Thursday, January 28, 2016


How is it that I forgot to talk about toiletries in these two and three star hotels that I find myself cocooning in when I travel in my previous instalment of the tours? Anyway, seeing that my treatise will be incomplete without letting you in on hotel choices based on simple things as those, I will now do exactly that if you'd allow me some paragraphs before I return to the core of my tale, as what I am about to share with you can help you guess how posh the hotel you're staying in is, in Nigeria that is. Of course you know you get full options, even dry-cleaning with the four or five star hotels, and seeing that I have very little experience with such, I won't bother about that, particularly as I have no intention of regaling you with lies.

Now back to the two or three stars (I am intentionally ignoring the one star hotels you find almost every where in Lagos as elsewhere, with whores swarming over the whole place/bars that serve as "negotiating points"), and how toiletries could point you to what to expect. Most of these hotels have miniature soaps, as well as a toilet paper and towel. The better graded ones, that instils confidence in you to expect a fairly good service would have the miniature soaps of popular brands such as Lux, Joy, Imperial Leather, and the likes while the ones at the bottom of the ladder have the not so popular brands, sometimes no soap though this is rare, except you are in for "short time" for some indiscretion or a business meeting, you'd rather not conduct in the lobby or bar of the hotel.

I used to think that three star hotels must have a branded towel, but I have long perished that thought having been to some hotels, like the one in Rumuomasi area of Port Harcourt which had everything four star hotel managers could only but envy, yet served the ordinary towel, though I always make provision for my own towel when traveling and hardly ever need the hotels'. It's either they couldn't care any less about such "trivia" as many little things that truly matter is fast becoming in today's Nigeria or they actually truly know but currently constrained to do so by one factor or the other. The hotel in Rumuomasi where I spent my my last night in Rivers State did have the miniature soap of a popular brand, but not a branded towel. The toilet roll was soft and of high quality, which is a plus for a three star.

The only problem I have found with hotels in the South-south of Nigeria is the TV. I still don't understand why they can't be linked to reputable cable TV companies rather than the uninspiring connections they link to that make me wonder if they actually pay for such or are beneficiaries of some kind of illegal connections that allow them a few rather than all the channels. One three star hotel I stayed  in two years ago in Benin even had one station devoted to porn, and it seemed they were streaming it from the hotels central DVD player to all the rooms, and it was so unkempt that the first room I was allotted to had a used condom on the  floor, and while I was leaving very early the next morning, I got directions on how to get a cab to the nearest interstate bus terminal from hookers who where on their way home from the hotel (after a hard night's job).

As I did not have a pending engagement the next morning, I decided to wait till noon, about the time I would've fully exhausted my "time" at the hotel, before leaving for my next destination. My wait was not without an interruption from a cleaning staff who thought the room was empty of its guest. I didn't feel it was right to leave Port Harcourt without bidding farewell to the one who made the connections for the deal I was pursuing there possible. From the hotel, I went back to the place where Shell Staff were attending a trade fair organized for them, saw my contact person before leaving to trek some distance in order to get to a part of the road where traffic was freer.

It was while I was on this trek along Old Aba Road, that I came upon a grill with plantains, yams and Fish at different stages of "readiness for consumption" and couldn't help but think to get me some helping of some of the "fish head" 'pon the grill. I figured it will be anathema to come to the heart of "Rivers" State and not taste of the local delicacy (like leaving Abuja in Nigeria's Northcentral without "Kilishi"), even if I was on my way out of town, and didn't exactly have the appetite to "chow" that at the moment. My eyes and my stomach were sending contradictory messages to me, but my brain knew better to insist that I go for it, as my gut which didn't want it now, may be dying for it later while ruing missed opportunities.


Even my left hand had already gone for my wallet, and the fingers on my right flipping through the wads to make up the appropriate sum, enough to cover the cost of buying the fish head which had suddenly appeared to shine more and simmer in the sun to becoming more enticing and irresistible. Before I could even say fi-, I was already haggling for a good bargain for the fish and felt even more fulfilled buying the grilled fish than I was when I sealed a deal a day ago, a short distance from where I was standing. I had the vendor wrap the fish in many layers of old newspaper, to prevent it from soiling my bag and other contents of the space I was going to put the fish in. She also helped me put the sauce in a small nylon bag wrapped within many layers of paper to prevent it from spilling. I tucked my prize in one of the many compartments on my backpack and set off to continue my journey.

I wanted just to get out of town and head for the Southeast which I had passed on my way to Port Harcourt because of the pro-Biafra protest situation in Onitsha, which I gathered had by then dissipated, though the airwaves and social media was trending with issues surrounding the propriety or not of the security agencies deploying strong arm tactics in dispersing and quelling the protests, in which one person, a female (protester?) was "officially" confirmed dead and several others injured. I say officially, because in Nigeria such information has the official and unofficial versions, with the unofficial number of deaths being more than the official, as well as most often than not found to be closer to the truth than the official.

I managed to join passengers in a cab going to Waterlines, an area in Port Harcourt where you can find buses to virtually any state capital and major town in Nigeria. I had forgotten how bad traffic used to be in Port Harcourt, especially in the days after the use of motorbikes as means of transportation was banned there a few years back, and finding myself in one on that day deeply upset me. All of the time I spent in that cab just thinking and wondering might have somehow sown a seed in me that germinated into my decision to call off the journey to the Southeast, where really I had no business to pursue except for the purpose of refreshing myself with the allure and peace of mind that the homeland affords as well as the eustress that just being in a  familiar terrain enables.


Tuesday, January 12, 2016


The hotel I lodged in the first night in Rivers was one I was very familiar with at Obigbo. It wasn't a five-star but it met the basic conditions that I want in a hotel, especially for someone like me to whom anonymity means a lot to. I know how to find such places, trust me. I should've insisted on the room I always took, but I didn't mind when I was given another. Somehow it felt smaller than the one I was used to though it cost the same amount, and the intercom wasn't working such that they had to accompany my visitor up to see me rather than call on the intercom to intimate me of such, only to tell me that they had been trying the intercom to no avail. It also meant that I had to go to the lobby downstairs to make requests each time I wanted something.

I had known earlier that they didn't have hot water, unlike what you'll find in many two-star hotels in Edo State where hotel business appear to be second to none. It feels like every street has one there. The difference between the Edo Hospitality sector and the Rivers States' is that you will get better for commensurate amount in Edo State than in Rivers State. You need to get to a three or four star hotel, especially in Port Harcourt to have the full compliments at a pricey sum, while even as far a destination from the Edo State capital Benin, in a place like Igara, you can get a bungalow two-star hotel that is fully complimented, viz split unit air conditioner, hot water, spacy and well tiled room, with your usual Gideon's International Bible on a desk for your reading pleasure and spiritual upliftment.

Interestingly, as for what is on offer for the two or three stars, not much. TV is just CNN and some Ghanaian stations which show Ghallywood movies that look more like soft porn with a story line. Their ads are also quite hilarious though I doubt they are really that funny in the real sense of comedy, save for the way the Ghanaian accented English sounds to the ears of the Nigerian. There is some discretion when it comes to "escorts" in hotels in Rivers State, especially in Port Harcourt though, unlike anywhere in Edo, where approaches may be made to you if your body language suggests that you may require such a service, especially when potters are aware that you arrived alone.

I normally don't eat the hotel food, for the four and five stars because they could be very expensive, and I have a very large appetite. Once at Sheraton Abuja during a conference, the only food by the hotel I had was the buffet by the conference organizers, while I headed out to eat outside in the evenings, to save me my money, and also to eat foods that I am very much familiar with. With the two or three stars, that I can relatively afford I tend not to trust much besides the appetizers like pepper soup when I go to drink, in the days when I used to so indulge. The last thing I want during travels is to have a stomach upset, and the surest way for me to avoid such is to stick to my tinned foods, bread, kebabs and the likes from the streets adjoining the hotel.

The next morning, with the help of an acquaintance I was able to find a food vendor at Timber Bus Stop, Obigbo where I paid so little for so much food, I had anticipated a long day and junk could take me only so far.  I still had till noon to burn so I remained at the hotel, even after eating and taking my bath. I tried to listen to RADIO BIAFRA but again couldn't stand the presenter's voice and made do with the local radio stations like Rhythm FM, while watching the TV without audio. I gathered that peace had returned to Onitsha though not without the loss of a life, injury to others and destruction of several property. I was beginning to doubt if I will still fulfill the part of my itinerary that included going to the Southeast at this point.

On my way to Port Harcourt, and thankfully without the cab driver listening to Radio Biafra, I noticed that there hadn't been much improvements in the landscape of Rivers State since last I was there less than three years ago, and coming during the harmattan also made the whole place appear rustic and totally unkempt. Some repair works were been carried out on a few roads, which appear to be more of an act of the governor to endear the people of the state to himself, ahead of the possibility of elections should the Supreme Court goes on to affirm the decisions of the courts before it, that cancelled the elections that produced him in the first place, than it is of one borne out of necessity.


I was soon at the gate of my destination, in front of Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC at Bishop Crowther Memorial Secondary School, Rumuobioakani, in Port Harcourt where stern looking, gun totting "mobile policemen" were standing to frisk visitors intending to pass into the school grounds where a mini fair had been organized for staff of the SPDC using the many credit and thrift societies they belong to. My host soon came around with my pass and we walked into the expansive school compound. Almost everything one could think of buying during the Christmas period and beyond where on hand for sale.


Interestingly, recent layoffs and news of more impending layoffs remaining ever fresh in the air of the oil industry, even at Shell, appeared to have done nothing to dull the atmosphere or dampen the mood, with Shell Staff turning up in their numbers from their office across the road, not only to just sightsee but to pick up items on display, from the little pins and needles to the large like cars and SUVs. I just stopped short of envying them while waiting for the slightest opportunity or window to grab the attention of my host away from business (on display, attended to by her subordinates) she had to attend to, so I could put up before her my business proposal. The reason I had come to Port Harcourt in the first place.

Once a deal, which incidentally didn't take long to agree upon was struck, without need for more persuasive effort on my side like I envisaged, I stayed around to watch events going on around me. Shell staffers and the families were treated like royals for that day, as they waltzed from one tent to the other going through the items on display. I had intended to change my wallet while I was in the North of Nigeria, in the early days of the tour but it totally skipped my mind, and when I saw what looked like the leather I would've gotten from the North I jumped at it, but bounced out almost as quickly as I went in when I was informed of the price. I had forgotten how things can be very expensive in Port Harcourt. Earlier that morning, I had paid premium for an earphone to replace the one I forgot in Keffi, Nasarawa State when I was there days before, as I left the hotel that morning and should've known better than to come to that fair to buy souvenir.


I spent the rest of the day feeding my eyes with what the exhibitors had on show, while also watching progress on the reward aspect of the fair, where shoppers were encouraged to fill and submit a form for which a draw was carried out in the latter part of the day and prizes doled out to successful participants. By the time the fair closed, and a dinner date with my host over, it had become unreasonable to return to Obigbo that night, so I lodged at another hotel in Rumuomasi, as you make your way off Aba Road into Uyo Street, in Port Harcourt, in a very obscure part of town (the kind of hideaway I cherish) that my host showed me, but yet a three-star, with spacious room, hot water but same TV stations including CNN, one foreign movie TV, Emmanuel TV (showing Pastor T.B. Joshua's "miracles") and the Ghanaian TV (showing the usual). The intercom in the hotel worked unlike the one at Obigbo, and they had armed security as well, which may be embarrassing for a visitor coming to see a guest at the hotel, when they have to be interrogated by security before they are allowed passage to see a guest. The mattress was better than the one in the hotel at Obigbo, and the duvet was such that once under the covers, the chilled air from the air conditioner stayed out.


Sunday, January 3, 2016


I wasn't surprised that the fat man going at his food with his fingers while at the same time licking them, did not consider my plight even when I lied to him that the interview I intended to attend in Port Harcourt had started and there was no way I was going to meet it, hence my decision to cancel the trip and ask for a refund or part of the fare I had already paid. He nonchalantly told me there was no way I was getting my money back and continued with the shame that his style of eating represented. I blamed myself for missing out on the telltale signs that should've warned me that I had come to fake park, wondering how it was that I fell for their trick after knowing and successfully avoiding their shenanigans in Onitsha especially, over the years.

Taking all that had happened in its stride, I left the "fake" park for the other one, and was still lucky to find the bus that still had space for just one passenger and hopped in. The joy of finally having to leave Onitsha (in Nigeria's Southeast) before any trouble between the joint military task force and protesting IPOB members started was more than the disappointment from the money I had lost to the people at the fake park. It didn't take up to ten minutes after I boarded the  small bus to Port Harcourt (in Nigeria's Niger Delta/South-South) before it made its way into Onitsha-Owerri Road far away from the tense atmosphere of the Head Bridge.


Passengers in the bus were on about the Anambra State governor, Willie Obiano and his penchant for throwing up unnecessary celebrations over projects that required just a simple cutting of tapes or not. They talked about how youths have gone to posters around the state to replace "OBIANO IS WORKING" with "OBIANO IS DRINKING" in reference to the governors' perceived gluttony and support of tradition in a society where the largely christian population was shedding what they term their heathenish past. Though I disagreed with their views on the latter, I didn't contribute to their discussion, just was disappointed with them for thinking that foreign cultures and religion is better and right while ours should be relegated to the background, if not scrapped.

The road after Ihiala, towards Uli was still in that same state of disrepair as I met it two years back, even though construction work which was started back then was either still in progress or must have been abandoned. Passing through a section of that road, especially the unpaved section proved quite an onerous task as the bus groaned as it struggled to move atop the dusty laterite soil, throwing dust at us from the few inlets where the windows and boot (because of the excess luggage) weren't properly closed. The dust thrown up from vehicles passing in the opposite direction also affected us, as I'm sure ours did to them.

It wasn't long before we encountered a military truck fully loaded with soldiers who sang as they passed us by in the opposite direction, shooting in the air at the same time. It was at that point that one of the females in the bus drew our mind back to Onitsha, and how this could be reinforcement to the troops on ground, a pointer that things might have gone awry there. Indeed it was, because another passenger called an acquaintance in Onitsha and was informed that hell has being let loose as there was an ongoing clash between protesting members of IPOB and the security forces, with gunshots heard, following the burning down of a cement-laden truck by the protesters, and fears are that a few of the protesters had been shot, some wounded and others dead.

While fellow passengers kept in touch with people back at Onitsha, I fed my eyes with the much I could glean of the part of Imo State we were passing through. It was much the construction site I met the last time I passed through months back, though much of what I now see were in the advanced stages. The governor apparently feels infrastructure makes more sense than paying workers' salaries, even after collecting bailout funds from the federal government to pay them. It is very unfortunate that the people of Imo State have had to be saddled with a megalomaniac who feels that he's doing his people a favour without any sense to serve, as evidenced in many controversial statements and actions he had made and continues to make, especially in the last two years, making him out as very insensitive and intolerant of opposing views, that I wonder if any of his advisers actually advice him, or that they do and he couldn't care any less about what they or the people think, as he rules the state with his nuclear, extended and compound family. 

As we inched into Rivers State I began to feel somnolent. Fatigue had finally set in, such that by the time I alighted from the bus before it continued on to Port Harcourt my feet had become so heavy that walking became an arduous task. I managed to get a cab going to Obigbo with the radio tuned to the FM band of RADIO BIAFRA. I had heard Radio Biafra about three years ago on shortwave, and the presenter then was energetic, though I cannot say if it the presenter was Nnamdi Kanu, when Radio Biafra was the information arm of MASSOB. Even the Nnamdi Kanu voice I heard much later online had some power to it, even when his rants were mostly incoherent and subjects ridiculous. This particular presenter was very dull and repetitious in relaying his message, amidst calls that were coming in from the homeland and outside of it. He confirmed that shots had been fired in Onitsha, and a female protester was confirmed dead, while others were injured. He however didn't mention other information I already had, concerning the burning of a cement laden truck and some buildings.

That man kept on blaming the federal government as well as the Willie Obiano-led Anambra State government for the ugly outcome of events in Onitsha, and none at the doorstep of the group he represents which by the look of things might have been unruly and may have ignited the flame which led to the unfortunate turn of events. Interestingly, none of the callers saw the stupidity in the act of the protesters, who rather than to peacefully protest, had put a commercial town like Onitsha on a lockdown (for the second day running), such that travelers like me, coming into Onitsha had to make like Tuaregs from Asaba across the Head Bridge or wait endlessly in vehicles conveying us into Onitsha to our different places of destination.


By the time the cab got me to Timber Bus Stop a few minutes after, at Obigbo where I alighted, my ears were already aching from the rubbish I had been subjected to, wondering how people like that Cab Driver managed to listen to such for hours on end. I could still see signs of burnt tyres and paper Biafra flags on the ground (reminiscent of the IPOB demonstrations there a few days back) as I waltzed to the hotel nearby, to rest my bones till my appointment scheduled for the next day in Port Harcourt. Though I intended to rest, I found that once I had managed to lazily bathe myself, I walked away from the hotel to buy food from the next street, as I didn't think that I would have my full with the hotel's dishes for the kind of price I was willing to pay. Lunch was roast chicken and bread with a big bottle of cold water, which I lounged upon while switching between CNN and a Ghanaian TV station in my hotel room, as I placed a call to a fair pulchritude I had once known in my days across the creeks to see if there's any truism behind Okafor's Law of Congo-Dynamics.