I did a recap of my visit to the amazing Nike Art Gallery here.
So 1 of my goals for this year was to get people who love travelling to come talk about their experiences giving birth to “The Arinrinajo Project“. Once a month, I would be interviewing the “Ajalas” (we often refer to people who enjoy travelling as Ajalas) to hear about their experiences on The Arinrinajo Project. I hope this series inspires you to explore within and outside Nigeria. Having a bucket list is a fun and a great way to see more places, I encourage you to create one for yourself (You can add a bucket list app e.g. : Google Keep, Trello, Pinterest)
Thanks to Damola of Irinajo_NG, I found Andrew Fleming via the hashtag #VistNGSoon. I noticed that any time I posted pictures from my travels within Nigeria, Andrew would tag them with #VisitNGSoon. When I started working on this project, I knew Andrew was the perfect person to kick it off.
Andrew Fleming is the Deputy Head of Political Section, British High Commission, Abuja. He previously spent many years working on Migration, both in policy and project development contexts. He has represented the British Government in 19 countries including Kampala and Accra.
He likes non-league football, stadium architecture, photography (as evidenced from the pictures), food and real ale (a beer of British origin). He is also a member of the Abuja Hash House Harriers.
Let’s kick-off the Interview!
Q: How long have you lived in Nigeria and can you tell us about your experience?
My current appointment as Deputy Head of the Political Section at the British High Commission in Abuja commenced in 2014. And to be very clear (as I am often asked) I applied for the post and really wanted to return to West Africa (a region I previously lived from 2007-10 based in Accra and covering the region including Nigeria).
Q: BASED ON THE STORIES YOU HEARD ABOUT NIGERIA, WHAT HAS STOOD OUT ABOUT THE COUNTRY AND ITS PEOPLE?
Stories of Nigeria have been with me since I was young. My neighbors in the UK moved to Kano where they taught. They had lots of wooden carvings which I loved. From a young age I longed to visit Nigeria, a childhood dream come true though can you believe, I have still not managed to visit Kano!
As a teenager I recall hearing almost universally negative stories about Nigeria. One that sticks in my mind was a report on the BBC Radio 4 programme of the time called Breakaway. It was a weekly travel show. One feature would always be somewhere off the beaten track. There was a time when Lagos was featured but not in a positive way – it was all about an airport pick up service costing US$100 (which in the 80s was a lot of money). The country had a lot of bad press in those days – especially Lagos.
Years later in Ghana, Nigeria was still somewhere people spoke about in dramatic terms – it made me quite nervous when I first visited in 2008; but I had a really good week in Lagos and Abuja (aside from Virgin Nigeria delaying my several hours). Ever since then I challenged those who seemed to revel in painting such a dark picture about Nigeria.
Nobody can deny there are some serious challenges across the country but there the many positives too and these so often get suppressed; for me this is very sad.
Q: FOLLOWING YOUR EXPERIENCES ON SOCIAL MEDIA, YOU HAVE VISITED OVER NINETEEN (19) STATES IN NIGERIA; CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR FAVORITE/MOST MEMORABLE TRIP?
Actually, I do believe there is good that can come from every interaction. I have immensely enjoyed every trip I have made. Also each state is remarkably different and has its own characteristics; I sometimes joke it is like 36 countries in one.
I think my favourite trip was a research one I made commencing in Calabar and ending in Abuja – driving the whole route through 8 States. I learned so much on that journey.
Q: IF YOU HAD TO LIVE IN ONE OF THE STATES YOU HAVE VISITED, WHERE WOULD YOU CHOSE AND WHY?
That is really hard, but if you are going to push me, I love Abia State. I believe in its potential, so I would choose to live there and try to help it achieve some of this.
Most people are shocked by my fondness of Abia, but I find the people from there, perhaps above all others, are so dynamic and enterprising. You can feel the raw energy – someone I took to Abia said it is the most unloved city they had ever visited. I know what they meant, but scratch beneath the service and you’ll quickly find dynamic and entrepreneurial people who achieve so much with so little. The leather trade is but one example, especially in terms of the production of acclaimed shoes – many thousands a week with little or no power. You know the hashtag #MadeinAba emerged recently, and is doing great in helping raise the profile of their goods.
The history of Aba, coupled with the character of its people make me compare it to Liverpool (a British city I have long known and fond for) before it was designated a European City of Culture. Liverpool in the 80s had a tough reputation; people would go with trepidation, but would be won over by what they found. Liverpool is an inland port city just as Aba was in its heyday – the fact the Gulf of Guinea is no longer navigable is a real shame for Aba. The warehouses of British companies remain – abandoned for decades, one legacy of a glorious past.
Q: PICK ONE: SUYA, PUFF-PUFF, PEPPER SOUP OR DODO.
I do not usually eat meat, but on rare occasions you can find it I love Fish Suya.
Q: WHAT UNUSUAL MEANS OF TRANSPORTATION HAVE YOU USED?
As a diplomat, I am usually restricted in how I move around. So, my most exciting travel is by friend’s cars – it is then that I get to see what really happens at checkpoints.
However, historically, I have traveled around much of West Africa by bush/motorbike taxis.
Q: THE #visitNGsoon CAMPAIGN, WHICH YOU ACTIVELY CHAMPION, HAS ATTRACTED A LOT OF ATTENTION ON TWITTER. CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THIS CAMPAIGN?
It really comes back to my earlier answer and all the negative press Nigeria gets. Yes, there are challenges and places we advise our own nationals against visiting. But a lot of Nigeria is no more dangerous than many other parts of the continent and travelling there just requires commonsense. Yet, I meet so many people who flinch even at the mention of Nigeria. I am sorry to say that many Nigerians, especially those who have lived out of the country for years, actually fuel the flames of this image.
Anyway, I think Nigeria has huge potential for business and ultimately for tourism too (though the latter needs more infrastructure to really take off.) But for now, Nigeria is ripe for more adventurous travel, the world has few unexplored frontiers but, for the serious traveller Nigeria is blessed with some of these. Also there are locations where with a little investment an eco tourism model could thrive. If security continues to improve so will the potential for investment in this sector in states like Bauchi; managed correctly (and I realise this is a challenge) it can have a hugely positive impact on communities.
People think it is all about tourism but it is not only about that – it is intended to target anyone who might consider visiting Nigeria, so very much including those coming for business or to explore the huge investment potential. It is of course not a good time economically, but now is the time to speculate as in the long term Nigeria holds rich opportunities. Within the next 50 years it is set to have the world’s third largest population.
Q: WHICH NIGERIAN FOODS HAVE YOUR TASTE BUDS TINGLING?
This will disappoint people, but I am not a lover of Nigerian food overall (like I say, I do not really eat meat). But I have mentioned fish suya. There are other fish dishes I enjoy, too, and the fruits here, especially the mangos, are some of the best on earth. If only they could be exported in mass quantities – there would be so much demand.
Q: DO YOU SPEAK ANY NIGERIAN LANGUAGE(S)? IF YES, WHICH ONES DO YOU SPEAK? IF NO, WHICH NIGERIAN LANGUAGES ARE YOU INTERESTED IN LEARNING?
I am not a linguist. I have been married to a Vietnamese national for many years and still struggle with her language. So I try to learn the basic pleasantries of the dominant language in the region I am travelling to (and quickly forget). But, as those who follow me on Twitter no, I do try to dabble in Pidgin English with mixed results.
Q: IF YOU COULD START YOUR EXPERIENCE IN NIGERIA ALL OVER AGAIN, WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY?
I would not have listened to the stereotypes back in the 80s and early 90s, and I might have got to experience Nigeria a lot earlier. It is without a doubt, the most fascinating country I have lived.
Q: HAVE YOU MADE ANY ACCIDENTAL CULTURAL FAUX-PAS? WE’D LOVE TO HEAR!
I have traveled to 113 countries around the world, and I know I have made plenty; though they reduced as I have aged (except in Vietnam, the country of my wife where I always manage to do or say something wrong). However, I try really hard to be culturally sensitive, and aside from being naturally left-handed and thus inclined to use it to eat where convention says I should use my right, I think I am pretty good. An exception is Twitter, on there I cannot please everyone.
Q: FUNNIEST OR MOST EMBARRASSING TRAVEL MOMENT YOU HAVE EXPERIENCED EVER?
The most embarrassing moment was when I visited Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. I took breakfast at a café then headed for the border on a hired bicycle. This was in the 80s and the border was not hugely busy but the guards loved to talk. They made fun of my name and asked if I had written all the James Bond books I so enjoyed. I then went over the bridge to enter Zambia before realising I had not paid for my breakfast.
I thus had to go all the way back across the border and back to the café to settle my account before going through the whole process again, and this time, getting asked by the same border guards if I came from the line who had invented penicillin. Stamps in those days were large, especially in Zambia, and I used up a good couple of pages of my passport. Better that than being arrested for fleeing a country when still in debt!
Q: TOP ADVICE FOR SOMEONE WHO IS THINKING OF TRAVELLING TO NIGERIA?
Simple – #visitNGsoon, but check out FCO Travel Advice before you set off. And I will always answer questions about visiting Nigeria on Twitter – follow me @Andrew007Uk and see some images supporting why you need to support the statement in my hashtag. I am also on Instagram @Andrew007uk if you prefer photos and few words.
P.S. All the amazing pictures were taken by Andrew except of course those that he appears in..
You can follow Andrew on Twitter and Instagram – @Andrew007Uk.
I hope you enjoyed reading this and are inspired. Please feel free to comment and ask any questions below.
P.P.S: Do you know any Ajala (male or female) you would like us to interview? Pls drop a comment below.
Thanks for reading!