From East Africa to West
12 June 2012
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There are no direct flights from Entebbe to Lagos so we had a rather tortuous journey taking a 2am flight on a turbo-prop plane via Kigale in Rwanda to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia before the comfort of a Boeing 777 to Nigeria, arriving 14 hours after we had left the after-match party at the Kampala Sheraton.
Nigeria has little or no tourism so Passport Control at Lagos airport assumed I was coming to work. When I said I wasn’t he looked at me suspiciously and asked why am I here. I took my passport from him and pointed to the place of birth which showed Ibadan, Nigeria. His face broke into a huge smile and he showed his colleague who looked at me and laughed out loud, and they both welcomed me into the country with no further questions. The same happened at Customs where they wanted to check our bags, and once again the fact I was born in Nigeria meant they ended up waving us through with big smiles.
I was last in Lagos in 2004 and I was interested to see not just what had changed in the intervening eight years, but also to make comparisons with Uganda. The first thing to notice was that the roads compared to Uganda were so much better. For the past week we had been ferried about on our 20-seater coach on roads that were always bumpy and on occasions almost had us out of our seats if we hit a rut too fast. Here is Lagos the main roads are properly tarmacked with dual carriageways and motorways which were rare in Uganda. However, when you leave the main roads in Lagos it is often a case of driving at 5mph to negotiate unmade tracks without damaging your car.
The cars are also more modern in Lagos which reflects the fact that it is a more mature economy although the political problems here are well known. Although Nigeria is a top ten oil producing country, the money doesn’t seem to be sent on infrastructure as you see in other comparable nations although there are signs that this is changing. My impression of Uganda was that it has begun to realise its own potential not just with its natural resources which includes oil, but also as a tourist destination. Ugandans pride in their country was obvious and it will be interesting see see how the country grows and develops over the years to come.
In terms of Rugby development however, Uganda is way ahead. They are placed 43rd in the IRB rankings and although Nigeria has the biggest population in Africa at 170m, over five times more than Uganda, they languish near the bottom of the ranking in 91st place. The potential for growth here is tremendous. Last night I met Roger Coombs who used to play and coach at Woodbridge RFC and who is now working as a rugby coach in Lagos. He is head coach at Cowrie RFC but also coaches at local schools trying to develop the game at youth level and we will be joining him for a session this afternoon.
During the few days I am here I hope to be able to see the state of the game in Nigeria and see what help I can offer to help it grow. The shirts kindly donated by clubs should be arriving today and I hope we will be able to distribute some of them before I leave on Friday.
There is a lot more I could write about Nigeria’s rugby potential but I’ve run out of time so that will have to be for a future article.