The cat is out of the bag! A very American colloquialism for the facts have been revealed. It is true, Sheila and I are leaving Nigeria. Each time I say that I have to take a break and let it sink in. After five and a half years, Sheila and I are heading out of Nigeria to a new exciting destination. I don’t even know where to start to express my sadness for leaving this complex and chaotic country. I know some of you are thinking, Sentell, we have read your blog and we are sure you are happy to leave. Yes, it has not always been easy but Nigeria holds a very important first in our lives. This was our first home after we got married in 2016. And since that time, we have hosted numerous friends in our house celebrating Nigerian independence, American Thanksgiving, Christmas, my parents’ first trip to the continent and so many other things. Nigeria will forever have a special place in hearts.
I will never forget the day IRI told me they wanted to send me to Nigeria. I was hanging out in Washington, DC after being forced to evacuate out of Juba, South Sudan because of the armed conflict that begun on the night of December 15, 2013. I returned to the US in February of 2014 for a work conference and ended up staying in Washington, D.C. because I could not return to Juba. During those three months, I tracked developments in South Sudan and filed reports with Washington, D.C. On Wednesday, April 16, I was called into my director’s office and told that I would be transferred to Abuja, Nigeria. I was shocked because I didn’t know much about Nigeria and didn’t know anything about Abuja. To be honest, I thought Lagos was the capitol of Abuja. I went back to my desk and typed Abuja into Google search. I was horrified when I read, Nigeria violence: More than 70 killed in Abuja bus blast! I sat back in my temporary desk space and thought, “Where in the hell are the sending me!” I spent a week trying to negotiate a new destination. Maybe you could send me to Uganda, Kenya or even keep me on the South Sudan portfolio. But my director was adamant that I should go to Nigeria. So, on Thursday, May 22, I started the trip to Abuja, Nigeria. I first went to Kenya to pick up items I left in Nairobi then I headed off to Abuja to start my new life.
It’s amazing how fast five and a half years flies by. I can’t say that I was always having fun during those five years but I am truly grateful for the experiences that have taken place during that time. I will continue to reflect on my time in Abuja over the next fifteen days as we prepare to leave Abuja for our next destination.
A few weekends ago, Sheila and I went to Gurara Falls probably the last time. The Falls have been associated with my time in Abuja since 2014. Each time we have visitors, we drag them to Gurara Falls to witness the majesty of the rapids as the water cascades over the rocky cliffs. And each year, the road to Gurara Falls become more and more difficult to traverse. In 2014, our only problem getting to the fall was probably having a driver that wasn’t sure where he was going. In 2019, the road to the Falls was gridlock because of potholes, tanker trucks queuing for the gasoline depot and road construction that has been ongoing since I arrived in this country. It was a very frustrating day. When we finally arrived at the fall, there was camera crew from one of the national television channels filming various aspects of the falls and the parklike area. When they spotted us, they made a beeline to see if we would be interested in giving our opinions on the falls. I was too eager to offer my opinion of the area and the road to the falls. Sheila and our friends declined the interview but I had pent up frustration after the nearly three hour ride to the falls.
I think Gurara Falls will be one of the places I will miss when we eventually leave Nigeria. While there is so much that Nigeria and the government of Niger State can do to make this an exciting attraction for tourist, it’s an amazing testament to the power and consistency of nature. Between May and September, the falls are powerful as the Gurara River races to the drop-off that creates the falls. Between November and April, the falls become a trickle as the water levels decreased because of the dry season. It is amazing and a sight to be behold.
L to R: Gurara Falls (March 2019) and Gurara Falls (September 2019)
In many ways, the trip to Gurara Falls is like my time in Nigeria. When I arrived in May 2014, it was Boko Haram that had everyone’s attention. However, I freely moved around the country by road. However, each year since, while the government has pushed Boko Haram to the north eastern corner of the country, the security situation along the roads has deteriorated. Driving between Abuja and Kaduna is no longer an easy drive because of the potential kidnapping and armed robbery. People are now traveling to Kaduna by train, creating chaotic scenes of Nigerians trying to purchase tickets and train workers raising the price of the tickets because of demand. And while the state of the roads have gotten worse in Nigeria, so has the security situation. Sheila and I live in the Abuja bubble and until we leave that bubble, we often forget how difficult it is to live in Nigeria. And as we prepare to leave Nigeria, we will be forever reminded of Nigerians ability to adapt and survive in an environment that sometimes goes out of its way to remind you just how challenging it is to live in Africa’s most populous country.
Earlier this year, Sheila and I planned a hiking/camping trip to Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden and Finland) to celebrate my 40th birthday. We were going to drive to the northern reaches of the area and hopefully experience the midnight sun. Instead, I found myself in a doctor’s office checking my vital signs and ensuring everything was in tip-top shape. Welcome to mid-life! I can report that I am in good health (for a 40 year old black man). I have never feared getting older. While I wish I can slow the hands of time at certain intervals, I appreciate the wisdom that comes with getting older. I am a much wiser man than I was when I was 25 or 30 or even 35. But with the slow progression of age comes all types of challenges.
Despite finding myself in the doctor’s office as I was about to celebrate my 40th birthday, Sheila and I changed our traveling plans and spent a few days in Aspen, Colorado. I have always wanted to go to Aspen but never found the opportunity to travel deep into the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
City of Aspen and Aspen Mountain from Smuggler’s Mountain overlook
The highlight of the trip were the majestic and picturesque Maroon Bells, an amazing set of 14er mountains on a lake not far from the Aspen city center. The mountain peaks are so popular that the Maroon Bells Park restricts access to the area during the busy summer and fall season. Sheila and I took the Aspen public bus from Aspen Highland Resorts to the Maroon Bells.
While it’s more of a shuttle service, I appreciate the tourist information provided by the bus driver on the way to the famous landmark. It was during that bus trip that we learned that all the down trees were from the large number of alvanches during the winter season. The lake near the visitors’ center can be quite crowded with tourists so Sheila and I decided to take the 3.6 mile roundtrip hike to Crater Lake, a lake much closer to the base of the mountains and a bit higher in elevation. Now, the first thing I did after arriving in Colorado was drink enormous amounts of water to fight altitude sickness and prepare for our hiking trips. While the hike was not as challenging as I thought it would be, hiking at 11,000 feet is like repeatedly running into a wall. And I was constantly reminded that I was nearing 40! Progress was slow and my breathing felt laborious as we slowly moved up to Crater Lake. At one point, we passed a couple doing the hike with their six month old son. It made me feel really good when Sheila and I passed them on the hike. I was celebrating the fact that we were moving faster than a man carrying 16 pounds on his chest (the small things). After over an hour of scrambling rocks (not like Old Rag) and taking breaks amidst the shade of the Aspen Trees, we made it to Crater Lake. Again, the view was amazing and breathtaking. After an hour relaxing on the shores of Crater Lake, we began the hike back down to the visitors’ center to catch the bus back to the Aspen Highland resort.
Crater Later at Maroon Bells, Aspen, Colorado
Aspen is a unique place with its multi-million dollar homes dotting the side of the surrounding mountains and travel lodges along the floor of the valley. Aspen doesn’t have your modern chain hotels like Hilton, Marriott and Sheraton. Instead, sandwiched between the multi-million dollar homes and travel lodges are boutique hotels that range from $300 to $1500 a night. Sheila and I joked that we should buy a home in Aspen only to watch our smiles fade as the first home listed on Zillow was $36 million dollars!
The City and surrounding valley offers theaters, luxury shopping, film, food, wine and beer festivals and some really good (expensive) restaurants. The city has everything from well-maintained hiking trails to horseback riding and endless camping sites. And let’s not forget the winter activities. The population of Aspen varies year-round but full time residents hovers around six-thousand people. However, it comes with a steep price. Just eating out at one of the local restaurants cost nearly $100 for two individuals with only had one glass of wine. But I had to remind myself that we were there celebrating my 40th birthday…
Birthday dinner with my mom and Sheila at Dauphin’s in Mobile, Alabama
Turning 40 is not so bad…and getting older is what we humans do. I look forward to the challenges and opportunities that will come in my forth decade on this earth. It will take sometime getting use to not saying I am in my 30s. But with Sheila by my side, I can only imagine what amazing things will come in my 40s.
What is worst then having an early morning flight? Arriving at the airport before it opens! In our last day in Croatia, we were punished with a 6:20am flight. We decided to get an early start and get to the airport two and a half hours before our flight. When we arrived at the airport at 4:00am there was a crowd of people sitting outside the airport. I told Sheila that I didn’t think the airport was open because there were too many people just loitering outside the door. A Canadian family hopped out of a taxi before us and charged at the door only to be shocked that the airport was closed.
At about 4:30am, an airport worker approached the door to open it. The people outside flooded into the airport but there were no men or women sitting behind the check in desks. There were a few kiosks for checking into your flight but when Sheila and I tried to check in the kiosks told us we needed to see an agent. So we moved closer to the check in desk and I sat against a pillar in the middle of the hall. Before I could look up all the westerners (mostly Canadians, Americans and a few Europeans) had formed a queue at a random desk. Now, the American in me wanted to join that queue. I appreciated the people for bringing some organization to a little chaos. But the five-year old Nigerian in me was thinking, “why are these people forming a random queue when we don’t even know what check in desk will open?” I whispered to Sheila, “so what’s going to happen is that when they open a check in desk, the people at the front of the line will demand that they have been queuing and deserved to be checked in first, even though we had all been in the airport the same time!”
Fifteen minutes after making this declaring the check in desks began to light up and the desk in front of Sheila and I was for business and star alliance gold passengers. Sheila and I quickly grabbed our bags and moved to the check in desk. A family that was queuing at the front of the line enter before us and declared that those in the former queue should be given preference. I laughed out loud and looked and Sheila and gave my familiar “these folks are crazy stare!” We entered behind the family with little to no reaction to his declaration. You can’t form a misdirected queue and then try and direct traffic. Thanks to our quick thinking (and a little Nigerian chaos in us) we were one of the first passengers upstairs and into the lounge.
So what’s the moral to this story…great question! As an old hymn says, I have met Nigeria and I will never be the same! So please forgive me if I offend you with wanting to be the first one off an airplane or desire to store my luggage anywhere on the airplane. I’m a product of my environment!
On Thursday, Sheila and I took a road trip that led us to the most unlikely of places for us to visit – Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). We were following the travel books and tour guides that suggested taking a day trip to the city of Mostar. Mostar is famous for its old bridge, the Stari Most (photo above). Stari Most is a 16th-century Ottoman bridge that was unfortunately destroyed during the 1990s wars in the region. The bridge was rebuilt in 2004 by a multinational coalition and even funding from the World Bank. The pedestrian bridge crosses the river Neretva and connects the two parts of the city. After a tour around the town and a dinner along the river, we hit the road in hopes of making it to Dubrovnik before dark.
Along the way, we entered the Republic of Srpska. Now, before planning our trip to Croatia, I had never heard of the Republic of Srpska. And I can’t really pronounce it. During our drive through this newly discovered Republic, we found ourselves hopelessly turned around (not lost) thanks to our navigation system that kept wanting to send us down farm paths and tiny mountain side roads. We have stories from pervious vacation of intently following the GPS only to find ourselves stuck in the mud or in some off-the-beaten path village (https://fredayinafrica.com/2017/02/15/we-sit-in-the-mud-and-reach-for-the-stars-ivan-turgenev-literally-that-is/). We didn’t want to find ourselves in a similar situation. In addition, because of the war in BiH, there are still active landmines scattered throughout the country so tourist are encouraged to stay on major highways and roads. So again, we didn’t want to deviate from the major roads but the navigational system wanted to take us down narrow farm roads to get to Dubrovnik. That is when I used Google Maps to checkmate the navigational system. Despite our adventures on the roads in BiH, we discovered that the country is a federation that has two administrative districts that make up the country. These administrative districts emerged after the fall of Yugoslavia and the 1990s Balkan wars. When driving through the Republic of Srpska, you are constantly reminded of their connection to Serbia because the Serbian flag is everywhere along on the road and in villages. When in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the flag is blue and yellow with stars.
I’m not going to get involved in what caused the wars in the Balkans but there are a lot of similarities to conflicts happening in Nigeria. It seemed that the “troubles” in the Balkans that manifested in the 1990s stemmed from land rights and deep-seeded marginalization. This sounds very much like what is happening in the middle belt of Nigeria. Land rights mean access to power and new tribal groups are infiltrating lands that were once held by different tribes. In addition to their ethnic differences, the groups are from different religions because of the influences of different groups from the outside (the Roman Empire, the Byzantium Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Austria-Hungary Empire, etch). While we can look at the Balkans and see a Roman Catholic Croatia, an Orthodox Serbia and a mixed religion BiH (Muslims (majority), Roman Catholics and Orthodox too), it doesn’t explain the root causes of the issue. The same with the middle belt of Nigeria. A few months back, a friend called me to say that he was told by Christians in the United States that Muslims are killing Christians. He said that it had hit persecution levels. I was taken aback by his comments. He was referring to the middle belt crisis in the Nigeria. We talked that day for over an hour about the causes of the troubles in the middle belt. And while it may seem that it’s a fight between Christians and Muslims, we can’t miss the land disputes and access to power that has caused the problems in the middle belt. We should all desire to read deeper into religious crises. It’s not as black and white as we think. Finally, these problems are not new and are sometimes decades and even centuries old. We need to go back to the source to find the cause of the problem. And sometimes the source is messy and confusing.
Churches and memorials in BiH during our road trip. The trip picture was of a memorial in the Republic. It stood at the edge of a cemetery.
So, our unexpected road trip turned into a lesson on the Balkan wars of the 1990s and the current land rights issues in Nigeria. What I can say from our time here in Croatia, while it is a beautiful sea front country, the visible signs of war and destruction are everywhere. And what we teach our children last for generations so we should be careful as we might be passing down our hate. Also, always double check your navigational system. You don’t want to be a Michael Scott and end up in a pond! #TheOfficeLifeLesson!
If you want to learn more about the former countries that made up Yugoslavia, you should read Rick Steves ‘s (the travel author) Understanding Yugoslavia. https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/read/understanding-yugoslavia Its a great read and very informative. I encourage you to read it even if its just to learn more about the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
A reminder that the sun continues to rise and set on the conflict of man. The more things change the more things stay the same. “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” Isaiah 40:8
According to Tony Toni Tone, it’s our anniversary! A great song from my teenage days…
Yes, today is our third wedding anniversary. And if you are married to a son or daughter of the African soul, then you have multiple anniversary dates around your wedding. On May 29, we marked three years since our Gusaba. Gusaba is a Kinyarwanda word meaning ‘to ask’ and is the ceremony where the family of the groom-to-be officially requests for a girl as a bride. The Gusaba is a fascinating event that includes all members of the two families who come together to discuss the giving away of the bride and marriage of the two families. The two families go back and forth debating why the bride or daughter should be released to marry the potential suitor. (https://fredayinafrica.com/2016/08/03/the-gusaba-to-ask/)
On June 2, we celebrated three years since making it official with the Rwandan government. Today, we celebrate going before God and committing ourselves as husband and wife. The last and final wedding anniversary is July 10 when we celebrate the day we became legal in the United States and again, before God. That’s a lot to keep track of!
For our anniversary, we wanted a complete escape from Nigeria. So we found ourselves in the former Austria-Hungarian Empire! We spent four days in Austria traveling between Vienna, Obertraun, Hallstatt and Salzburg. We went “high in the hills” to experience the Sound of Music, learned to sing in the Mirabell Gardens of Salzburg and “Touched the Sky” high above Hallstatt. On Monday, we flew to Split, Croatia and have been hanging out in the walls of Diocletian’s Palace and chilling out on the shores of the Dalmatian coast. We will hang out here for a two more days before heading south to walled city of Dubrovnik.
We took cable cars up the mountain in Obertraun (left) and took in the picturesque town of Hallstatt on the Hallstatt See (Lake). (right)
It has been a busy year for us. After many trips between the United Kingdom and Nigeria, Sheila returned to Abuja after completing her master’s degree in psychology and we traveled between the UK and France with my parents and brother/sister-in-law. We spent Christmas in the US and a few days of the New Year in Turkey before returning to Abuja to prepare for the 2019 general elections in Nigeria. The elections came and went (thankfully fairly peaceful for Nigeria) and we spent Easter in Rwanda.
Family in Paris (Nov); Sheila’s graduation from Coventry; at the Bowl Game in Nashville, TN (Dec) and posing at a lake in Scotland (Aug).
Sheila and I are truly thankful for the wisdom and growth that we have gained over the past year as husband and wife. We continue to learn and grow in our marriage through each conversation, disagreement, adventure and disappointment. We are forever thankful for the love and encouragement that is showered down upon us by our family and friends. We look forward to another year as #Shentell! https://fredayinafrica.com/2018/06/04/two-years-latercelebrating-our-two-years-as-shentell/
I always like to tell people that when I arrived in Abuja, I was only supposed to be here for nine months. I was sent to Nigeria to fill a crucial vacancy in our Nigeria office as the country prepared for the 2015 General Elections. 1,825 days later, I am still in Nigeria and I have grown a lot (including the few pounds added to my waist line). When I woke up this morning, I went back to read the blog I wrote when I landed in Nigeria. I laughed because while some of it was a bit of a stretch, some of the words are still true.
One of my first outfits made in Nigeria. This picture was take in July of 2014.
Initial Impressions on Abuja from 2014 –
Abuja has a standard international airport unlike Juba. The Juba airport can best be described as a house. It is also important to note that the Juba airport does not have lights, so no flights in or out between 7pm-7am.
- Since my arrival in Abuja in May 2014, the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has opened a new international airport. The fancy new international airport is a vast improvement over the previous airport but it still lacks the necessary signage to navigate the terminal.
The new airport is nice but the next step is ensuring that passengers are able to get their bags off the conveyor belt.
Certain neighborhoods in Abuja have sidewalks which I did not see in Kenya or South Sudan. I do recall seeing sidewalks in Rwanda.
- While it is true that Abuja has sidewalks, the citizens don’t seem to respect sidewalks. Just the other day, I posted a photo of Nigerians using the sidewalk to maneuver around traffic. Sheila and I like to use the sidewalk for evening and morning walks around town.
Abuja has massive expressways that whisk travelers from the airport to the city. The expressways are well maintained and new construction projects are everywhere. It is easy to see the influence of oil on Abuja.
- Unfortunately, the same construction projects that I saw when I moved here four years ago are still under construction. Many of these projects I like to call, “Monuments of Corruption.” Money was appropriated for the project but it was stolen before the project was completed. I have also been told that construction projects are often started to show that the money is being spent but the project is never completed.
The security threat with Boko Haram is real and people are aware of the situation. As people have welcomed me to Nigeria, they have apologized for the actions of Boko Haram.
- I would admit, for the first year I lived here, I was afraid to go to supermarkets, movie theatres and any event with a large attendance. I’ll never forget the day Boko Haram targeted a shopping plaza in Abuja just two months after I had arrived. It was a frightening day and for at least two weeks, I would not even walk down the sidewalks in Wuse II because of fear of being attacked on the streets by Boko Haram. Did I forget to mention that I blend in with other Nigerians so I don’t stand out like a typical American!
Bryon Cage, a gospel artist from the United States performed in Abuja on Tuesday night. If I would have been here longer than a night, I would have went to the concert. This would have never happened in South Sudan…
- Bryon Cage was just the beginning. Sheila and I have seen Kirk Franklin, Donnie McClurkin, CeCe Winans, Travis Greene and many others. In addition, each December, we travel down to Lagos to attend The Experience, free gospel music concert held at the Tafawa Balewa Square and hosted by the mega-church, House on the Rock. More than 200,000 people attend the concert each year. In addition, gospel artist are always coming in and out of Abuja. I believe that Nigeria is the lifeblood of gospel and Christian artist.
A photo from the experience in 2016. It was a crazy crowd!
My fifth anniversary day was quiet but the highlight was the church service we attended this morning. We were invited by our dear friend, David Young to attend the Aso Villa Chapel for worship service. For those of you who don’t know, Aso Villa is the presidential office and residence. David was the guest pastor this morning. In attendance was the Vice President of Nigeria. Sheila and I got to greet him and then take a photo with him. We hope to get the photo from his office this week so we can share. She was standing right next to him, which was a good thing because they are the same height. To be honest, Sheila was a few inches taller because she was wearing heels. It was a pleasure to meet him for the second time.
David and Diane have been great friends to us during their three years in Nigeria. They have taken us under their wing and included us in their family. We wish them well in their next assignment.
Sheila and I have no idea what the future holds and how much longer we will be in Nigeria but we have both been stretched beyond our comfort level but it has made us more gracious in dealing with other people and probably more aggressive in getting in our negotiation skills.
Living in Nigeria, I have seen some crazy things, especially they way people drive on Nigerian roads. It is quite common to see drivers going against traffic on the freeway because they don’t want to be inconvenienced and drive to the next off ramp. I have also been stuck in several traffic jams caused by herders who are moving their cattle from one location to the next through the streets of Abuja…A Capitol city no less…
A few mornings ago I watched as hitchhikers hopped a ride on a slow moving truck in the middle of traffic. I only wish I was paying more attention to what was going on because I could have caught it on video but I was busy flipping through my email.
The two men were standing on side of the road as if they were looking to stop a taxi. As we slowed to clear the speed bump, the men entered traffic as if they were crossing the road. All of a sudden they took off running. I thought I was watching an early morning robbery. The first guy leaped onto the back of the trailer and held on to the straps holding the cargo.
The second guy had to work a bit harder to catch the truck but with assistance from his friend, he was now hanging on to the straps. It was really exciting to watch because it was if I was watching a movie where men were hoping a ride on a cargo truck or train. But this is not that unusual in Nigeria. Stranger things happen on a daily basis.
As the traffic in the road builds during rush hour, drivers often take to the sidewalks to maneuver around the traffic buildup. Drivers do this with little or no regard for the pedestrians that are walking in the streets. Unfortunately, the police do very little curb this horrible habit.
It has been too long since I spent time sharing my experiences on the African continent. I am just emerging from the 2019 Nigerian General Elections! In addition, what an ordeal it was. I’m sure I have mention this before but almost everything (ok, pretty much everything) in Nigeria is managed from the National level. All 36 states receive funding from the federal government. For some states, they receive as much as $47 million dollars of their allocation from federal coffers. This means Nigerian elections take on a life of their own because everyone wants to control the resources in the states.
In February and March, Nigeria conducted two separate elections. The first election was for the Presidency and members of the National Assembly (House of Representatives and Senate). Two weeks later, the country held elections for Governors and members of the State House of Assembly. Because of the level of illiteracy in the country, individuals are not listed on the party ballots. Citizens vote using party symbols. For the National level elections, individuals received three long ballots for presidency, House of Representative and Senate. Funny enough (not funny at the time), the electoral management body postponed elections six hours before the opening of polling units for the national elections. The elections were postponed for one week until the following Saturday.
A Senate Ballot in the Federal Capital Territory.
Elections are a do or die affair in Nigeria! The control over government resources and money makes elections so competitive that politicians hire thugs to disrupt polling units or intimidate citizens so they don’t come out to vote. This leads us to what Nigerians call, SUPPLEMENTARY ELECTIONS. Recently I traveled to Sokoto State (Northern Nigeria) for a SUPPLEMENTARY election. An election is supplementary in the fact that when the electoral management body held the gubernatorial elections on March 9, they CANCELLED some of the polling units because of violence or over voting (more ballots casted than voters accredited to vote).
(L) Women queue to vote in Sokoto Supplementary Election on March 23, 2019. (R) Elderly citizens wait their term to vote in Osun State during the gubernatorial elections in September 2018.
Many of the March 9 gubernatorial elections were declared INCONCLUSIVE by the electoral management body. The term inconclusive means, the number of CANCELLED votes are larger than the margin of victory. If you were to conduct an election of those cancelled votes (or polling units), the votes could change the results of the elections. Everything I just explained to you is exclusively Nigeria! Don’t try to understand it because as an outsider you won’t get it. Nigeria has a long history of election violence and rigging and this is a way of not allowing violence and rigging to influence the system. Other terms Nigerians like to use regarding elections and politics are
- INTEREST (kind of like your political interest in the US but more like personal interest. Meaning, I might get money if this person is in power);
- GODFATHER (this is the person that sponsors your political career. He or she does it to benefit himself or herself, usually financially);
- CROSS CARPETING or DECAMPING (this means to leave one party to join another. This is very common in Nigeria. As common as changing your clothes. The election I just observed in Sokoto, the Governor was in the ruling party until August 2018 when he left to join the opposition party to run for president. After he didn’t win the nomination, he came back to the state to run for Governor), and
- WINNING YOUR POLLING UNIT (this is like me winning my parents’ polling station in Mount Vernon. However, most time, this means using money to get people to vote for you. The money is as small as $3-5 but during the Sokoto election, I heard rumors of $50-75. That is big money for many voters. In Nigeria, Trump would be a failure because he did not win his polling unit in NYC or his state. HABA – Nigerian for “Can you Imagine”). There are a lot more but I will stop there.
Nigerian elections are very complicated and have various steps in an effort to protect the integrity of the ballot. All voters must has a permanent voter’s card with ID, use fingerprints to authenticate them at the polling unit and have their fingernail painted to show that they have voted. Once they vote, many Nigerians hang out at the polling units to ensure that local officials count votes and report votes to local collation centers. This also reflects the lack of trust that exist in Nigeria and its institutions.
This is Nigeria as they say!
Young Nigerians watching the voting process from outside the school premises in Sokoto State.
Our review is a bit late this year as we were traveling through the United States and found ourselves in Turkey after the New Year. But 2018 has come to an end. The year began on a sour note as Sheila had just departed for the United Kingdom where she was starting a masters program in Psychology. However, the end of 2018 finds us back together again in our cozy Abuja apartment. Here are some of our top moments for 2018.
Celebrating the fact that Sheila is a Master Student
In November, Sheila completed her studies at Coventry University in Coventry, United Kingdom and graduated with a Masters in Psychology. It was a long and challenging year for both of us but we are happy to be back together. It was a difficult time as Sheila was adjusting to a new environment in the UK and I was overwhelmed with closing a program and starting a new one. But we are thankful for all the support and encouraging notes during our year of separation.
The Barnes Family European Vacation
2018 also found the Barnes family taking over London, Paris, Abuja and Accra. To celebrate Sheila’s graduation, my parents and brother and sister-in-law all traveled to the Europe to watch her walk across the stage and visit the European continent for the first time. We were also met by Sheila’s mom who traveled from Rwanda for the graduation ceremony. It was a trip of a lifetime (in so many ways). This trip has been ten years in the making and thanks to Sheila for making sure my parents would travel across the Atlantic Ocean. My parents experienced left side driving (UK), fish and chips, using “funny money” (my dad’s reference to Pounds and Euros), the yellow vest protest in Paris and multiple long haul flights across the Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea. It was an experience of a life time!
Return to Africa
After our European vacation, my parents traveled back to Abuja with us for a week. It was their second trip to Nigeria (Give it up to Freddie and Brenda for making a SECOND TRIP to the African Continent). After a busy trip in the U.K. and then Paris, we decided to treat my parents to a low-key visit in Abuja. We gave them five days of rest before we started again. AND As if the U.K., France and Nigeria wasn’t enough, we took my parents to Ghana to visit the slave castles where millions of Africans were sent to the Americas. It was a sober end to our trip but I am happy my parents visited the slave castles and learned a little bit more about our family’s voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. In 2016, I took them to Badagry, Nigeria to visit the slave museum, the former Portuguese settlement and the “point of no return.”
Meeting with the President and Vice President of Nigeria
This year, my organization started a new responsive political party program to strengthen political party development in Nigeria. It has been an insanely busy year! However, I was honored to meet both the President and Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria discussing our new political party program and the upcoming elections in Nigeria. It has been quite the year and will only get busier in 2019.
“The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.” ―
I love this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson. Family and friends have truly made our home in Abuja a very special place. We were blessed to open our house to family and friends who came to visit us in Abuja or were passing through to other destinations. We love that our house is always open for visitors, family and friends. We hope that you will come to visit in 2019. We would love to show you around the neighborhood.
Sightseeing in the Merry Ole England…and Scotland…
Thanks to Sheila’s program at Coventry University, we did a lot of sightseeing during my trips to the United Kingdom. Funny enough, in all my trips, we never traveled to London. We decided to use this opportunity to experience other areas of the United Kingdom. We traveled across the Island visiting the Roman “baths” of Bath, the industrial city of Birmingham, the university villages of Cambridge and Oxford, the ancient stones of Stonehenge, the medieval castles of Edinburgh, Salisbury, Warwick and York. Salisbury has become infamous for the poisoning of Russian/British dual citizens. We arrived in Salisbury less than a week after the incident and could not understand why the town was so quiet. It was Sheila’s former boss and friend who reminded us of what was happening in Salisbury. Edinburgh is by far my favorite city in the U.K. I loved the history and the university population that just gives it a very cool vibe. I told Sheila we should find a home in Edinburgh to retire to in our sunset years.
Rocking in the Music City with the Auburn Football Team
Auburn started the 2018 football season as the #6 team in the nation. There was a lot of expectations for the season. However, those expectations were quickly dashed with losses to LSU, Mississippi State and then Tennessee. Additional losses to rivals Georgia and Alabama closed the season with a 7-5 record. Auburn’s consolation prize was a trip to the Music City Bowl. We were not extremely excited about going to Nashville for the Music City Bowl but its not every day that we are in the US to attend an Auburn game. So Sheila and I drove up to Nashville for the big game. It turned out to be a pretty awesome experience. For one, not only did Auburn show up to play but scored a record number of points in the first half of a bowl game. Second, we spent the evening/morning with a dear friend Susan. Susan traveled all the way to Kigali for our wedding in 2016. Finally, I got to catch up with fellow Auburn Alumni that I haven’t seen in more than ten years. It was great to see Sanford, Glennis and Horatio at the game.