By Olukorede Yishau
In the last few days, London has been on the minds and lips of many a Nigerian. Reason: Our dear President Muhammadu Buhari is there on medical vacation. He is not due back until later this month. So, today, I have chosen to tell you about my first experience of this Queen’s city whose medical doctors are giving our President the best service available at a time their colleagues in Nigeria are on strike over poor welfare and Minister of Labour Dr. Chris Ngige (a medical doctor, by the way) is threatening them with the activation of the no-work-no-pay policy.
London is an old city, so old its buildings pay allegiance to their ages in wear and tear. Orderliness reigns in this Queen’s enclave. There is no excuse for lateness. The people are the centre of the government’s attention and here is a land where lives matter in all ramifications.
I had left on my first trip via the Murtala Mohammed International Airport. The British Airways flight flew into Heathrow Terminal Five before 6 am. Passing Immigration did not take time and was without hassle. Bags picked up, it looked like all was set until I stepped out of the doors, just after the baggage area, and experienced the tyranny of cold. I had never experienced that sort of cold in my life so I rushed back inside to catch my breath. It was my first time in London and anywhere in the United Kingdom.
After some minutes, I braced the odds and returned to the taxi area. I saw a black cab and approached the driver. I showed him my destination and he told me it would cost at least 100 Pounds. I ended up paying 110 Pounds. This was at a time one Pound was a little over N300. By my later trips to London, I had mastered the underground train system and was saved from burning my hard-earned money on a black cab.
I jumped to the back of the cab with my luggage and about an hour later I got to the hotel, which had been reserved and paid for before I left Lagos.
Fatigue had taken the better part of me so I struggled to make a few calls, including the one to my friend who would be my guide in Liverpool, where I was billed the following morning. After that, I went to sleep. The following morning I had a breakfast of bread and tea and some oat in a restaurant where I was the only black man. That was the first time I would feel like a minority. The sea of white men and women made me feel far from home.
After breakfast, I checked out and headed for the London Euston Train Station where I was to join a Virgin Train to Liverpool Lime Street Train Station. The train station was crazily busy with people from different parts of the world. I saw Africans, I saw Asians, I saw Europeans and I saw Americans. Many of us gathered at the large screen mounted in the massive hall to check the next available train. I had bought a two-way ticket that allowed me to return anytime I wanted.
Through deciding which train to join and rushing to the platform, I was slightly delayed by an official who wanted to crosscheck that I had the requisite ticket to join the train. My first impression of the interior of the train was that it looked so much like that of an aeroplane. I sat comfortably and soon the train began the over two hours journey to the port city of Liverpool, which was the entry point for the earliest travellers from Nigeria and the home of the popular Liverpool Football Club. The train had a shop where passengers bought coffee, soda and snacks.
The train stopped in towns along the route for passengers to alight and for new ones to join.
Liverpool Lime Street Train Station, though not as massive as London Euston from which different parts of the UK can be connected, welcomed me with grace. My guide received me and led me to a cab that took us to her home before I later retired to a bread-and-breakfast facility from where I explored the city for two days before returning to Lagos through London.
The streets of Liverpool are so clean you will feel like a devil for dropping any form of waste on the ground. The roads are wider than London’s. The houses are unlike the crammed spaces people call homes in most parts of London. You have to pay through your noses for the poky stuff they call flats in London.
Like London, Liverpool boasts of efficient bus services. Unlike London, it has no tubes. Its trains are only for moving goods. Unlike in the bulk of Nigeria, you have to work with the bus schedules, which are at regular intervals though.
St Johns is in the city centre. It was bubbling when I got there. This shopping mall, which is Liverpool’s largest covered shopping centre and has sat in the heart of the city since 1969.
If you assume that as a Nigerian you will not have language problems in the UK, you need to think twice, especially when you find yourself in a ‘not-so-cosmopolitan’ place like Liverpool, where there are regional accents that make the English you and I understand sound ‘inferior’. If you listen to some speakers in Liverpool speaking their regional accent called Scouse, you will not believe it is the English language. This dialect (said to have originated from Merseyside) is highly distinctive and has little in common with those of the neighbouring towns and cities in the United Kingdom. London’s cosmopolitan nature frees it from this challenge of wondering what language is being spoken.
In Liverpool, any day their football club has a match, the traffic situation goes gaga. I was there on one of such days, but I was insulated from it because of my disposition to the game. I was safe in my room, far away from the madness football is known for inducing in its lovers.
Back in London after two days in Liverpool, Woolwich Train Station was where I waited for my host, who had talked me out of booking a hotel room. While waiting, I noticed that that axis could pass for Osodi or Isale-Eko— with people freely speaking Yoruba passing me by.
My final take: Mr President has the right to seek medical attention overseas, but as Nigerians, we deserve a country better than the one he is ruling and has led for over five years. We deserve a country with a functional health system, we deserve a country where orderliness reigns, we deserve a country where infrastructure is top-notch and we deserve a country that will be so good its president will not have to seek medical succour overseas at a time resident doctors are on strike over welfare issue. In short, we deserve our own London!
• Yishau is a newspaper columnist and author of’In The Name of Our Father’and’Vaults of Secrets’.