Journey to Abuja

It began Tuesday morning at the airport in Amsterdam. The team had met and were to fly to Kano, Nigeria, where they were to take a commuter flight to Abuja. The travel agent had assured us that there were frequent flights. Steve casually asked another traveller in the gate area about the commuter flight procedures. The answers ranged from: “too late”, “through Lagos” to “not at all”. Romeo and Steve then went to the KLM ticket counter where they waited over 45 minutes to talk to an agent. She dug through several books and finally produced a map showing flights from Kano to Lagos and Lagos to Abuja but none direct from Kano to Abuja. The news was unsettling given the US State Department warnings about travel in Nigeria (not to mention our families’ collective misgivings about us going at all) and it was time to ask for help. But we were all mindful of the exhortation which Jesus gave to His disciples: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be known to God”.

Romeo began surveying our fellow passengers in the gate area. A few minutes later a distinguished looking man in African robes entered with his wife and sat quietly near the gate entrance. Romeo felt drawn to him and as he approached, the man stood to greet him. Romeo asked about travel to Abuja and this unknown man replied, “Perhaps I can help”.

Dr. Musa Moda, Minister of Adult Literacy and Non-formal Education, was not only a high ranking government official but a Christian as well. He and his wife were returning from two weeks in Germany where they had been sharing about the true situation in Nigeria. They were going from Kano to Kaduna before returning to his post in Abuja. He confirmed that the only feasible way to Abuja was by car and promised to help us “arrange transport”. Now we had hope–but still no concrete plans.

Kano was typical of many African airports, with long runways but a small aging terminal building. The KLM jet parked on the tarmac and we stepped out into the 107 degree (F) heat. At the bottom of the stairs we were flanked by agents and soldiers directing us to walk the 150+ yards to the “Arrivals” doorway. A bus waited for Nigerian officials and we were surprised to be ushered onto the bus. As we entered the bus Dr. Mota smiled and welcomed us to Nigeria.

When we entered the terminal building we found a few immigration booths in the dimly lit hall and were greeted with pandemonium. The noise level was rising and people pressed in from all sides. Dr Moda took us aside where he was met by a uniformed man and an immigration official (with an identity badge). They collected our passports and disappeared into the crowd. Soon we were ushered through the immigration lines and asked to identify our luggage, but our passports were still being processed.

A man in white robes stepped up and introduced himself as the Director of the airport. When our passports arrived we began to realize that Romeo’s passport was not only Liberian (an ECOWAS member country) but was also a “Diplomatic” passport. Now we were not just visitors we were “guests” of the government.

We were assisted through customs and welcomed on behalf of the State and Federal governments of Nigeria. We piled into three cars and drove 30 minutes to the Government House for the State of Kano. The governor (a classmate and good friend of Dr. Moda) was resting before the evening’s state affair so we missed meeting him. His Aide-de-camp invited us in for refreshments and began working on a way to get us to Abuja.

Soon we were presented with two options: 1) Drive to Abuja tonight or 2) drive to a hotel in Kano or Kaduna for tonight and begin the journey to Abuja in the morning. We chose the first option (had we chosen the second we would have been certain to miss the most important part of the conference) even though the second was more appealing at the moment. A government station wagon was called and sent out for fueling.

Shortly after 7:00 P.M. the three of us, our luggage, the driver and a uniformed government soldier (with rifle) began the “three hour” journey. The driver kept up a steady 50-60 mph pace (where possible) but even with almost no traffic it still took a full five hours. We stopped six times for toll booths (lit by flashlights, oil lamps or candles) but were more delayed by the fourteen police and military roadblocks which we encountered. These were the moments when government license plates and especially the uniformed soldier’s presence shortened the discussions and smoothed our passage.

At about midnight as we pulled up to the fourteenth roadblock, we could see the city lights of Abuja and breathed a collective sigh of relief that we were finally there. The thought of a warm bed and a quiet room after 30 hours of travel was uppermost in our minds. But “it’s not over until it’s over,” and the worst part of our journey was just beginning.

When the conversations continued and the driver pulled off the road we suspected a problem. The soldier was from a different command and did not have a proper “pass” to enter the capital district. We produced our letter of invitation from the ambassador, passports and hotel reservations and were assured that “we” were approved but the soldier needed clearance. For an hour we sat in the dark and were told “just a few minutes” or “they are coming now”.

Finally some movement began, The man who stopped us took the soldier into his van and we followed him into the city. But with the hotel in sight we turned into the entrance to the presidential palace (and Police barracks), where the soldier was driven away and we were left with three young soldiers. Another hour of “they are coming now” and “it will only be a few minutes”. Finally Romeo convinced them to summon someone with authority who agreed to at least talk. After an animated discussion with Romeo this man could not explain why we were being detained if this was a military procedural problem. He finally agreed to escort us to the hotel, still treating us like suspicious characters. The copies of our invitation letter and our hotel reservations helped us through. It seemed to take forever to check in but by 2:30 A.M. we collapsed into our separate beds. Romeo had been traveling for over 36 hours.

God had seen us through. “When God is for us, who can be against us?”

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