Nigerian Military makes the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) look like humanitarian NGOs
After the crossing of the muddy border from Benin, the Nigerian Military officers stopped our bus and forced all passengers out, pushed us to sit in the forest, in a circle, pitch dark, at gun point. We waited there for hours while they beat up the driver's assistant, heavily. I was pointed a riffle at my head during that time while occasionally being whispered "white bastard".
(The border between Benin and Nigeria)
Everyone was obedient and not panicking during all this. As I stepped out of the bus, with my rucksack filled with a portuguese bagpipe, I asked politely to one of the officers about what is happening, he replied with a silent cold look and I swiftly realized I was not dealing with the insecure 17 year old IDF kids of Hebron back in 2014. These guys would not care about my EU passport, they were in fact more enticed to violence by the color of my skin. I went to seat the furthest way possible from the bus, imagining the classic slaughter of the 20+ mostly Beninese and one Portuguese tourist (me) due to come in a newspaper's side story. My heart was beating fast but I kept the obedient look.
(The border between Benin and Nigeria)
After the long shouting and beating, the big boss turned to us, flash lights towards us, and in a paused Obama like fashion, asked us if anyone knew anything about relativity. I never attended the military, but the 3 days of examination to skip such duty back in 1997 in Portugal, and the military alike University freshmen students' initiation at Portuguese Universities (named "praxe"), taught me that, towards testosterone bored men carrying guns, no time for jokes. So I did not reply, laughed nor blinked, turned on my emotion free Finnish face, for what was going to be the philosophical statement of the night. "If you want to see orange, all is orange" he said. The speech was translated by a local. From English.
After the very long speech, which included the driver's assistant mistake to oversee this military road checkpoint, we were told to get back in. I stood up slowly as the gun receded. As we walked into the bus, another passenger of the group gave me shortly his hand pushing me discretely to one side, avoiding the confrontation with what I later understood to be a specially aggressive Nigerian officer. What one might call, well, racist. But everyone is a racist in a empty stomach and with a gun in your hands. That saved me from a great deal of trouble.
(The border between Benin and Nigeria: the border is just 200 m after these parked trucks. The border is just a couple of stacked tires and a rope connecting them. I was the only one who had to cross it on foot, showing my face to some people, the rest went by bus)
In the bus, after some minutes, another general came in and gave another speech, same style, this time, on corruption.
The bus trip to Nigeria, to meet the polemic Lagos Biennial where I had been invited to exhibit my work on "Architectural Democracy", was filled with further smaller incidents. There was no water or food for 10 hours of a supposedly 4 hour trip, and Bob Marley "All Times Hits" played in a loop during the whole trip. I'm more into bagpipes.
(Me in Lagos, Nigeria, at the Art Biennial, the day after the trip)
I was the only white man on board of this bus. I was at Benin to open a new World Music School at Grand-Popo, and needed to go to Lagos. The only available bus leaves at 17:00 from Cotonou, meaning at 19:00. No one in the bus wished to talk with me. Talking with white men is not well seen through this road. The large woman sitting beside me and on me, stopped others from talking with me.
The bus was always speeding up in the very rough road filled with all kinds of holes, of different sizes, fires, people, abandoned cars, exploded things, metal parts, etc. The bus was speeding up because, I later found out, there are street pirates at night in Nigeria, who intercept buses, kill everyone and take off with any goods they can get their hands to. The bus didn't stop at that improvised military check-point, operation crocodile smiley, I later saw. The signs were weak, some fire and wooden logs on the road. Could easily be pirates. I assume that was the driver's assistant main argument.
(after the check point, driving)
The border is a war zone and so is Nigeria. Despite being the largest economy of Africa, the slums are endless and shooting is heard often.
How did we get here? Lemmings alike, deluded of cities being at our hearts desire, as Robert Park once argued, we need to reevaluate what kind of people we wish to be and that can only happen in making cities into something completely different from what they are becoming into.
(The main street of Lagos exiting west)
As we enter the age of loneliness, cities must regain the human-scale and be modeled to their specific needs, not to a western alike model. Cities of West Africa, as I later discussed with Associate Professors Anthony Adebayo and Tunji Adejumo of the Department of Architecture of the University of Lagos, are top-down city planing enforcements not in sync with the West African reality. We need here a new experimental African model.
(Typical roundabout of Lagos with officers)
On the way back to Benin, from the Yaba cross country office of Lagos, after some days, the trip started with a mass in the bus. Many were the incidents on that return trip, but all into the category of fun. Being at day time, all was better. I enjoyed it, but kept a very low profile obviously.
(The mass on the Bus)
I spotted only 2 white people during my stay in Lagos, and one albino. Not even at the Hard Rock Café one would see more. The poverty in Lagos and its slums are immense and so is of course the religious signs and their promises. As in other countries out there, say Mexico, poverty is the best client of religion.
(Wonder land and other religious signs on the streets of Lagos)
(Egan Central Mosque sign on the streets of Lagos)
(The coming of Jesus sign on the streets of Lagos)
When entering Benin, there is a large sign from the European Union saying "Say no to clandestine emmigration" (Non a l'immigration clandestine). The billboard comes with a drawing of a boat filled with people, just outside the city of Porto-Novo.
West Africa, and Nigeria in special, are a ticking bomb, an explosive mix of lack of education and infrastructure with a failed political system. We all ought to be very worried about it. I got many desperate requests of help for a job, "Boss, help me". Migration will increase and so will violence.
All photos and videos by Pedro Aibéo
Pedro Aibéo is a trained Design Architect and Civil Engineer. He is at present a Kone Säätiö Research Fellow, a Visiting Associate Professor at UNAM University, Mexico and at Wuhan University of Technology, China, and a Lecturer and Doctoral Candidate at Aalto University, Finland on "Architectural Democracy". He is the founder and Artistic Director of “Cidadania” theatre+games group, a professional Musician at Homebound, the founder and Chairman of the World Music School Helsinki, a drawing teacher at the croquis nights and at Kiasma and a comic novelist.