Andrew Onalaja, A British born Nigerian Architect has revealed why he decided to ride bike from London to Nigeria. Andrew who has traveled to more than 100 countries, is a popular personality in the London social scene.
He shared his story with Lekki Express
What will make a family man with a wife and five children to embark on such a journey?
“I was motivated when I heard that some of my friends were planning to ride to Nigeria from the UK, even though I had no intention of riding a motor-cycle at that time. I have always wanted to travel to Lagos from London by car. So when I was in Cape Verde in 2012, I saw a V-strom Suzuki driving on a bad road with its suspension oscillating esthetically. I said to myself that day ‘Andy, that thing go suit you ooo’. That’s how biking captured my imagination.
“When I got back to London from Cape Verde, I met with my friends who were planning the biking trip that I will start to learn how to ride a bike so I can join you guys on the trip. They started laughing at me, saying that it is too late and my hand will not be strong enough on the bike. One of them said if I’m serious, I should do what I have to do so I can join them. That is how I started learning how to ride. I took the test and passed after series of attempt till I was certified to ride.”
Before he went on the journey, his family was not fully supportive;
“My wife was not happy about the journey, but there is nothing she could do to stop me because I have decided I want to do it. So the only thing she could do is to support me, although she was worried at some point to the extent that if I don’t call her at the end of each day, she won’t be able to sleep. That was a lot of stress and strain on the family. My daughter was very concerned. In actual fact, when you take up a journey like that, you just don’t know if you will ever see your family again because you know it can be very dangerous and it’s the period of time when al-Qaida, robbers and kidnappers was all over North Africa.”
Andrew Began from Britain to Spain and From Spain to Africa. He shared it all and his experience on the way;
“I first got a ferry from Portmouth, UK to Bilbao, Spain. It was around November, then, the weather was cold throughout Europe, assuming it was during summer, I would have ride from London to Dover to France then to Spain, but the ferry played a big role in cutting the journey short. It took one full day to cross Spain from North to South. At the Southern part of Spain, I took a ferry to Morocco. Upon my arrival to Morocco, I was happy that I am in Africa.
“In Morocco, I had to process a visa to go to Mauritania since Mauritania is no longer part of ECOWAS. The visa processing wasted part of my time in Casablanca. I spent 3 days inside Morocco because it is a big country. Bear in mind that I was still a learner, although certified and tested, I fell off the bike once inside Morocco because I forgot there was a stand in the bike which I didn’t pull down. So from Morocco, I got to Western Sahara, this is a region controlled by Moroccans. From Western Sahara, I got to somewhere called ‘No Man’s Land’. This is a stretch of land between Western Sahara and Mauritania. This was the worst and hardest part of the journey because there was no road; it was just mountains, sands, rocks, toxic waste, and land mines e.t.c. I had my second fall here. By and large, I made it to the capital of Mauritania and stayed in a hotel owned by a Cameroonian. Mauritania can be described as a place where the Arab world meets the black world. Something occurred to me when I was leaving Mauritania, the people at the border wanted to collect extra money to stamp my British and Nigeria passport but I ignored them till I made my way to the Senegalese border.
“They said Ghana was going to be a problem and behold it was! I slept at the Ivory Coast-Ghana border for 3 days because I had to wait for them to do the necessary paper work before I can enter into the country; also they had to put a tracker on my bike so they can track my movement in the country. I paid $300 for the tracker. On the 3rd day after all the paper work was done, I rode to Elmina where I stayed 2 nights. I visited the Elmina Slave Fort popularly called Elmina Castle; it was a depressing tour because I toured the gate-of-no-return where the white men used in transporting our people as slaves. It’s an emotional place that can make any Blackman to fight every Whiteman he sees on his way. From Elmina I rode to Accra where I lodged in a big hotel called La Palm Beach Hotel, the workers there were rude, it was in the hotel that I noticed the animosity of Ghanaians towards Nigerians, they don’t like us. I only spent 1 night there because the attitude of the staffs there doesn’t seem hospitable. I left Accra the next day and rode towards Aflao border where I met with the immigration officer who has been calling my phone to monitor my movement while I was in Elmina and Accra. The immigration officer removed my tracker and I proceeded towards Togo without any problem. Togo was nice; the hotels are beautiful with moderate rate. I had to fix my bike in Lome because I notice some of the wires had melted, it took 3 days.”
Where was the emotional part of the journey for him?
“That will be within the borders of Senegal and Mali. There is a small border town where a lot of activities take place; it’s a busy place because Lorries and trucks pass through there to make it to Mali which is a landlocked country. I was in the border town when I suddenly heard some girls speaking Pidgin English; I called one of them and ask where she came from, she replied by ‘I am from Nigeria ooh’. This girl looks like an 18years old, as young as my daughter. I asked her what she’s doing there, she replied by saying ‘I be prostitute oooh’, I was shocked and at the same time inquisitive. She opened up to me and explained how those traffickers tricked them that they are going to take them to Europe, upon getting to that border, they seized their passport and told them that this is where they will start work. They have no passport, no means of getting home and no hope, all they do is prostitution, and the proceeds from prostitution is shared among those who are controlling them so they can’t save enough to return home. They are used as sex slaves. If I can remember well, there were atleast 30 Nigerian girls in that border and they range between 16 to 40 years old. It was shame and very depressing, I always reflect on the memory of that border every time. The only thing I could do for those girls was to empty my pocket and give them money, some of them even gave me their phone number and told me that I should remember them when I get to Nigeria, I almost cried:( I felt sober and weak.”
He got to Benin and Togo before reaching Nigeria;
“I got to Benin Republic after days of fun and relaxation in Togo. I did not feel too good in Benin Republic, though, I don’t know why, my vibes were bad, and my instinct told me to get out of that country as soon as possible. I just headed straight to the Seme border, where I was asked to pay 40,000CFA which is around $60, I had no choice than to pay. I left Benin side and rode to the Nigerian side of the border. To my astonishment, I was given a grand welcome, I didn’t pay anything, everyone is just welcoming me, I even wanted to give them a tip; they said ‘no you’ve suffered, welcome home’.”
Will he do this again?
“Definitely not by bike, I will do it by car and for a longer period. I will travel more extensively within each country.”