Happy Honda Riding

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HAPPY HONDA RIDING by Andy Buhler, CUSO, 69-71

(A few thoughts regarding the purchase of a motorcycle in Nigeria)

Sometime during the process of your orientation the subject of transportation will probably be brought up. Cooperants realize they have been chosen, not for their brains or their beauty, but for their strength of leg. They know that, being poor, they will be expected either to walk or, if exceptionally lucky, to be able to buy a rickety old pedal bicycle. However, one day a bomb is dropped. CUSO says you will be allowed to purchase a motorbike if you come to West Africa. “Wow! Yippee! Great!” you exclaim, over-reacting. Surreptitiously Dr. North (Orientation psychiatrist) takes note of your various degrees of jocularity for use in the completion of his next set of CUSO Standard Psychology Tests.

You are engrossed by visions of immediate transport upon your arrival in Nigeria. Think of the trips you can take, think of the friends and cooperants you can visit, think of how great life will be! For the last few days of Orientation you are oblivious to any hardships -- even though they issue you with a helmet, payable out of your settling-in allowance. You wince slightly but don’t complain since the vision of travel in Africa looms large before you.

Soon you are on the plane winging your way toward the dark and mysterious continent. The wheels touch down on the Nigerian tarmac and the mighty bird rolls smoothly to a stop before the terminal. “Hey, guys! We’re here!” Eagerly you peer out the portholes to see your new vehicle. No bikes in sight. You are disappointed but decide, hopefully, that they have stored the bikes on the other side of the terminal.

Happily you go through customs until an official enquires what the large, white, semi-spheroid with the two black straps is. “Well,” you say indignantly, “Any ninny knows that’s a motorcycle helmet.” (You might as well let them know how bright and superior you are right off the bat.) He accepts your explanation and smiles knowingly. He delivers a volley of Hausa to another official and they both break out into gales of laughter. “Quaint customs here,” you think, until he stamps your form “Dutiable item -- one large helmet, not for educational purposes -- value £N16 : duty £N10.” “Welcome to Nigeria”, smiles the official. For the next hour you stay and try to explain your predicament while more strong-legged and helmet-less cooperants wend their way through customs with nary a hitch. I pay the duty. I enter Nigeria wiser, but poorer.

Motorbikes are nowhere in evidence when I eventually get into Kano City. There are lots of pedestrians and lots of bicycle riders. I am naturally concerned that Nigeria does not have any motorbikes and that the words at Orientation were a great lie to lure us abroad. However, after a few days of questioning cooperants from the previous year, some of whom did have motorbikes, I learn that, “Yes. Motorbikes can be bought at Leventis Motors here in Kano. They’re rather pricey but Leventis Motors is the only vendor up here in northern Nigeria.”

I arrange for a ride to Leventis Motors and do a price check. Whoops, way more than I have or can actually save in six months of a cooperant’s salary. OK, I’ll ask CUSO for a loan. Right. Of course! CUSO said we could get a motorbike here. They must have all those details and the funding worked out in order to make it happen. “Sorry, CUSO cannot provide you with a motorbike loan. Too many cooperants, too little funding. However, we could possibly sponsor you for a bank loan from Barclay’s Bank in Zaria.” Well, I think naïvely, maybe I can get a loan directly through my Ministry. I ask questions and I make an application for a loan. And then I wait two weeks.

“Sorry, Sir. We cannot process your loan request unless you are on a pay-sheet. Please see the Ministry of Finance.” I locate the Ministry of Finance. The Ministry of Finance informs me that they require a letter from my employing Ministry to confirm that I am actually employed by them. I protest that I have been working with the employing Ministry for two weeks already. Eventually I go and request the required letter. After a few days that letter appears and I finally get onto the pay-sheet. However, before the Ministry of Finance can actually provide me with a loan for a motorbike, they require that I submit three estimates for a motorbike in order for me to obtain said loan. Dear reader, did I not mention, slightly earlier, that there is only one motorbike dealer in all of northern Nigeria? What to do? A cooperant huddle session ensues. We all put our heads together. We will all want motorbikes fairly soon so a group think is called for.

“How about if we just write out one estimate right-handed, one left-handed and one in red ink? Think that will work?” That is the best that we can finally come up with.

My estimates go in and now I’m certain I will get the loan. “Sorry, Sir. Just a few more forms to fill out and the loan is as good as yours.” I am assured. In anticipation of certain action I go back to the dealership and dream about having wheels and the freedom to explore my newly adopted country. Leventis Motors’ staff smile and ask me what colour Honda would I like -- a glossy black or a dusty black -- “Blue perhaps?” I enquire meekly.

“Sorry, Sir. We have no other colours for six months -- but we can order if you care to wait.” They then show me their list of the approximately 6,854 people still awaiting orders ahead of me.

Much subdued, I return to the Ministry where I find about two dozen more forms to complete before they can make the actual handover of the loan. “Oh, Sir. By the way, we’re sorry but we cannot loan you the total amount you requested because of current monetary restrictions in the country.”

Eventually my reduced loan goes through and I scrape up the full funds. Back to Leventis Motors I go and I finally get to purchase my Honda 90. Money changes hands -- but the Honda doesn’t.

“Sorry, Sir. You will require a Nigerian Driver’s License.”

“That’s OK.” I say breezily, “I have my International Driver’s License which I obtained before leaving Canada and I was told it would be fine here.”

“Sorry, Sir. You will require a Nigerian Driver’s License.”

Off I go again to get two photos taken and pay the license fee of £N1 and, of course, get insurance for additional funds. “Sorry, Sir. You are a Government Employee so you must pay the higher priced comprehensive insurance.”

Once more I go back to Leventis Motors -- license and insurance in hand. “Now will you please give me my bike!” “Sorry, Sir. Come back tomorrow. We have to charge the battery first and we have only two battery chargers operable.” Yaaaaagh!!!

Tomorrow finally does come. Wayne again drives me over to Leventis Motors. I actually get my bike. Wow!!!

However, I’m now embarrassed to say that there is a niggling little something that I have forgotten to mention. I have never ridden a motorbike in my life. A bicycle -- yes. A motorbike -- never. In fact I had never even been very close to a motorbike before I came to Nigeria. However, having gone through the mill I was now both hyped up and just a tad nervous. During my many trials while I had waited to obtain my bike I had overheard a few cooperant stories. I assumed the tales were merely urban myths designed to frighten me. The statistics the second-years had blithely bandied about suggested I would have at least two minor accidents and one major accident within my first two weeks of bike ownership.

The Leventis’ staff showed me where all the knobs, controls, bells and whistles were. There was actually some gas in the tank. Lovingly I straddled the bike, kick-started it and wobbled wonderingly out onto the roadway to follow Wayne homeward. Freedom! -- and just fifty feet further on a goat got entangled in my spokes.

“Sorry, Sir. Parts are not in but will be here in small, small time.” “Wayne, can you give me a ride home? I think I need to lie down and cry for a while.”

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