Until now, I’d never been to Nigeria. Although I’ve tried to get a Nigerian tourist visa five times, I’ve been turned away each time with a different excuse:

  • We only issue business visas at this embassy.
  • Payment must be made from a Nigerian bank account (which you can’t get unless you’re a resident of Nigeria).
  • You must apply in your home country.
  • The consul officer is on holiday.
  • And — my favorite excuse — we’ve run out of visa stickers.

There’s nothing in Nigeria that I’m excited about seeing. However, if I want to say that I’ve been to every country in the world, I have to go to Nigeria. Here’s a short story of how I visited Nigeria legally, without a visa, for free!

On December 1st, I boarded an EgyptAir jet in Cairo expecting to be in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, by lunchtime. We departed on time. The weather was clear as a bell. It was a smooth flight. As we approached N’Djamena, I felt the plane decelerate and descend.

Then the captain made a hurried announcement, speaking first in Arabic and then in French. He said something about a change of destination. There was considerable buzz among my fellow passengers, followed by our plane gaining altitude and banking to the west.

A few minutes later, the purser came down the aisle to answer questions. He explained that there was a “problem” at the N’Djamena airport. We were going to land somewhere else.

So what the heck happened? Just before our arrival, a military plane crashed on the runway in N’Djamena. Although there were no casualties, there was debris on N’Djamena’s only runway. So, our 727 could not land there. Our only option was to detour to the nearest commercial airport in Kano, Nigeria. Ta da! We were going to Nigeria.

Granted, this didn’t turn out to be a luxurious experience. When we landed in Kano, we had to remain in the plane in the noonday sun for almost two hours before we were allowed to deplane into the Kano airport. We then waited in the departure lounge for four hours before learning that the runway in N’Djamena wouldn’t be usable until the next morning. After that, it took another three hours for EgyptAir to arrange food, transportation and housing for 220 passengers.

At least the airport lounge was air-conditioned. There was plenty of space to spread out in. I had a good book to read. The best part was that, with no TV or wifi, the passengers entertained each other with their life stories. As I was the only westerner on the plane, people wanted to talk to me. I heard some amazing stories from both passengers and airport staff.

We eventually left the airport and spent the night in Kano. The next morning, I took these photos to document my 24-hour visit.

While in Nigeria, I changed money, swapped WhatsApp numbers with locals, and learned how to say thank you (na gode sose) in the Hausa language of northern Nigeria. At EgyptAir’s expense, I left the airport, ate a couple of traditional meals, spent the night at a hotel on the other side of town, and took a walk the next morning before being shuttled back to the airport. For me, this meets the minimum requirements for a country visit. Since there’s not much I want to see or do in Nigeria, I’m going to count Nigeria as my 187th country and move on to my 188th … Chad.