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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 April, 2003, 10:03 GMT 11:03 UK
Nigeria election diary - part II
BBC News Online's Joseph Winter is in Nigeria, covering the national assembly, presidential and state governor elections. He is keeping a diary of his travels around the country, which he is updating regularly.

Jos :: 18 April :: 0900GMT

Jos certainly has two souls - one Christian and one Muslim.

The two communities live separate lives and view each other with considerable distrust.

Religion is extremely important for all the Nigerians I have met, whatever their faith.

It is remarkable that in the heart of the poorest slums, the only new, solid buildings being constructed of any size are either churches or mosques.

And road sides are full of adverts for a baffling array of churches, with names such as "Broken chains chapel - rebuild your destiny."

With so much religion around, it is strange that religious clashes so frequently lead to the loss of hundreds of lives, when both faiths teach peace and tolerance.

I spent the start of Good Friday with a deeply committed Christian, who tried to convince me of the error of my secular ways and "see the light of the Lord".

And when I interviewed a Muslim cleric, he also tried to convert me, offering the prospect of having three wives.

My wife need not worry, I politely declined his generous offer.


Jos :: 17 April :: 1400GMT

I'm enjoying Jos tremendously.

The climate helps. Jos is a bit cooler than elsewhere in the country, sitting on a high plateau and I seem to have brought the rain with me from Abuja.

The steep rocky slopes, enormous cacti and bright red flamboyant trees are completely different to the dry bush around Abuja and the humidity and rain-forest green of the vegetation of the southern coastal areas.

Nigeria really is an enormous place and I have not even been to the north.

The political, religious and ethnic mixture also makes it extremely interesting to chat to people about the elections.

People seem happy to talk to journalists but there is a certain amount of tensions after riots between Muslims and Christians in 2001, which left more than 1,000 people dead.

The two communities remain fairly divided and I was warned against taking photographs in the Muslim parts of town in case it caused trouble.

I've been asking people about the relationship between politics and religion and whether Muslims will vote for Muslims candidates and Christians for Christians.

One taxi driver had an interesting view.

"I'm a committed Christian, so I don't bother with politics, it's too dirty," he said.

"A Christian cannot become a politician, where you have to say that white is black and black is white."

But many others said they would be voting for the candidate, rather than the party, showing a certain level of political sophistication.


Jos :: 17 April :: 1030GMT

When I got back to the hotel half an hour before the big Arsenal football match was due to kick off, I was overjoyed to see the power was now on and that they had an enormous satellite dish.

However, when I flicked through the TV channels in my room, there was no sign of any football. Apparently the decoder had broken.

I couldn't believe that after staying in several hotels across Nigeria all of which had live English football matches - via a South African satellite channel - I was unable to watch the big game of the season.

English football is big in Nigeria where fans support different teams sides and follow their progress avidly.

Even in a tiny rural village in rural Ogoniland, I saw a blackboard with adverts written in chalk promoting the FA cup semi-finals.

At about 2300 local time, I persuaded the duty manager to let me try to log on to the internet, but I was unable to get a connection - and it sounds like I missed an eventful match.


Jos :: 16 April :: 1800GMT

I now encountered Nigeria's infamous power cuts for the first time.

The other hotels I have stayed at have had generators, so there is only a brief period of darkness when the electricity supply cuts outs before the generator supply takes over and the lights come back on.

But the hotel I am staying at, which I was told was the best in Jos, does not seem to have a generator.

So I have had to seek a cyber cafe with a generator in the town in order to log on and send my diary.

So far, Jos has opened my eyes even wider, to the problems most ordinary Nigerians have to contend with.

Now I just hope that the power comes on at my hotel in time for the big match.


Jos :: 16 April :: 1400GMT

Today, I probably crossed the strict BBC security advice for Nigeria and travelled by public transport for the first time.

I took a place in Africa's favourite car - the seven-seater Peugeot 504, which seats nine people here.

At first, I was surprised how well organised the Abuja "motor park" - taxi rank/bus garage - was.

I got a receipt and a list of travellers' names is kept, which may be useful for identification purposes if there's an accident.

Judging by all the wrecks we passed on the road to Jos, they're probably used quite frequently.

Travelling in private taxis and BBC vehicles until now, I had not witnessed the notorious corruption of Nigeria's police force.

But the taxi-driver certainly knew how things worked.

As we were going round a bend in the road, he started slowing and reached down into the pocket of his door.

After the bend, I saw the roadblock - a policeman and two soldiers, armed with machine-guns.

The policeman saw the vehicle approaching and planted himself squarely in the middle of the road with his palm up, motioning for us to stop.

The taxi-driver continued to slow down but was still travelling at about 10km/hour as he slipped a 200 naira ($1.50) note into the policeman's hand.

"Hello," the officer said enthusiastically before we sped off again.

This exchange was repeated three times on the 300km trip and the driver is prepared, with a handy stash of notes in the pocket of his car door.

But any pity I had for him for having to pay such frequent taxes quickly disappeared when our car came to a grinding halt in the middle of a tiny village.

An electrical problem.

The driver and the male passengers gathered around the engine cleaning various wires and connections but to no effect.

Although the village contained maybe 50 houses, a young mechanic soon appeared.

But he, too, had no luck.

They identified what they thought was the faulty part and stopped one of the many passing Peugeot 504s to see if the suspect piece worked in the other car.

It did, so they were still no closer to solving the problem.

After about an hour stuck in the blazing midday sun (mad dogs, Englishmen and stranded taxi passengers), we were getting restive and about to start pressing the driver to put us in another car, which have led to an interminable argument, as he would have lost his payment.

But the driver and the local mechanic continued to poke around under the bonnet and suddenly the engine roared back into life - I'm sure the hungry, waiting policemen were getting just as anxious as we were.


Abuja :: 16 April :: 0900GMT

After two days in the capital, the positive impressions are starting to wear off.

The roads are wide and empty and the buildings tall and shiny, but I haven't found the city's soul and I'm not sure if a purpose-built capital populated by civil servants and officials really has one.

Lagos may be chaotic but there is a certain vibrancy about the place - though the roads there may be a little too vibrant at times.

I'm now trying to find out how to get to Jos, my next stop.

It's a three-hour drive away up into the mountains and is one of the most divided cities and states - ethnically and politically - in Nigeria.

I have to admit my thoughts are also turning to the big league title showdown match tonight involving Manchester United and my team Arsenal - and whether I'll be able to find a TV showing it live in Jos.


Abuja :: 15 April :: 1400GMT

I still haven't been able to link my lap-top to my mobile phone and logging on to the net is a major headache due to Nigeria's terrible phone network.

The internal phone system of the fairly plush hotel I'm staying at is so bad that I can connect to the net but not download any pages. The message I get is: "The page cannot be displayed".

So I tried at the hotel's business centre.

It took an hour-and-a-half to read two pages and send four e-mails.

And it cost $15 for the pleasure.

Despite the high cost and slow speeds, internet cafes are springing up across Nigeria.

Like everywhere else, students use the net for research and to keep in touch with distant friends and relatives.

And I did also notice a link to a porn site on the hotel's computer.

But communications in Nigeria have been revolutionised over the past two years by the arrival of mobile phones. Increasing numbers of people have handsets, not just the super rich.

It's just that the super rich have three phones - one for each network - because calling from one network to another is nigh-on impossible.

And even the street vendors have benefited, as top-up cards have become the fastest selling commodity for the young boys who swarm around cars stuck in traffic trying to earn a tiny commission on whatever they can sell.


Abuja :: 15 April :: 1100GMT The capital, Abuja, is, literally, a breath of fresh air after Lagos and Port Harcourt.

The wide, empty roads of the new, purpose-built capital, lie in stark contrast to the dirty, noisy, smelly overcrowded streets in the south.

The enormous, spacious, glistening buildings could be from a different planet to the bustling, run-down shanty-towns which line the roads of Lagos and Port Harcourt.

Abuja seems to have been meticulously planned, whereas new shacks and old buildings seem to rise up from the ground of Lagos and Port Harcourt in all shapes and at all angles and wherever there is room.

And sometimes where there isn't.

I fully understand why the government wanted to move here.


Abuja :: 14 April :: 2000GMT

I think I'm starting to understand how things work in Nigeria - or rather how to get round the fact that they don't.

This morning, I had two missions: to interview someone from the Niger Delta Development Commission and to get a flight from Port Harcourt to Abuja.

Unfortunately, nobody at the hotel I was staying at knew how to get a phone number for the NDDC or how to find out about flights. So I had to go round to the NDDC offices and the Presidential Hotel, where the airlines have offices, in person.

I was slightly dismayed to see a sign at the NDDC office reading, "Visiting days Tuesday and Thursday only. Others days, entry by appointment only."

But nevertheless I managed to get in, with the help of my BBC press card and met head of corporate affairs Anietie Usen, a charming man.

He quickly set up an interview with the NDDC managing director, Godwin Omene.

After a long interview, I went round to the Presidential Hotel, only to find out that I had missed the last direct flight to Abuja.

High-speed ride

The only option was to go via Lagos and the last flight was in just two hours' time. The taxi driver assured me that we did have enough time to check out of my hotel and make the flight but he did not warn me that I should close my eyes for the one hour trip to the airport.

Lagos street scene
Driving in Nigeria can be a hair-raising experience
Driving in Lagos and Port Harcourt is pretty hair-raising at the best of time, with cars overtaking on the left or right, wherever there is space on the road, usually accompanied by some vigorous horn-honking to say: "I'm coming through, out of my way".

On top of the cars and buses are the motorbike taxis and their foolhardy drivers and passengers who weave in and out of the traffic, even when moving at high-speed.

And many of Port Harcourt's streets are constricted at the moment by long queues of cars waiting for petrol along the roadside.

But when you are in a rush, negotiating the traffic becomes a real heart-in-the-mouth affair. At one point, I opened my eyes as we were overtaking a lorry, only to see a minibus taxi racing headlong towards us.

The taxi driver calmly honked his horn and swerved milliseconds before disaster struck.

After several similar near-misses, we finally arrived at the airport with just enough time to buy a ticket and catch the plane before the plane was scheduled to take-off.

But fifteen minutes later, we were still stuck on the ground with travellers more accustomed to airline timetables running, or in some cases calmly walking, over the tarmac to the plane.

Then we were delayed by an hour a quarter at Lagos airport because of heavy air traffic but we did finally arrive safely in Abuja.

Nigerians are used to the infrastructure, such as electricity, telephones, water and roads not functioning properly and struggle on as best they can.

Despite the rather brash and overbearing image many other Africans, as well as Westerners, have of Nigerians, those I have met generally put up with all the obstacles placed in their way with a weary shrug of the shoulders and a wry smile.

As a journalist with deadlines to meet and a vast country to explore, it is extremely difficult for me to follow suit. But I'm trying.





NIGERIA'S ELECTION

KEY STORIES

ISSUES

PROFILES

 

AROUND THE COUNTRY

 

ELECTION DIARY


BACKGROUND


HAVE YOUR SAY



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