Blogger series: Abuja, a delayed start

When you take a dozen flights around Africa within three weeks, the odd hiccup is almost inevitable. My luck ran out on day 4, when I arrived at Nairobi airport for my 7.50am flight to Abuja.  A 40 minute delay became two hours, then three. Then came the cancellation. The flight was rescheduled for the same time the next morning, and we were sent to a hotel.

There were only about 20 of us on the flight, and the initial mood of anger morphed into camaraderie as we resigned ourselves to the delay and rescheduled our commitments in Abuja, which in my case included a couple of interviews with GAIN partners. That camaraderie gave me a much-needed boost at 4.30am the next morning, when I sat bleary eyed in the hotel restaurant, looking down at a grey boiled egg.

I hit the ground running when I finally got to Abuja, heading first to the GAIN office to meet Larry, the country manager.  Then we drove to the offices of NAFDAC, the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control, where I was meeting Dr Paul Orhii, its director general.

NAFDAC is a key implementation partner for GAIN’s large-scale food fortification project in Nigeria. Mandatory fortification of flour, oil, sugar and salt was introduced back in 2002, and NAFDAC’s role is to make sure it actually happens. GAIN is helping them with that as part of a project called “Strengthening Food Fortification through Compliance and Social Marketing”.

We had an appointment, of course, but that doesn’t mean you can waltz in. First we sat in the deputy’s office for a while, chatting and smiling. Then we were led up to a grand waiting room on the floor above. After 20 minutes or so, we were shepherded across the corridor into a tiny ante-room (where we passed through an airport-style security scanner) before finally emerging into a long, bright office. Dr Orhii was down at the far end, sitting behind a vast desk.

The dramatic build-up had made me a little nervous, but Dr Orhii was charming and friendly, leaping to his feet and putting us all at ease. In the interview, he was also candid about the challenges of achieving large-scale food fortification.

“We’re making progres with compliance, but it’s still only at about 30%,” he told me. “It’s easy to make sure that major companies are compliant, but most of our population is rural and they manufacture their food locally. We can’t always ensure compliance there. A lot of unfortified food is also coming in across the borders.”

After the interview, we posed for some photos before heading back to the GAIN office where Larry treated me to a Friday afternoon feast of fried chicken and jollof rice. It was my first ever Nigerian meal, and I inhaled it in about 30 seconds. It had been a long day, and a busy first week.

Up next: 24 hours in Lagos.

Caspar is out in Africa for the month of March, you can keep abreast of all his travels here

Published March 18 2015