How insecurity heightens traveling challenges in Nigeria

A common phrase says ‘travel is a form of education.’ This is because it is not only in classrooms that you can get knowledge. Travel provides outdoor experience. I remember my first visit to Jos, Plateau State in 1980 to spend part of my long term vacation with my uncle who lives in the coal city. My eldest sister and I traveled by rail. We boarded a train from Ibadan around 9pm and arrived in Jos at dawn on the third day. During the trip, I remember traveling with an exercise book where I wrote the names of all the towns and villages we passed. It was my first train journey and it was an exciting and memorable experience. Since then, I don’t need to inform about how cold Jos is. Also, I got the chance to visit places of interest in the ancient town.

Since 1998, I have been a development worker or better yet a staff member of an NGO and later a consultant. One thing I like about the job, that doesn’t have job security, is the opportunity to travel. My work in the development sector gave me the opportunity to visit 33 out of the 36 states in Nigeria apart from Kebbi, Taraba and Yobe states. I first had the opportunity to travel by air in 2002 when my former workplace organized a program out of the Abuja office and we had to fly to Lagos for the workshop. My travels abroad to Geneva, Switzerland, the United States of America, Ghana, Egypt and Uganda were made possible by my work. They were all-expense paid trips. Therefore, all the tourist sites I visited were courtesy of my official assignments outside the country.

Unfortunately, travel is a nightmare, especially in Nigeria, due to insecurity. Last week, I traveled to Kaduna and Jos and the experience was very unpleasant. My colleagues and I have a two-day workshop in Kaduna scheduled for last week Monday and Tuesday. As usual when planning such an event, the arrival of the participants is out of town the day before the workshop. Due to the prevailing uncertainty, especially in Kaduna, the organizer of the program decided to fly me and some other colleagues to Lagos to connect another flight to Kaduna. By the way, I live in Abuja and Kaduna is just less than three hours away. However, due to the alarming activities of bandits who attacked the train and kidnapped scores of people last year, going to Kaduna by rail was ruled out. Also, many kidnappings took place on the road that connects the Federal Capital Territory to the ancient city; therefore it was considered unsafe to travel by road. So we had to make that Israeli trip to Lagos first and connect Kaduna by flight.

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The flight out of Abuja was at 6:20 am Sunday, January 8, 2023. To get to Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport early enough to meet my flight schedule I had to leave my house at 5 am. That is a very sacred time for me as I remember the prevailing uncertainty. However, it was arranged that a cab driver would pick me up at home, so I reluctantly agreed to travel early in the morning. Going to the airport, the airline was delayed because its internet server was down so its officials could not check in passengers for a while. Meanwhile, our connecting flight to Kaduna by another airline was 9:30 am. We were on tenterhooks because if the connecting flight was missed it would have meant that we would not be able to make it to Kaduna that day unless we flew back to Abuja or Kano and we did hours of road travel to Kaduna and that was it we want to avoid, to initiate. Fortunately, we finally got to Lagos at about 8:45 am and were able to board the flight bound for Kaduna. When we arrived in Kaduna that fateful Sunday morning I was not at ease because if you remember, on Saturday, March 26, 2022, some unknown gunmen attacked the Kaduna airport, killing an officer of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, called Shehu Na’. Allah, at the runway. Although airport security was improved, I was still sick of it.

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Well, we reached our hotel safely and checked in. The event was successfully held and we had to leave Kaduna last night. Wednesday for Jos. That is supposed to be about five hours by road. However, due to frequent kidnappings and killings across the southern Kaduna axis which is the gateway to Jos, we had to fly to Lagos to connect another flight going to Jos. We arrived at Kaduna airport on time but the plane did not. Unfortunately, only one airline is going that way at the moment. We had to wait more than six hours before the flight finally arrived. What excuse did the airline give? Operating reason! By the time we got to Lagos that night, our connecting flight to Jos had gone, so we had to sleep over in Lagos, which was not planned for. We checked into a hotel in Ikeja because the alternative flight we could get to Jos was scheduled for 8 am the next day. Knowing Lagos for its infamous traffic, we decided to stay in a hotel not too far from the airport. I was worn out and very tired by the time I slept that Wednesday night. Our plan was to leave the hotel for the airport at 6 am.

That was not to be. At about 5 am, my colleague, who we are traveling with, knocked on my door with the terrible news that our 8 am flight to Jos had been cancelled. Meanwhile, that Thursday It was the first day of the workshop in Jos and we should be on the ground Wednesday. Fortunately, the organization sent an advance team to Jos on Wednesday to prepare the ground. So what do we do? I asked my colleague who I was traveling with. She said we needed to be on our way to the airport immediately to see if there was an early morning Abuja flight that we could hop on and do the rest of our trip to Jos by road! Holy Moses! Road trip to Jos from Abuja? What choice do we have?

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Anyway, I quickly took a shower, and soon we were at the airport. Luckily there was a 6:30 am flight to Abuja by the same airline. So, the airline helped us reroute our tickets to Abuja instead of Jos. We had a safe flight to Abuja and had to hire a car to take the two of us who were going on that trip to Jos. :30 pm and I managed to check into my hotel room, took a shower, and got dressed to enter the hall where the workshop was taking place. I ended up being the last presenter on the day but, thank God, everything went well. Jos was leaving Abuja via a 3:20 pm flight last Friday without a hitch, otherwise we might have to sleep over in Jos again and make our trip to Abuja by road.

What a week! What an adventurous trip! The lessons here are multiple. Never travel without extra cash on you for any occasion. Always prepare for the unexpected. Always have a plan B and even a C. Looking back at the series of unfortunate events that happened last week, will it be better to present my papers virtually? Well, that is an option, but it should be a last resort. A virtual presentation is without eye contact and body language. There will be no networking with resource people and other participants and more importantly, no updates on ground realities where the training, conference or seminar is taking place.

Twitter: @jideojong

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