They told us to go to the local government and take permission. We went there and the officials told us to wait. While we were waiting, a CJTF official came out of nowhere and said we didn’t follow due process.
We told him this is why we are here. The next thing he said was “let’s go to the barracks.” And I was happy because I thought we were going to see actual soldiers. We got to the barracks and next thing you know they were interrogating us on whether we were Boko Haram spies or spying for neighbouring countries. It felt like a compliment to think I was an international spy. We were there for five hours. They checked every photo we had on the hard disk. Around 5:30-6pm, they told us we were free to go.
Pulse: You guys weren’t scared?
Fu'ad:To be honest, we had nothing to be scared about especially because what we were doing was already on the Internet. It was documented. We were heading to Gombe. Apparently, they had sent our pictures ahead to the checkpoint.
I was already dozing in the front when we got to the checkpoint. We were stopped. The soldiers single-handedly picked out three of us. It was obvious something was wrong. They put us on the floor. They were looking at their phones and our faces so clearly they knew who we were.
Meanwhile, there was a fourth person with us, the brother (Mansur) of the woman who reached out to us on Instagram. They interrogated us while he went home. They asked where was the fourth person. I wanted to reply in Yoruba because I wanted to let the soldiers knew I came from far away. As I just said ‘ati cantonment lati wa’ a soldier just said shut up with a slap on my face. The Commanding Officer apologized and cautioned his soldier. I went to check the cab we took and the passengers inside were shaking. They thought we were Boko Haram suspects.
The soldiers told us that they were taking us back with a military escort back to Biu. We got halfway and they handed us over to another convoy. It was a VIP treatment. We actually slept in the officer’s mess called Vulcan suite. There was no dinner because it was past 11 pm but we had drinks. Next morning there was breakfast in bed. The CO wanted to see us. Apparently, they brought back Mansur from his house and the CO told us we were off to Damaturu. He said we were not under arrest but his boss wanted to clarify a few things.
When we were going we saw one of the most beautiful sights. As we drove we saw people coming out from their houses and they were hailing the soldiers. It was pure love. I had goose pimples. Fathers were putting their children on their necks. The people in the North-East are farmers mostly, so in Biu thousands of people come out, converge then the military escorts them to their farmlands and stays with them till night then they bring them back because of Boko Haram.
We got to Biu Damaturu highway and the next escort that we took split us. I was in one vehicle and Chris was in the other one. In Chris’ vehicle, one soldier asked him if he can speak Igbo. Chris nodded. He now told him in Igbo that this corridor that we were about to pass, forget this escort and just pray.
When we were approaching a pothole, they always slowed down till we got in front of the pothole before you now drive inside. Why? Boko Haram rig potholes with explosives.
At a particular spot, cows started crossing the road. The convoy stopped and the soldiers came down. Apparently, you can’t overrun cows so Boko Haram pushes cows on the road and open fire. The journey was like a trip where we got to see the devastation Boko Haram had caused. We got to a place were soldiers set up a temporary camp and they were talking about a soldier who always gets transferred to the hottest spots because he is a morale booster. He is fierce.
When we finally got to Damaturu we were put in an interrogation room. They interrogated us one by one. It’s the same questions that we were asked. We were there until evening when they told us that they were taking us somewhere to sign our release papers.
We got to the entrance of a place, it was unmarked. I saw people at the entrance holding different guns. We got to the reception and they told us to fill some papers. The next thing they told us was to take off our caps, our belts, shoes, socks and watches.
It was a detention but they didn't put us in a cell. It was more like a room, no bed or anything. We just slept on a couch. The next morning we told them we are not hungry for food but for answers. We didn’t eat till one of their superiors came. He explained things to us, and later one we ate. We wrote statements on how we got there from Lagos. This was a Sunday.
The thing about detention is that you have enough time to think about everything. Whenever there was a silent period in the room, I knew guys were over thinking so I would cheer them up. We played so many children's game to get our mind away from things.
The next day it was someone from the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Noel, that came which led to our release. The next morning which was a Tuesday we were off and left the North-East. The next stop was Yankari at Bauchi where we went to decompress. It was insane.
"There is no cohesive Nigerian dream"
Pulse: You’ve been to 36 states and seen so many people. Can you define the Nigerian spirit based on this experience?
Fu'ad: Nigerians put tribe over country first. There is really no sense of nationalism among Nigerians. It’s hard to blame them because Nigeria has not given them much. There is no cohesive Nigerian dream. In the real sense, Nigeria is just a geographical expression. The biggest lie is strength in diversity. Nigerians divide by every possible line.
Pulse: No Nigerian swindled during your journey which was surprising.
Fu'ad: When we were in Ondo state, a guy just reached out to me on Twitter and said I am paying for your hotel. It was a N5,000 room but it meant a lot especially when I found out he was a corps member. He had nothing to gain. Nigerian everywhere were excited when we told them about our journey.
Sometimes we were so naive but people didn’t take advantage of us. Maybe it was because we were guys. Maybe it would be completely different for a woman. Even a woman, Susan, joined us on the road and nothing happened.
I remember when Susan joined us and she was very panicky about when we were heading to Zamfara. When we got to Kano we had to go and buy her a dress and when she entered Gusau there was no need for her to wear the dress. She went around with her low cut, her jeans and nobody stopped her. Nigerians just want to get by to be honest.
Pulse: Was there any moment you missed Lagos?
Fu'ad: Never. The closer we got to Lagos, the sadder I became. When we first entered Lagos our first stop was Ketu. We took the BRT. I was numb. I didn’t miss Lagos at all. I would totally live outside Lagos.
Pulse: Now that you have wanderlust fully in your blood, what’s your next project?
Fu'ad: West Africa.
Fu'ad: One thing this trip around Nigeria did was that it made me realize that we are more alike than unalike. We are all intertwined. One thing that fascinated me even before this trip was how Senegal is one of the most influential countries in West Africa. The gave us food, music, culture and religion. I feel there is this cohesive African vibe and it will be interesting to see it in a stretch. Travelling in Nigeria helped to connect dots.
Pulse: How easy was it keeping a journal?
Fu'ad: It was hard. At some point, we track lost of days. Apart from Monday and Friday, the remaining days of the week were blurry. We kept track up until we got in detention. That was the first time we took a real pause of not doing anything and we never recovered physically and mentally. It dulled us. We did 80 days, even though the target was 72 days.
Pulse: Are you going to write a book about your experience?
Fu'ad: I want to see if I can write a mini-journal. It’s totally worth it to document it.
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