Interview

April 14, 2024

Some people thought I was insane driving alone from London to Lagos

Lagos

…solo driver Pelumi tells her amazing story

•How she survived after her Peugeot 107 collided with truck in S/Leone
•‘I refused to pay bribes at borders’
•Speaks on 68 days of sleepless nights

By Dickson Omobola

When Pelumi Nubi, 28, conceived the idea of driving from London to Lagos by road, not many were impressed by the reason provided by the Lagos-born, London-based travel content creator. Nevertheless, she considered connecting the two places she calls home by land a personal obligation that must be achieved.

Given that the journey was seen as an impossible task by cynics, who had no idea of her track record, she was doubted, teased and told her conception was dead on arrival.

Guess what? On January 31, 2024, Nubi turned on the ignition of her purple, slight frame Peugeot 107 to traverse England, France, Spain, Morocco, West Sahara Desert, Mauritania, Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Mali, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin before entering Lagos on April 7, 2024, to prove them wrong.

In this chat with Sunday Vanguard, Nubi, who brings readers into her recent exploits, narrates the challenges she encountered.

Background:

I was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and I grew up in London. I consider both places home, and I was trying to connect them. The solo trip was me exploring West Africa, a region in Africa. With the solo trip, I connected two dots that I would have done by flying. The journey was definitely at a slower pace, and it was more immersive. I spent my childhood here in Lagos where I lived up to the age of 10 or 11. I have always loved exploring and reading stories about different locations in the world. As a child, my travels with my parents planted the seed of exploration in me. I enjoy exploring, hence the reason I have travelled to over 80 countries. And because I am based in the United Kingdom, I have travelled to Europe, South America, Africa (East Africa and South Africa). This was an opportunity to further explore West Africa. In terms of road trips, Lagos to London is the longest I have done. In terms of solo trips, I have done shorter ones across Namibia, London to Lake Como in Italy.

Nubi, any experience from the trip?

My experience on the trip was great. In Sierra Leone, there was a parked truck with which I collided. Thank God for the locals who stepped in to help despite the language barrier that made it difficult to call for help. The collision was a ripple effect of being delayed at the border, and the driver not having the truck’s hazard light turned on. Thank God I wasn’t going at full speed, so the car’s engine wasn’t damaged, although it required a lot of body work in Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast. Navigating those tough times was a challenge because I couldn’t speak the language, and I was away from my family. At difficult moments, however, strangers always stepped in to showcase their love for humanity. When in danger, most people leaned towards helping me out. The journey was tough, I was hospitalized.

Crossing borders

Crossing borders was difficult, and border policies and the freedom of travel are things that I look forward to pushing out. Are we really free to travel across the region as Africans? We have the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, passport that I used, and a reason I didn’t have to seek for visas. However, you get there and find them demanding for monies that are not official payments. It was enlightening to see these issues that other travellers had highlighted countless times. I saw that not much had been done about it, and passing the information is really needed.

Paying bribes

It wasn’t something I wanted to be part of. I could have paid the money and gone my way, but I sometimes fought it, and that led to major delays. I am talking about spending hours at the border because I refused to pay a bribe. Nevertheless, I think if we participate in it, we will keep encouraging the officers that it is okay. If we fight it through our words, actions and social media like I did, then we would be telling them that it is not right and they must change. Their body language was aggressive, sometimes they were curious to know if I was an undercover official and they were sometimes aggressive about wanting the money. It was hard to read their body language, so I had to be street smart. I had to see how best to keep myself safe, and it sometimes meant sleeping at the border and having major delays which led to the accident. It left a lot of ripple effects, and that is why I speak about it that these officers collecting bribes and delaying people could kill those people because they (travellers) are forced to drive unsafely in the night and sleep at the border. It is a ripple effect and an action that has consequences down the line.

Nubi, would I be wrong to ask if this solo trip taught you anything…

(Cuts in). Tenacity. I learnt that it is very important to keep going. I know society tells you that you cannot do a lot of things. As a young person, you are constantly being told you cannot, but being able to push all that aside to actually do it, was quite exciting. Travelling solo teaches one about oneself, particularly one’s ability to be resilient. For things like this, poople tend to work with a team. There will be somebody in charge of logistics, cooking, driving, medical care and many more. But, having to put on so many hats, taught me that I could be a robust person, who is capable of managing or handling a lot of things at the same time. It also taught me the freedom of movement. It taught me that we have a big continent with very many opportunities for tourism, especially within our country. There are a lot of opportunities that we can highlight and showcase to the world to attract new people. The solo trip was an opportunity to continue to explore and inspire the next generation.

What was crossing the West Sahara Desert like?

Great. People think that the Sahara is just made of sandhill. The region I travelled through, which connects Morocco and Mauritania, has tiled roads. I think it was just done, so it was in an amazing condition. When coming from Guinea Bissau through the border, one has to go inland of Guinea because of how bad the road is, and you can’t stick to the coast.

When we spoke at the Yaba College of Technology, YABATECH, in Lagos, you talked about representation. What did you mean by that?

I meant women around the world explore, but it is not celebrated like mine. For that reason, representation is lacking. Before the journey, I said if the mainstream media doesn’t cover it, I will make sure the message goes out. That was why I was very active on Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Facebook and Twitter to get the message out there that it could be done. We do it, but it is not covered. The attention goes to other races, other genders. It was important to showcase to the world that women also travel, women also drive, we explore and we do the hard things. The idea was that representation matters, and hopefully this message is put out and more people can be encouraged to do it because they see an example of someone who looks like them.

Did anyone try to talk you into not embarking on the trip?

Of course there were naysayers, people who didn’t know me. But in my previous circle, people who have been part of my adventures knew that I could do the trip. My small but mighty community, as I call them or my close family on social media, knows that it wasn’t out of character for me. They knew that it was not a thing that they were not used to or familiar with because I had many years of exploration. The new followers came, they had their opinions because they weren’t familiar with my track record and they didn’t know me. Of course it sounded insane to them. There were just a lot of questions they didn’t have answers to and it was very quick for them to say no, it’s not possible. But once I started answering those questions, and they started seeing the amount of planning and logistics that went into this trip, they had a change of mind. Some people don’t believe it because I see comments online where they say the trip never happened. But, one must understand that one cannot please everybody. It is just a case of I know what I did. People who know me know what I did. And they know the trip had its highs and lows.

Did you at any moment think of giving up?

As a human with emotion, I was angry, I was lonely, I was sad, but giving up was never a thing that would happen.

Your dad, Professor Gbenga Nubi, said for him and your mum, it was 68 days of sleepless nights…

Honestly, they didn’t reflect their fears on me. That was one thing they did very well. Obviously, every parent would be concerned about the safety of their child, but they were very encouraging, very motivating and they never said anything like that to me. They were prayerful and very supportive. We did daily check-in just to make sure that I was safe, but they didn’t put their fears on me.

The fanfare that greeted your arrival was massive…

(Cuts in). Yea yea. I didn’t expect the fanfare that greeted my arrival. Shout out to the University of Lagos, UNILAG, it is an institute that promotes youth and growth. It has an incredible Vice Chancellor in Professor Folasade Ogunsola. I am so honoured that they did such a robust homecoming. Shout out to the Lagos State government for really making me feel at home. It was amazing, seeing the whole people welcoming me at the Seme border made me burst into tears. It is something for which I am forever grateful.

You drove into Lagos wearing a traditional attire and a earring that has the African map. Were they symbolic?

It was obviously to pay tributes to my roots. It was very important that I wore something traditional. It was made and brought to the border for me to change into. Purple is the colour of royalty and colour of my car. As a Nigerian, it was important to wear something more traditional than Western outfits. The African map is to celebrate the continent. I am a Nigerian born African proud woman, and I am always excited to celebrate our continent.

Why choose Peugeot 107 for the trip?

I picked a Peugeot 107 because that was the car I had. That was the car I used for five to six years before this trip. It was just a familiar car, and what I had at that moment.

What next for Pelumi and what plans have you for Nigerian travel content creators?

Pelumi is a traveller, she will always explore. But for now, I am just kind of taking the time to take it all in because as humans, we are very quick to move on from our achievements. I have been on the road for so long, so I just want to spend time with family members. There are a lot of content travel creators in Nigeria, who are not giving the opportunity to showcase their work. In terms of media coverage, they are not giving that attention, but I hope to connect with them while I am in Lagos.