How insecurity heightens traveling challenges in Nigeria

a jide ojo
a jide ojo

A popular phrase says ‘traveling is a form of education.’ This is because it is not only in classrooms that you can acquire knowledge. Traveling provides field experience. I recall my first visit to Jos, Plateau State in 1980 to spend part of my long-term vacation with my uncle residing in the coal city. My elder sister and I travelled by rail. We boarded a train from Ibadan around 9pm and arrived Jos at the dawn of the third day. In the course of the travel, I recall traveling with an exercise book where I jotted the names of all the towns and villages we passed on our way. It was my first travel by train and it was an exciting and memorable experience.  Since that time, I don’t have to be informed of how cold Jos is. Also, I got the opportunity to visit places of interest in the ancient town.

Since 1998, I have been a development worker or better still a non-governmental organisation staff and later consultant. One thing I like about the job, which does not have job security, is the opportunity to travel. My work in the development sector has afforded me the opportunity to visit 33 out of the 36 states in Nigeria with the exception of Kebbi, Taraba, and Yobe states. It was in 2002 that I first had the opportunity of traveling by air when my former place of work organised a programme outside of Abuja office and we had to fly to Lagos for the workshop. My foreign travels to Geneva, Switzerland, the United States of America, Ghana, Egypt, and Uganda were all made possible by virtue of my work. They were all-expense paid trips. Thus, all the foreign tourist sites I have visited were made possible courtesy of my official assignments outside of the country.

Unfortunately, insecurity has made traveling a nightmare, particularly in Nigeria. Last week, I travelled 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 and . As it is customary when planning such an event, the arrival of participants outside of town is a day before the workshop. Because of the prevailing insecurity, especially in Kaduna, the organiser of the programme decided to fly me and a few other colleagues to Lagos in order to connect another flight to Kaduna. By the way, I’m resident in Abuja and Kaduna is just less than three hours away. However, due to the frightening activities of bandits who attacked train and abducted scores of people last year, going to Kaduna by rail was ruled out. Also, many abductions have happened on the road linking the Federal Capital Territory to the ancient city; thus it was also considered unsafe to travel by road. So we had to make that Israelite journey to Lagos first and connect Kaduna by flight.

The flight out of Abuja was 6:20 am on , January 8, 2023. In order to get to Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport early enough to meet up with my flight schedule I had to leave my home at 5 am. That’s an unholy hour for me considering the prevailing insecurity. However, an arrangement was made for a cab driver to pick me at home, so I reluctantly agreed to the early morning travel. Getting to the airport, the airline delayed because its internet server was down so its officials could not check in passengers for some time. Meanwhile, our connecting flight to Kaduna was 9:30 am by another airline. We were on tenterhooks because, missing the connecting flight would mean not being able to make Kaduna that day except we flew back to Abuja or Kano and did hours of road travel to Kaduna which was what we were trying to avoid, Luckily, we eventually made it to Lagos at about 8:45 am and were able to board the Kaduna-bound flight. When we arrived Kaduna that fateful Sunday morning I wasn’t at peace because if you recall, on Saturday, March 26, 2022, some unidentified gunmen attacked the Kaduna airport, killing an official of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, identified as Shehu Na’Allah, at the runway. Although the security at airport has been beefed up, I was still ill at ease.

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Well, we safely arrived at our hotel and were checked in. The event was successfully held and we had to leave Kaduna last for Jos. That’s supposed to be about five hours by road. However, due to frequent abductions and killings taking place around the southern Kaduna axis which is the gateway to Jos, we had to fly to Lagos in order to connect another flight going to Jos. We arrived the Kaduna airport on time but the plane did not. Unfortunately, there’s only one airline plying that route at the moment.  We had to wait for over six hours before the flight eventually arrived. What was the excuse given by the airline? Operational reason! By the time we arrived Lagos that night, our connecting flight to Jos had left, hence we had to sleep over in Lagos, something not planned for. We lodged at a hotel in Ikeja because the alternate flight we were able to get to Jos was scheduled for 8 am the following day. Knowing Lagos for its notorious traffic we decided to lodge at a hotel not too far from the airport. I was worn out and very tired by the time I slept that 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, with whom we are traveling together, knocked on my door with the shocking news that our 8 am flight to Jos had been cancelled. Meanwhile, that was the first day of the workshop in Jos and we ought to have been on the ground on . Luckily, the organisation had sent an advance team to Jos on Wednesday to prepare the ground. So what do we do? I asked my colleague with whom I was traveling. She said we had to be on our way to the airport immediately in order to see if there would be an early morning Abuja flight we could hop on and make the rest of our journey to Jos by road! Holy Moses! Road travel to Jos from Abuja? What choice have we?

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. Thus, the airline helped us re-route 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 going on that trip to Jos. We eventually arrived Jos at about 2:30 pm and I just managed to check into my hotel room, took a shower, and dressed up to go into the hall where the workshop was taking place. I eventually was the last presenter for the day but, thankfully everything went well. Leaving Jos for Abuja via a 3:20 pm flight last Friday was hitch free, otherwise, perhaps we would have had to sleep over in Jos again and made our trip to Abuja by road.

What a week! What adventurous journeys! The lessons here are multifold. Don’t ever travel without extra cash on you for any eventualities. Always prepare for the unexpected. Always have plan B and even C.  Looking back at the series of unsavoury events encountered last week, will it have been better to opt for virtual presentation of my papers? Well, that is an option, but it should be last resort. Virtual presentation is devoid of eye contact and body language. There will be no networking with other resource persons and participants and more importantly, no update on realities on the ground in the place where the training, conference or seminar is taking place.

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