Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Travels in Nigeria



I'm writing this blog in Niger, having left Nigeria. At the moment I'm in Agadez, some six hundred miles from Niamey, the capital, so this is a retrospective look at my Nigeria tour.

Rules of taking photos in Nigeria
  1. Don't take any photos/videos.
  2. Don't take any photos/videos.
  3. Don't take any photos/videos.
If you break these rules, you can be sure some kind of official in a uniform of some kind (not necessarily the police) will magically appear and wag his finger at you (99.99% are male.) Having said that, there are ways to get around these rules:
  1. Take a photo that includes yourself or someone you're with.
  2. Deserted--no one around, like in a forest.
  3. Ask someone if you can snap a pic--theoretically you stand a 50-50 chance, but practically only 30% is in your favor.
  4. "Ninja" style--what I call Indirect Media Capture (IMC) or Indirect Visual Capture (IVC)--in other words, secret, some would say downright sneaky, which can be risky and should be attempted only by the most skilled practitioners.
To be fair, Nigeria isn't the only place where photographs and videos are not allowed in museums or other public places. It occurs all over the world including the most prominent and famous international landmarks.

Benin City
With centuries-old buildings, Benin City is not a recent creation; for example this church, Holy Aruosa Cathedral, is said to be the oldest church in Africa, founded in 1506.

Holy Aruosa Church, said to be the oldest church in Africa
Holt Aruosa Cathedral (Image: Kwei Quartey)

People of any religion are welcome here, but the distinguishing feature of the congregants at this church is that they have a direct connection to God, and don't pray through an intermediary, like, say, Jesus Christ.

There are multiple statues dotted around Benin City (not to be confused with the Republic of Benin), many of them paying homage to ancient kings and queens, as in the example below.

Benin City statue of princess and companion
I don't remember which princess this is (Image: Kwei Quartey)
The Kingdom of Benin is one of the great dominions of West Africa, establishing itself in the 900s. Starting from the 1400s, the kingdom was extremely powerful for some two hundred years, with the decline coming to its nadir in 1897 when the marauding British--who else?--invaded and made a right mess of things.

Entirely by serendipity, during our stay in Benin City, we ran into a Mr. Akenswau, who is a cousin of The Edigin N’Use, His Royal Highness, Ekpen Kelvin Edigin, whose royal lineage dates as far back as 1170. Off the cuff, Akenswau arranged a meeting with HRH that very afternoon. We were rather ill-equipped for the visit, since we technically should have presented HRH with some gifts on our arrival, but we made up for it later.

If you're visualizing HRH as a wizened old man bent over with age, you're mistaken.
Ekpen Kelvin Edigin is a young, hip, and erudite man with a great social media presence. I tried to be cool, but I admit I found myself a little bit awestruck. However, HRH is unassuming and easy to talk to.

We discussed a wide range of topics with him--including the clear and present danger of Nigerian disunity.

With HRH Ekpen Edigin of Benin City
With HRH Ekpen Edigin at his home (Photo permitted by HRH)
Speaking of antiquities, the Benin City National Museum is well worth a visit, full of treasures of the early empire and the stories behind them. Sadly, some of the pieces in this museum are replicas, because the thieves who stole them, particularly the British colonials, still hold onto them in institutions like the British Museum, which I will therefore not visit again.

Kwei Quartey standing with tour guides in Benin City, Eso State, Nigeria
With my guides Jude, Evans, and Confidence (L→R) in front of the Benin City National Museum (Image via K.Quartey)

We also visited a brass and bronze works where everything is handmade by artisans. No cheap made-in-China knockoffs here. The furnaces used are incredibly hot and reach an extremely high temperature for the melting and molding to take place. Imagine spending the whole day working at these furnaces.

Hot furnace used in an artisan bronze and brass works (Image via Kwei Quartey)
With my guides, sweating near one of the furnaces

Here's an example of one brass (copper + zinc) piece I bought depicting the head of one of the kings of the Benin Empire.
                    Bright brass head of a Benin king
Handmade brass head of Benin King (oba) Image: Kwei Quartey

One of the most superb places we visited was the Nike Art Gallery in Lagos. That's not "Nike" as in the shoe company. It's named after the founder and owner Nike Davies Okundaye, and it's pronounced Nee-KAY. With a total of 35,000 pieces on four floors, it's arguably one of the largest and best collections in West Africa.

Multiple floors of paintings at the Nike Art Gallery
Every space of every floor is filled with paintings (Image: Kwei Quartey)

View from the top of Nike Gallery
Dizzying view from the top floor (Image: Kwei Quartey)

Many paintings and sculptures at Nike Gallery including a bull of mosaics
Some of these works are by Nike herself (Image: Kwei  Quartey)

Nike spent years in the USA and became well known and respected there. Amazingly, she spent time in SoCal, my neck of the woods, and participated in the yearly Pomona Fair. If you are in Lagos, you must not miss this art gallery.

The name means "under the rock." The state capital of Ogun State in southwest Nigeria, the city is located on the east bank of the Ogun River near a collection of rocky outcrops. The most massive of them, the Olumo Rock, provided shelter and protection for Egba people fleeing the crumbling Oyo empire. It sits at 137 meters (450 feet) above the ground and offers a spectacular 360 degree view at the apex.

Another must-see in Abeokuta is the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL), a sprawling complex named after arguably Nigeria's most consequential president from 1999 to 2007, after his having been the nation's military leader 1976-1979. There's a lot to view at the OOPL. Just when you think you've seen it all, there's another large room or pavilion.

Standing on the staircase of the main hall at the Obasanjo Presidential Library
On the stairway of the main hall in OOPL with C. Aguiyi (Image via Kwei Quartey)

And then it was off to the New Afrika Shrine of performer and great political activist, Fela Kuti, widely credited with being the creator of the Afrobeat style of music. The Shrine is the only location in Nigeria you can smoke marijuana, and during the weekly concerts on Thursdays, the air is appropriately filled with clouds and the seats with happy people.
Shrine objects at the New Afrika Shrine (Image: Kwei Quartey)

There is also some rather liberal marijuana consumption at Kuti's three-story home, where you can get a picture of his bedroom at a price.

Here's a short IVC of some of the visual treasures of the home. I could tell you how I do it but then I would have to immediately kill you.
They may never let me back into Nigeria after this.

And finally, to end, here lies the great Fela Kuti, brilliant musician and passionate political activist.
The Fela Kuti Tomb on the grounds of his home (Image: Kwei Quartey)
The Fela Kuti Tomb on the grounds of his home (Image: Kwei Quartey)

This tour of parts of Nigeria was taken with, which provides tours of other West African countries as well. Reach them on Instagram, @youcomeafrikprivateguide.

Regarding security issues, if you stay in your hotel like a good little boy or girl, and you stick with the guides when you are out, you will be just fine. They do not visit risky areas, and no, you do not need an armed guard--unless you're a head of state or something similar.


  1. A great tour Kwei! For someone who wasn't allowed to take pictures, you did pretty well!

  2. 99.9999999999% (I've counted) of the visitors to the British Museum wouldn't be able to tell a fake from an original, so why not let the original be in its country of origin?

    1. This is an excellent point! Nigeria will send the replica to the Brit Museum in exchange for the real one. No one will ever know or be any the wiser.

    2. This is an excellent point! Nigeria will send the replica to the Brit Museum in exchange for the real one. No one will ever know or be any the wiser.

    3. This is an excellent point! Nigeria will send the replica to the Brit Museum in exchange for the real one. No one will ever know or be any the wiser.

  3. Extraordinary tour, fascinating detective work, and stunning photos. Can't wait for the next installment. As for the replica exchange, I think it's safe to say Greece would gladly join in the tender if it would get the BM to return its marbles.