Story

Reporting from Nigeria

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A three-wheeled keki tries to burrow its way through the Lagosian traffic. Image by T.R. Goldman. Nigeria, 2017.

A three-wheeled keki tries to burrow its way through the Lagosian traffic. Image by T.R. Goldman. Nigeria, 2017.

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Getting to an interview on time can be challenging in Lagos, especially when it rains. Image by T.R. Goldman. Nigeria, 2017.

Getting to an interview on time can be challenging in Lagos, especially when it rains. Image by T.R. Goldman. Nigeria, 2017.

There are certain protocols that it helps to follow when reporting in Nigeria, and certain things that can make your reporting a lot more efficient:

  • To interview a top Ministerial official it’s best to draft a formal, signed letter to the official, then email it to a Nigerian contact, who will then print it out and preferably hand-deliver it to a Ministerial assistant at least a couple of weeks before your visit. Once you arrive in Abuja, the federal capital, it’s best to make a personal call to the Ministry’s “Registry” office with a copy of your scanned letter to make sure your request has been formally logged in.
  • Don’t overbook. Since there’s no alternative to driving, no metro or light rail, it’s risky to schedule more than two face-to-face interviews per day—generally one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
  • Get a local phone number, either by putting a Nigerian SIM card in your smartphone or buying a basic Nokia phone for around $30. SIM cards are sold on the street and almost any shop. If you’re late for an appointment, it’s not always that easy to reach someone unless you have his or her personal cell phone, which most people are happy to share. And texting is also very reliable.
  • When you’re taking down a person’s contact information, try to get a personal email address, usually Yahoo or Gmail, as well as the business email.
  • Data plans are cheap—and allow you to reach people using Skype or WhatsApp, which is very popular. Indeed, the slogan for the big wireless carrier Airtel gets right to the point: “Data is life.”
  • Uber is generally cheaper and more reliable than yellow taxies, at least in Lagos. Since many Uber drivers are college graduates, you’re likely to get an engaging conversation about anything from Nigerian politics to tribal sociology. They are also great sources for all manner of information—from interesting restaurants to where to buy a SIM card to how to change money on the black market (where the rate can be much better than the official one). And because Uber drivers rely on their App for directions, you’ll soon leave the clogged roads for interesting side streets once the inevitable traffic jam sets in.
  • Bring one nice set of clothes. There’s a certain formality in the government, business, and university environment that extends to the clothes people wear. There’s little upside reporting-wise to the disheveled journalist schtick.