Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Vanessa Obioha had an encounter with Toyin Adebola and his two friends who have converted their passion for riding motorcycles for adventure and leisure into a public cause. The first campaign which was warmly received was the #heroesandhelmets which sent out a clarion call to pose for photographs with uniformed members of the armed forces
Motorcycling may not be a common sport or hobby in Nigeria, but in the last few years, it is gaining a steady rise in popularity with the adventurous upper middle class, who acquire it for the sport and leisure value. The reference here is to the heavy duty motorcycles often called power bikes.
However, motorcycles which come under the generic description of two-wheel vehicles acquired a notoriety with an average Nigerian who is more familiar with its more commonly used cousin that has since been deployed to commercial transportation of moving persons and goods from one place to another. The ill-reputation of motorcycles stems from the reckless uses by commercial riders and resulting casualty, leading to regrettable death and permanent disability.
If not for the speed factor and for the fact that it ferries them to their destination faster, most people will have nothing to do with commercial motorcycles. Inculcating a lifestyle of riding a bike for leisure therefore is very outlandish to Nigerians. It is definitely a task meant for brave hearts.
For Toyin Adebola, however, motorcycling is a way of life. It is a fascinating means of transport with promises for thrills, to say the least.
Describing himself as an adventuresome person, Adebola got his love for bikes from his father. He relished the memory of sneaking to ride his father’s bike when the old man was resting at home. He was just 14 years old when he tried his hands on a bike. His father, a civil servant had just bought a motorcycle for his bookshop business. Since he could neither hire anyone nor had the luxury of time to juggle the business with his white-collar job, the motorcycle laid idle most of the time. This provided a perfect opportunity for Adebola to practice all he has watched his father do with the vehicle. His old man according to Adebola was very fascinated with engines. He could be found frequently opening the bonnet of his car to check the engine.
“He loved and rode motorcycles. Maybe I got it from him because I noticed that anytime my father was around cars, he was opening up the hood, checking out what the engines are like. He was fascinated by cars so it’s possible I inherited it from him because I can’t find any other explanation.”
Watching his father ride his Vesper bike as a young boy, Adebola also dreamt of mounting the power machine and riding through the streets of Lagos. He didn’t have to wait for long.
The journey to his adventure on motorcycles started four years ago. By then, he was a graduate of Metal Works Technology from Ahmadu Bello University. Although, he admitted that he actually went to school out of necessity than passion. At the time, the Nigerian government focused on skill acquisition so there were lots of opportunities for acquiring basic vocational skills.
He would later discover another talent of his that propelled him to his current employment status: Sales. Adebola found it easy to sell stuff. Before he knew it, he was introduced to the petroleum industry. Today, he consults for a petroleum company in Lagos. All the while, Adebola never stopped nurturing his dream of flying through the streets of Lagos on power bike. He loved to travel and very much wanted to explore the world and nature on motorcycle.
That dream finally became real in 2012.
“One day, I saw a red cruiser on Ahmadu Bello Way, Victoria Island. I kept noticing it for one year on that road and I liked it. I think it was a Honda 750. For one year, I didn’t buy the bike but I kept saying I would like to have it. On a particular day, I said what the heck and bought it. That was four years ago. I think I have a funny personality, if I start something, I take it to the extreme. I finish it. I always want to do it to a level that in my mind I am convinced that I have done it like every other person in the world. I bought the bike and started riding all over Lagos. Before long, I changed the motorcycle to something bigger in order to travel in more comfort. Initially, I told my family I was only going to ride in Lagos for leisure. Then I went to Abeokuta, Epe and before you know it, I was going to Ilorin.”
And that was not all.
Along the line, Adebola met like-minded personalities who have unbridled passion for motorcycles. One of them is Dele Bamidele, a young man of mixed race. He runs the Eleko Motor Race in Lagos. The other is Ron, an American whom he connected with on Facebook. The trio struck a likeness for each other. Not a few have described them as the three musketeers.
With Dele in Nigeria, Adebola explored the country with him. They travelled to different parts of the country and unraveled exotic locations. This, in a way, enhanced Adebola’s knowledge of Nigeria. For instance, he discovered the various National Parks in the country.
“Most people don’t know we have national parks in Nigeria. We have seven national parks and we have only been to two: Kainji Lake National park which is about 4,000 square kilometres, bigger than Lagos state. We have been to Cross River National Park which is also bigger than 4,000 square kilometres. We are talking about the tropical rain forest. Kainji Lake is pure savannah. When we rode into Kainji Lake National Park, I thought we were in another country because it is exactly what you see in places like Kenya and South Africa where the lions dwell. Let’s not go that far. My friend Dele and I do a lot of off-road riding in Lagos.
You will be shocked that in Eleko area, just riding in the sand alone is very exhilarating, unbelievable. Recently, Dele, Ron and I rode along the seashore from Takwa Bay to Badagry and I could not believe such beautiful pristine coastline existed in Nigeria. There are many beautiful things to see and that’s just in Lagos. A few days ago, we rode to Ijebu-Ode- my hometown, so beautiful. You know experiencing nature, the red clay, the sound of birds, there’s definitely a lot to say about Nigeria.”
Out of this sea of great discoveries, Adebola decided to create, ‘Out of Nigeria’. This is an initiative promoted by Adebola under his motorcycle club ‘The Eagle Riders’. The original plan was to travel to West Africa, North Africa and six countries in Europe.
“We planned it for two years and myself and Opeyemi Fodake who is an architect, rode from Nigeria through West Africa to North Africa and we did about six countries in Europe on our motorcycles. Everybody was telling us that it was cheaper to ride here and when we get to Europe, we can hire bikes to ride. But we wanted those bikes to come from Nigeria because a lot of Europeans who ride down this way bring their bikes, so we wanted to ride to Europe with bikes carrying our plate numbers. The most interesting part is that we got everything documented properly on film.
“We did that last year. We hired a British film company called Tanglewood to film the adventure. One of the gentlemen from Tanglewood flew into Nigeria and rode with us all the way to Europe and back to Lagos. The documentary is about 1 hour and 45 minutes and has won about three different awards.”
From that concept, another initiative was born.
As Nigeria’s Independence Day Celebration beckoned, Adebola was inspired to do something patriotic. This time, he named it ‘Heroes and Helmets’. The idea was to create a campaign that will pay homage to the armed offices. Adebola figured it would be nice to have an unorthodox way of celebrating members of the Nigerian Armed Forces on the country’s 56th independence anniversary.
From being a figment of his imagination, he went about bringing the vision to reality. The campaign was rolled out. Members of the public were asked to take selfies with members of the armed forces and post it on different social media platforms with the #heroesandhelmets. It didn’t end there.
Fun and adventure seekers were also invited to watch the motorcyclists explore the coastline from the Lagos Lagoon to Badagry. They plied off-roads and the experience was very exhilarating for Ron who was visiting Africa for the first time. He recalled his experience.
“This is completely different from the events I have been in Ireland and Mexico. It’s like going to the moon. The culture, and there are great places to ride. That’s the first focus. Then you come here and start meeting the people, the real people, that’s really fun. I love it here. Toyin has been a fantastic host. It’s amazing. It’s been great to ride along with these guys. The scenery is beautiful. I have so many experiences and I’m trying to give you one so forgive me, I’m trying to trip over myself. At a point, you have to concentrate on the path at the front because there’s sand.
There’s a picture where we were all in a line and I’m like this is beautiful. This is a dream. And I’m also on my wheel, trying to keep control of the sand. So I have to focus on the pathway. Sometimes, I look at the pictures afterwards and I’m like wow, this is really happening. It’s a dream. I’ve dreamt of this since I was little, me coming here, doing this, I see it in documentaries, now I’m here to see this. It is real. It’s been fantastic.”
The feedback was absolutely mind blowing for Adebola.
“It was unbelievable. We started by saying let’s break a record with selfies taken with members of the armed forces but that wasn’t the drive. The drive was to get Nigerians out of their comfort zone. You know how civilians react to members of the armed forces. Both the negative and positive, for us, were all positive responses because it stimulated conversations and then we were surprised by the thousands of people who actually responded positively. They took pictures and posted with the #heroesandhelmets. It was beautiful because we did something that no one has ever done before. It was only a day and we got about 3,000 people to participate.”
Heroes and Helmets is among other charities Adebola spearheads. He donates and supports orphanages, motherless babies homes and correctional facilities in Illorin. For Adebola, charity goes beyond donations, it must be done with patriotism. This explains why his club is not driven by numbers but by compassion to promote Nigeria.
Apart from his love for motorcycles, Adebola has been able to tap into other skills like photography and documentaries which were previously dormant. He ensured that each adventure is well documented for record-keeping because at the end of the day, the works will always speak for you long after you are gone.
Despite the fun and thrills of the motorcycle, there are many obstacles. However, he did not list the dangerous ones as one is wont to envisage. Dele believes that should a rider be confronted with hostility, it has a lot to do with the personality on the power bike.
“I think it’s pretty much how you react and how you behave generally in life. With the right spirit, it’s hard to encounter such. I have never encountered such bad situations. Generally, Nigerians are kind. You really need to be nasty to bring out that kind of nasty experience.”
Ron on the other hand tackled it from a philosophical angle. “On a motorcycle, you are not riding like in a car where you are covered and the windows are rolled up. You are exposed to elements like when it rains, you get wet, you put your helmet on so people can see you. There’s a lot of eye contact so you connect with people in traffic and those walking by. I think that you are putting yourself out there. I think you are opening up yourself and saying that you are not a threat to anyone.”
Toyin, however, felt that bikers attract attention and curiosity but that in any way has not helped to get a softer landing for them in many African countries where they spend long hours crossing borders, from one country into another
“We never really experienced hostility because I think once you have your proper documentation, there is no problem. We do a lot of research before we hit the road, especially when we are riding outside Nigeria. We find out what documentations we need. You can’t get all the information but you try to get the most information. All the time, we ride with the right documentation so we never had any problem as long as the documentation is right.
“There are some papers that we get along the way, particularly when you are riding through ECOWAS and you have all your lesse passe, you really don’t have any problem. You have your insurance, hotel reservation, and all that, we’ve never really had any problem. In Europe, because of the common Shenghen visa, all the countries we crossed, nobody stopped us at the border. We did seven countries in Europe and it was just easy. From France to Italy, we crossed four countries, not one single person stopped us even when we went through a significant immigration in Switzerland, nobody stopped us or said anything to us.
But to cross from Nigeria to Benin Republic, you can spend three hours at the border; from Benin Republic to Togo, you can spend an hour and a half; Togo to Ghana, four hours; Ghana to Ivory Coast, averagely between three and four hours. Between Nigeria and Ivory Coast, you can spend 12 hours doing border crossing. It’s more difficult crossing borders in Africa because of all the documentation. I think that consumes time. Other than that, we don’t really have challenges.”