Standing outside Abuja Airport in the soaring temperatures, you get amazed on how similar to Kenya Nigeria is. This is Africa's most populous country.
People idling around and women talking animatedly with their hands akimbo and they are larger than you can see in Kenya. I had missed the person who was to pick me up.
Oga! Those who walked by me remarked.
I assumed it was some greetings to a brother. Colours of their clothing is similar to ours and perhaps the only difference with Kenya is that more men wore multi-colour kanzus. Open shoes, Akala type are more prevalent here.
I walk towards the taxis. They are gentler than I have read in Nigerian literature.
They were honest too with the fare to the cities. I had begun to settle down and give Nigeria the benefit of doubt but my mind takes me back to Odili, the narrator in Achebe’s 1966 novel, Man of the People. Also not forgetting the many stories told about Nigerians.
For a while I savour the beauty of Abuja scenery. Green everywhere. It must be within the rain forest. Land is expanse and untilled.
I turn my attention to my driver Oku Moses. An affable young man perhaps in his early 30's.
I tell him I am from Kenya and in Abuja for the CTO conference. He smiles broadly and asked me what I thought of Nigeria as if he had read my mind. I said "so far so good" and immediately I divert his train of thought to football.
I tell him Nigeria is the main hindrance to Kenya’s quest to get to World cup. We became friends instantly as he opened up to tell me more.
"You see that road," he says, "it leads to nowhere. Corruption is the only problem here," he adds as his tone begin to sound angrier. I calm him down and tell him it happens all over Africa. The 50-kilometre super highway from the airport to Abuja is as good as it gets, actually better than Nairobi Thika highway.
The Hotel I am headed to, is called Chelsea, named after the English league team Chelsea. Oku is a fan of Arsenal, another English league team. He knows all the players. He asks which team I support and when I tell him none, he then says "that is why you will never go to World Cup."
At the hotel Oku bids me farewell and hands me his card. "Call me," he says. "I will show you the best of Nigeria."
It is still hot and my room was steaming with heat. This three star hotel does not have a centralised AC but I could do with an old cranky stand-alone cooling system. As I cranked it up, it made more noise that I could not listen to news on TV.
Then suddenly the lights went off – blackout!!
Outside, it was raining heavily. I said, Geez, this is home but soon some generator boomed just outside my room to bring light. I wished they had shut it down.
Dinner time, I joined other colleagues, Sonia, Karin, Robert and John for dinner. Sonia and I were the vegetarians and so requested for pasta, the only vegetarian dish on the menu. But alas! When the food came there was chicken on pasta instead of tomato. The young waitress tells me she decided on chicken since there were no tomatoes.
After a few exchanges she seems to remember something and says, "I can make it vegetarian." Wala! Like magic she comes back with pasta alone.
I said thank you, but as I start to eat, I discover, or rather, the waitress had forgotten that the base was chicken and she had only removed the toppings of chicken. She meant well and wanted to do well but she missed the point.
As I watched Nigerian channels that evening, I say to myself, Nigeria is Kenya and Kenya is Nigeria. We were colonised by the British. We attained independence at about the same time in the 1960s. We have new constitutions with devolved powers.
Just like Kenya, Nigeria continues to experience longstanding ethnic and religious tensions. Although in Kenya’s 2008 as in Nigeria’s 2003 and 2007 presidential elections were marred by significant irregularities and violence, but both countries are experiencing relative peace interrupted by the Al-Shabab and Boko Haram respectively.
On Nigerian TV as in Kenya politicians complain that they need more power to states and counties. They seem not to understand that they are the ones with the power to change legislation and so when they complain, the masses have no representation. They also need more money yet they are the ones who appropriate resources. They complain about soaring crime yet they are the ones who have the mandate to bring better security legislation.
On the roads, motor bikes ride on the assumption that every motorist should watch on them. Careless and dangerous like in Kenya. If you admire the cleanliness of Abuja while driving, you will for sure hit one of them. Public places including hotels are guarded by armed policemen.
LAND OF OKONKWO
In my speech at the conference, I said I was glad to visit Nigeria, land of Okonkwo from Umuofia (one of a fictional group of nine villages in Nigeria, inhabited by the Igbo people). Only a handful of the people in the audience knew that I was referring to Achebe’s 1958 novel, Things Fall Apart.
Later Funke, a prominent Nigerian businesswoman and friend tells me that intellectualism died in Nigeria. There was a time in Nigeria prominent writers were the role model of society. These were the people who put our oral history on paper but we decided to chase them away. It is sad that Achebe had to die in foreign land alone without his people.
I tell Funke, it is so strikingly similar to Kenya that our prominent writers are getting old and wasted away in foreign lands.
Haruna is driving me back to the airport. He, like Oku, is polite but with much better intellect than an ordinary driver. His grasp of African matters is excellent.
Out of the blue he tells me, "you worked with government." I tell him yes and I quickly ask him why. "No I just wanted to know," he says.
Then he tells me that he is driving a car (VX Land Cruiser) that he will never afford to buy in his entire life. I note the ambition in him and tell him that if you know then you are capable of buying the car.
"I am not in government," he says. I tell him you do not need to be in government to buy the car. You see I was in government but I still cannot drive such a thing. He looks at me then he says, it is by choice on your part. I tipped him $20 and bade him farewell. He was stunned.
I leave Nigeria with many fond memories. It was three days but enough to grasp the dreams of other people. Their desires. Their hopes. We are all the same and hopefully one day we shall change the stigma of corruption by improving the fortunes of our Africa. God bless Africa.
University of Nairobi, Business School, Lower Kabete Campus
This post by Dr Bitange Ndemo was initially posted to Kenya ICT mail-list Kictanet and he has agreed that it be republished on Nation.co.ke.