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My West African travel story, by Ola Opesan

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Sights and Sounds of West Africa

The educational administrator and Head of School at Meadow Hall Education, Lekki, Lagos, Mr. Ola Opesan, recently undertook a tour of selected West African states. Here are excerpts from his diary presented as part of our commitment to boosting intra-Africa travel:

 

Log 1: West Africa Road trip. Fairly smooth journey considering a major faux pas on our part. Still, arrived safely in Porto Novo before noon. The biggest shock was learning that the customs/immigration complex built six years ago, has not been used due to a dispute between Benin and Nigeria. Viva ECOWAS?

Log day 2 – West Africa Road Trip: an exhibition of Makef’s work at Institut Français, Cotonou made my day. Other highlights were visits to the Dream Beach and some well stocked bookshops, but Makef’s work on sleeplessness was truly surreal. Vraiment !
Another observation: the French language is replete with many words which have the same spelling and meaning as words in English. However, because it is French, the pronunciation must be different. I’ve found that many of these words are pronounced in French in a similar fashion to someone speaking English with an Ibadan accent. Just an observation … que pensez-vous?

 

West Africa trip day 5 (Saturday 12 August 2017). Yes, there was a brief hiatus. Day 3 was spent travelling from Porto Novo to Lagos, and braving the tedious gauntlet of checkpoints between Seme and Agbara. On day 4 we drove to Abeokuta to update travel documents.

Day 5: we got back on track with a little cheat, a flight to Accra. For whatever reason, I feel much safer walking the streets in Accra; so much so, we even crossed the Tetteh Quarshie bridge at night to walk the 2km distance to our hotel.
Today, we’re hoping for better customer care. Not that the young woman at reception was rude, she just couldn’t be bothered. No welcoming smile, no warmth in her words. Maybe we were spoilt in Porto Novo where we spent two nights at Tour Eiffel. It is a cosy boutique hotel with wonderful staff. Daniel is worthy of special mention. He was welcoming, helpful, possessing wizardry culinary skills and great patience (especially as his English was slightly better than my French).

Tribute to the pan-African legend, Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah

West Africa trip day 6: A pleasure to revisit this splendid tribute to one of the fathers of Pan-Africanism, the Kwame Nkrumah Mauseoleum. How can the centripetal aspirations of the AU counter the centrifugal forces of nationalism or parochialism? Indeed, a visit to the Kwame Nkrumah Museum….brings history to life

 

West Africa Road Trip Day 7: woke up at 4.30am. Left our digs before 6am to arrive at the ABC transport hub in Accra by 0615 hours. Journeyed through Tema, Afife, Denu-Tokor and many other villages and towns, as well as past miles and miles of Atlantic coastline, cornfields and speed bumps to Aflao – the border town of Ghana and Togo.
Our ABC transport host held onto our passports for the entire journey, which kind of makes you feel like a student on a field trip. Nonetheless, the real skill of the host/Mr fix-it on such trips is to facilitate border crossing, which often involves the exchange of ‘non-receipted funds’. Hmmm! More on this euphemism once I return to base. Meanwhile, we really had great fun savouring the view of the city from the window of our lil’ hotel.

Yes! We walked the tarmac off the Lome boulevards. Covering a distance of approximately half a marathon, we took in many sights: les musées, bibliothèques, the extensive open-air market (just off the coastal highway), Sacré Coeur (Sacred Heart Cathedral), l’aéroport, the National Assembly and lac ouest (Western Lake) before returning to our hotel on the coastal highway.

 

West Africa Road Trip Day 9: the penultimate day. We decided to brave the border crossing without an agent. It was worth the experience; one I’ll gladly share once we touchdown in Lagos IJN. After crossing at Aflao we took a cab, which enabled us to see more of the lie of the land when compared to journeying by coach.
Apart from the return journey being much faster by cab, we gained more time by avoiding the speed-bump-littered coastal motorway. Our detour started with a right turn at Denu-Tokor, past Kpogulu Junior High School before rejoining the motorway at Akatsi. After more kilometers of open savannah interspersed with farmlands, scrubland, termite mounds and the occasional tollgate we reached the halfway mark between Aflao and Accra at the Lower Volta Bridge. Following umpteen more miles of fairly flat topography, with faded milestones or no distance markers, we arrived at the major port town of Tema before continuing to East Legon to locate our lodge.

 

West Africa Road Trip Day 10: it was our nation’s best chance to stave off war. Dateline: 4th/5th January 1967. Location: Aburi, Ghana. The Botanical Gardens provided a serene setting to broker peace, and for a while it seemed peace would reign. Alas, history notes the agreement at Aburi only postponed the war.

Today, the lodge at Aburi stands as a metaphor of some prerequisites for Africa’s progress: maintenance and transparency. The room where Gowon, Ojukwu et al met in ’67 cannot be accessed presently. The floorboards are deemed unsafe. This location is as much a heritage site for Nigeria as it is for Ghana. Maybe both nations should share the cost to refurbish the lodge for future generations.

‘On Aburi we should have stood!’

Africa is indeed blessed with many natural tourist attractions. However, the development and maintenance of such sites and attractions is non-negotiable when it comes to enhancing tourism.
Our journey on the winding climb from Ayi Mensa to Aburi, through the wooded mountains and shaly inclines was awe-inspiring, especially when looking down on the hills and vales. At the summit, we made a whistle-stop tour of the impressive Botanical Gardens before heading to the airport.
On our trip, we found travelling by air relatively stress-free when compared to land travel, in terms of liaising with customs and immigration. At the airport, today, no one serenaded me with ‘happy Thursday’ or ‘happy weekend’. At all times, during our entry and exit of Kotoka the officials were professional. I wish I could say the same for their colleagues at the land border. At the Aflao land border, a gift of 2,000 CFA was given to Togo’s immigration officials. It’s a gift, in my book, when an official does his or her job prior to soliciting funds or engaging in fine begging. On the Ghanaian side, we first encountered an official who engaged us in a debate for 10 minutes with regards to the validity of a Yellow Card (without a meningitis stamp). He seemed to have a response for everything, except why his colleagues at the airport had not queried the validity of our Yellow Card without a meningitis stamp. Following this episode, a female immigration officer looked me straight in the eye and asked me for ten cedis to stamp our passports. “Will there be a receipt for the money” I asked. At first, she ignored my response and simply repeated her request. When I asked for a receipt a second time, she responded flatly: No! She then asked me to report to another office which I gleefully did. After a few more minutes of skulduggery in the second office by a junior official, a senior officer gave the go ahead for our passports to be stamped. No underhand payments. No gifts! Why do we do this to each other? How does the honest cross-border trader turnover a profit with such indeterminate costs? Maybe, no meaningful discourse on transparency can take place without many African governments reviewing their minimum wage.
Still, this trip has been an eye-opener and great edutainment as well, and now it’s time to sign off. At 3.26pm we touched down at the Murtala Muhammad International. Airport, Ikeja, Lagos. All glory to God!

 

 

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