In November 2002 , I travelled to Nigeria together with Dave Haining, Viv Offord, Brian Langford Fewkes and our guide Kenneth Ogbuniwe (British with Nigerian origins) to ascertain if a full expedition was possible in two years time.
I shall never forget the initial ‘shock’ to the system concerning the visual impact when arriving at Lagos: colour, chaos, confusion mixed with elements of fear as your body adjusted to this new environment. We were met by Ken’s friend called Sam Bami-File whom we hired his battered old transit bus for our three week recee. Sam was indeed quite a character, with his ideas of safe driving on the perilous roads of Nigeria, conflicting on several occasions with that of ours. However, Sam was ‘street wise’ and his knowledge of reading certain situations on the demanding streets of Lagos was vital to the success of our venture.
We aimed to travel by road from Lagos heading initially ‘West’ and then ‘North’ to New Bussa. The journey was hot and not without incidents, roadblocks were common and we soon took the advice of both Sam and Ken to always give a little money when confronted with such roadblocks.
Upon our arrival in New Bussa, this large muslim community of nearly a million people must have wondered where we had come from as, clearly there were no other white faces to be seen. We made our way to the Royal Palace with a photo copy of a photograph of The Emir of Borgu wearing a ring made from a coin Richard Lander gave his ancestor in 1829. (Further details surrounding this coin can be found in its own section.) The old black and white image taken outside the old Royal Palace in Bussa many years ago enthralled the elders who gazed upon it. We were informed the ring still exists and is a very treasured item held within the Palace walls and is only ever used during the Coronation of a new Emir.
|The following day we were informed that the council of Chiefs had met and decided we could enter the Royal Palace. In the company of Mohammed Wari, a highly respected Elder, we entered into some dark rooms which contained many portraits of various Emir’s of Borgu throughout the last 180 years, each wearing the Richard Lander Ring. I was presented an old cloth which I carefully unwrapped to reveal the ring. The rather impressive silver coin was shiny considering its age and rather worn but could clearly define the Kings profile. I was informed that we were the first Westerners to lay hands on the coin since Richard Lander presented it to the Emir of Borgu back in 1829, in exchange for two canoes. Upon examination of the coin I could see T.WYNN along the edge, which I subsequently discovered this was the name of the engraver at the Royal Mint; Mr. Timothy Wynn, whom incidentally died at a similar age to Richard Lander.
During our stay in New Bussa, which would mark the start of the river journey as it did for the Lander brothers, we visited a local primary school and conducted presentations to the rather excited children. Viv’s red face as he blew up a rather difficult inflatable globe was a sight to behold! We told the story of Richard Lander but they clearly were all aware of the brother’s adventure in their Country. I told the children of our intentions to come back in two years time and commence the expedition. I also hoped we could help in some small way and bring some educational equipment to be donated to the school.
I guess whilst considering this idea and with no consultation with the Richard Lander School in Truro, took the liberty of suggesting we could ‘Twin’ the Richard Lander School in Truro with the primary school in New Bussa. This idea was readily received by the Headmaster and all concerned; I just had to speak to the Richard Lander school in Truro now and prayed for a positive answer.
Due to the construction of a large Hydro electric dam in New Bussa several years earlier, to control the flow of water into the Niger and generate electricity, this clearly would be a significant obstacle to negotiate by boat and one to consider in the future.
|Our journey from New Bussa continued by road and it was clear that the most dangerous part of this venture was probably occurring now on the recee and not the expedition. The roads had many very large holes, especially the motorway between Benin City and Lagos. Should you hit one such hole which could be several feet deep by 4-5 feet wide, at speed, then you could be in serious trouble. The wrecks of buses, trucks and oil tankers littered the roadside throughout the Country providing clear evidence of its dangers. Sam would laugh at our concern as he boldly played chicken with a truck driving directly towards us, on ‘our’ side of the motorway. I was awake in the front seat scarcely believing Sam’s driving methods, as we got closer to the truck which was rapidly approaching at speed. Sam yelled ‘’He is on our side of the motorway, he should move!’’ At this point Dave was aware of the imminent danger and we both screamed at Sam to move out of the way. At the very last moment, Sam moved his van into the centre lane as the truck continued its path and flew past. This manoeuvre was so violent that all persons and bags were thrown onto the floor. Needless to say, we asked Sam to pull over for a little chat on road safety. Sam remained calm as we gave him clear instructions on his driving techniques, whilst we remained in his vehicle. He was adamant this ‘his way’ was the best way and just laughed at our concern.|
|Sadly, Sam was killed in 2009 in a car crash on the roads of Nigeria. He remained a friend and his death is a sad loss to us all. Without Sam and his battered old van, the recce may not have been completed and he did get us all back to Lagos safely!
As Dave and I sat in the lounge at Lagos airport together with Mark, Viv, Brian and Ken waiting for our flight home and contemplated events over the previous three weeks, we each remarked about the actual expedition. It was clear that we had survived this recce by the ‘seat of our pants’ and also had a few narrow escapes on the roads. Without exception we agreed that to conduct a British expedition would just be too hazardous in many different ways. The Delta State where the expedition was due to end in Bonny and where Richard Lander finally reached the sea, is a volatile area with pirates and armed terrorists.
However, I requested that we gather together again in two months time in which to evaluate our trip and finally decide whether or not to mount a full scale expedition in two years time.