Entering Nigeria: When Pre-Conception Creates Fear

I sit on the foot of my bed.  The soles of my shoes swing carelessly inches above the dusty tiled floor of my Beninese hotel room.

“Shit” I say to myself looking down at the light hairs standing on the top of my knees. I’ve forgot to put my pants on before putting on my sneakers.  Part of me wonders if I’ve done this subconsciously to avoid the inevitable journey ahead.  I’m still weary from malaria, but it’s the destination rather than my well-being that has me rattled.  Rather than unlacing and re-lacing I struggle for a dozen or so minutes to squeeze my shoed feet through my overly tight blue jeans, navigating them past the hole I carelessly ripped in the crotch the other day.

I stand up, toss my camera bag on my back, my backpack over my shoulder, and squeeze the handle door to exit my room and enter the world outside.


My heart is racing and I keep thinking to myself “am I really about to drive a scooter into Nigeria?”


The National Museum in Benin City, Nigeria

Nigeria’s reputation stands on wonky ground and I can’t help but feel worried about the road ahead.  Stories of corrupt police officers and highway checkpoints are just the beginning.  These roads are littered with bandits I’m told, these highways are scattered with thieves and the like.  Before leaving Accra a man warns me of kidnappers, another tells me to stay clear of highways: “if you drive on them with your scooter, you’ll die.”  Few people mince words when talking about Nigeria.

I’ve always held myself to a certain standard, one in which never passes judgement before experiencing.  However, Nigeria has me scared.

After skirting through the Beninese countryside I come across a small post which hangs down over the road and a little sign that dances in the wind below it: Welcome to Nigeria.

No Spam emails allowed in this internet cafe... ok, so some stereotypes are probably true.

No Spam emails allowed in this internet cafe… ok, so some stereotypes are probably true.

After a couple detours for stamps, chats and countless welcomes, I’m on my way.  A series of immigration huts are lined up a couple kilometers into Nigeria.  At the first, a well-dressed doctor explains to me that though I should have proof of vaccination for my Hep-A and B but he believes that I’ve taken them and I move on.  I’m not entirely sure what the point of the second hut was meant to be, but we spend my time there laughing as I explain to them that I will be driving this scooter to South Africa.  I show them my GoPro camera and they laugh at the distorted form of their faces in the LCD screen.  In the final hut, an old man who is hard of sight explains to me how he is the Nigerian version of the CIA, but has a hard time reading my writing and hardly seems fit to walk, let alone hunt down spies.  He blesses my journey and I’m on my way.

“That’s it?” I can’t believe that this is the famous Nigerian border, that these are the so-called ruthless forces that dig into the pockets of anyone who dares cross past.  Not a hint of a bribe.  Not a touch of funny business.  Nothing but smiles, welcomes, laughs, and a little bit of curiosity.

Nigeria, drill monkey

I drive Anne Murray through the landscape which starts to hill in the west of Nigeria.  The road winds and climbs over beautiful passes of greenery.  Cement bridges cross calm rivers in which I wonder if crocodiles swim.  I pass a couple police checkpoints.  Again, it’s nothing but laughter and some light-hearted joking.

I have no maps with me, no GPS today, and on multiple occasions I find myself at a junction with no clue whether to turn left or right.  Without prompting aide, strangers walk up to me and ask if they can help point me the right way; they don’t let me leave until I’ve repeated the directions to prove they are clear.

“Nigeria is brilliant.”

I know it’s only been a week.  I know that I might feel a little bit differently a couple days from now.  However, the one thing I’m reminded of here in Nigeria is something I’m constantly reminded of as I travel: the world bears not judging by those who have never walked it.

So often we let our pre-conceived notions get the best of us.  All too often we listen to the worried words of people who have never been to the places they talk about.  Perhaps part of the problem is our educated need to have an opinion on everything.  Perhaps we feel that it is our duty to know the world even if we haven’t had the chance to explore it.  Perhaps mankind is inherently xenophobic and forms opinions to make it seem we are not.  Maybe we can blame it on the media and their need to portray the negative to sell newspapers.  Whatever it is, I feel a little bit embarrassed that I let it get to me in the case of Nigeria.  Sure, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns here, but, at the end of the day, I’m proud of myself for not allowing the fear of the unknown keep me from discovering a little bit more about the truths about Nigeria, the truths of our world, and really the truths of my own self-conscious.

Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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  1. Nice read man, refreshing, and thanks for blogging about your trip through West Africa. I wish more people would get off the beaten path stop yapping about Thailand ‘the over-rated’. 😉 Cheers.

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    • Agreed Rockyra… You should search on my site for an article called Are Backpacker’s Full of Shit haha… you’ll like that one.

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  2. Nigeria was once safe for travel but it cannot be said the same thing now. Anyone travelling to Nigeria must be careful of the things you have already mentioned. Didn’t realise that there bandits on the roads, sounds dangerous.

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    • Yeah, it goes through waves of safety and security. I had no issues, but I wouldn’t dare travel at night. To any regard, I actually really enjoyed Nigeria!

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  3. Now that’s a gem!
    There are good people everywhere and you’ve certainly encountered a fair share in Nigeria. Glad you didn’t let trepidation keep you at bay.

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    • Exactly Maria, Glad you liked the article!

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  4. It is so refreshing to read travel posts about destinations not everybody dares going to. I happen to know a Nigerian women who had to flee to the UK for political reasons (her husband got killed as he was from the opposition party). She always warned me about Nigeria, but I think it the same with a lot of countries like that: if you are unlucky you can have a very bad experience, but most of the time people will be rewarded for venturing off the beaten track.

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    • Hi Tammy, Yes, Nigeria can be a very dangerous place if you’re in the wrong position. Lots of oil workers and politicians have been killed and kidnapped. However, I always believe the best in people, and like to think that most of those things happen in a bubble. Then again, I could be completely wrong haha

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  5. What a really well written article about somewhere you don’t go everyday. personally i’m not ready to venture out into Africa yet. So much world, such little time. 🙂

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    • Hi John, don’t worry… Africa will call you when you’re ready for it! 😀

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  6. Brendan, I think most people who have traveled long enough and to some out-of-the-way spots have felt this fear. It happened to Jim and me in Cape Town for one. But like you say, you quickly get over it.

    I do think that the fear helps us to be more aware, more mindful of what is going on around us. Paying attention is the biggest step in prevention.

    Keep safe! I’m glad you’re feeling better.

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    • Corinne, good points. I like that the fear makes me more aware as well. Although, I do always feel a bit ashamed as I look at everyone with such apprehension.

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  7. I certainly agree with the sentiment of your article, however after working with Nigerian man and hearing his stories and seeing the recent executions of hostages, I’d certainly be quite wary about traveling there at the moment without having a local around.

    It is frustrating, as like you say, the vast majority of people are friendly, genuinely great people. Just need to tackle such destinations a bit differently I’d say and be aware of your surroundings moreso than other places.

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    • Paul – Couldn’t agree more. I think part of the problem too is that we paint entire countries with one brush. Most of the incidents of late have been in the north. I wouldn’t dream of going there right now. That being said, I have a friend who was working in Northern Nigeria until recently and said the people there were the friendliest in the world. Extremists ruin images for everyone. Now, all that was said in this one article about Nigeria too was a first-impression. I really liked Nigeria, but it also felt like one of the most stressful countries I’ve ever travelled. I was relieved to hit Cameroon.

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  8. Wow. This is the first thing I’ve read about someone just traveling to Nigeria (as opposed to being there for business, etc). Judging from the news we hear these days, I’d be terrified – glad the border crossing went well! Looking forward to hearing more about the difference between the news and your on-the-ground experience!

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    • Cheers for reading Callie. Nigeria certainly is a different country to travel. I was often asked by police “you’re a tourist??” haha. Good times!

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  9. I’m a scary cat, so I would be extra careful. I was a tad bit nervous in Ghana, but I enjoyed my trip there. I stayed with a host family and they really made me feel at home.

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  10. Nice to have you come to my country, Hope to see you some other time, still more beautiful places to explore here.

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