There is a certain delusion that being in a big city creates in people. That is why you need to pack a bag and travel before you can claim to know a people.
– By Fu’ad Lawal
“Bomb the Whole Sambisa Forest!”
It was pretty common to see people tweet this, years ago, when Boko Haram was being a pain in the butt as they’ve been for the last few years. Most of them, city dwellers of course.
What was uncommon was people saying “Really? You think Sambisa forest is the size of a backyard? Are you even aware that it’s 5 times the size of Lagos State?”
You live in a city, and brag about its completeness. Then you travel and have a completely different perspective.
Last year, I went on a road trip around Nigeria, and even though it wasn’t my first time outside the delusional comfort of my city, it felt new.
Most of what you heard about Nigeria is probably a lie.
“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they’re untrue, but they’re incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” Chimamanda said that.
You realise that most of the people who peddle the idea that Nigerians are not to be trusted drew their conclusions from cities where population density is directly proportional to crime rates.
You realise that most Nigerians just want to get by with their modest needs.
“Please, how can I get to so and so place?”
This is how to get the best of Nigerians, where they feel a compulsive need to guide strangers, instead of taking advantage of their vulnerability. Fear is for people who don’t move around a lot. And while you travel, you see our differences, but most importantly, you begin to understand them.
Empathy wins, every time.
The first lesson you learn in the North outside the major cities is that, Hausa is a lingua franca. A Southern city dweller said, “it is too bad these people can’t speak English.”
I think the real tragedy was that we couldn’t speak Hausa. The difference between these two is empathy. And empathy only comes from an open mind. An open mind helps you understand. When you understand, you start to shut up more.
An Open Mind is like an open window.
And that’s where opportunity jumps in through. This is just not about finding new ways to enjoy and explore, but finding new opportunities to take back with you.
So you visit Aba Market in Abia, and realise the power of local industries. Every week, 40,000 pairs of footwear are made there.
In Kano on the other hand, some leather tanneries process as much as 8,000 snake skins a month, so that foreign designers can come and buy them, and resell to us at more than quadruple the price.
You visit Abakaliki and realise that perhaps, one day locally grown rice can feed the whole country. And this can be possible because for example, foreign rice is contraband in Ebonyi State, and punishable by law. And people seem to be getting by just fine.
You visit Gembu in Taraba State, and for a moment you feel like you’ve stumbled on Atlantis, because it feels like a secret Obudu where no one knows exists. But then you realise that it also has the biggest tea estate in West Africa, and if you’ve drank from two of Nigeria’s biggest tea brands, you’ve drank Gembu tea.
You realise that every single state in Nigeria has an economic goldmine that could further push them towards self-sustenance. None of this would have been known to you if you were stuck in the ruthless routine of city life.
And this is just a tip. So pack a bag, anything that won’t fit into it is not important. Pick a place, pick a weekend, and just travel.
“What’s the point?” Someone might ask. You don’t need to have one. You just need to travel. One thing’s certain; you never come back the same.
Fu'ad Lawal is the Editor-In-Chief at Zikoko.com. He is a storyteller actively exploring every form of media. He's also a road monger, and a food explorer. In 2017, he went on an 80-day road trip across Nigeria with Pulse.ng, touching down in every single state in the country, exploring as many stories as he could find. He currently works in Creative Strategy, exploring the most effective ways to help brands tell their stories better.