Monday, September 19, 2011


Nigerian fuel in Benin, cheap!
 And then we went for Nigeria. We had braced ourselves, decided that the northern of the three border posts near Porto Novo would be the best bet, and that we wanted to avoid Lagos traffic at all costs.

Nigerian fuel delivery
We left the ordered structures of the Songhai village in Benin behind, filled from a roadside black market stall run by two mute boys, who upended big glass jugs of what they confirmed was Super petrol into the Cruiser, and then headed out. Some artful GPS work and enquiry from locals followed, and we were stopped, on a dirt road in the bush, by a scruffy bunch of people who pushed a spiked barrier into the road in front of us.

When I asked them why, they said they were from the Benin Customs service! They made a few phone calls, and we were allowed to proceed a hundred yards, where the scene was repeated. This time the people claimed to be Benin Police, Immigration Department. No uniforms, no signs, just a reed hut, rough tables, and bunches of children, but, most importantly, the Exit stamp!

And then the Nigerian Immigration: two pleasant youngsters, not in a hurry, found five bug-eaten entry cards for the six of us, and after a long discussion decided that one must fill in an exit card. That done we went to the Customs, and the theatre followed. One gentleman inspected the vehicles, minutely examining the cosmetics, the toothpaste and vitamin pills, and then the food. Every can was scrutinised to make sure the expiry date had not passed. One of my cans was discoloured, and the customs officer rubbed it off, pointing out that rusted cans were dangerous. Then he discovered that the expiry date was in the coming month! He offered to dispose of the can of coco milk, but I solemnly promised to make sure we consume it in the coming days. The discoloration on the can was, in fact, chili paste, and we hoped that we scratched himself somewhere before washing his hands.....

Then the road: a bad road, with perhaps twenty road blocks by police, customs, immigration, who kept us another hour, and wanted to inspect the contents of my car. Then we were in Ilaro, the first town, where we bought simcards, only to be told we must go to the next town, Shagamu, to have them activated.

The Trans-African Highway
The first bit of the “expressway” to Shagamu was not bad, and it continued on to Benin City, our original destination. It was about one o'clock, and we thought that it would be easy to do the 250 km before dark. Well, we were wrong. Police road blocks, at times every two kilometers, the worst holes we have seen so far, and some of the worst drivers turned this leg into another extermination march.... And there was a corpse on the road, in the middle of nowhere, partly covered with palm branches.

The police were not too bad, mostly they were friendly, and just wanted to know where we were coming from and where we were going. But they did delay us, and it is not funny having people wave loaded rifles at you. Traffic police, in funny red hats, were a different story, but they, too, got bored and let us go.

More Highway
In places the Expressway had disintegrated, in others it was disintegrating. The maintenance was not being done, and in some places they just put a fresh layer over the old, cracked tar, despite the fact that the foundation was subsiding. In a few places they were actually laying a new foundation, and the traffic jams could be imagined!

In the end we dragged into Benin City just after sunset, with one firm address and a few possibilities, none on GPS. The first choice was full, but they pointed us to a hotel just down the road. Well, for Africa … cold water, which did not run all the time, a restaurant that only had meat pies and yoghurt.... but at least we were under cover, and not trying to bushcamp in the unknown.

The next day we tackled the Trans Africa Highway, and it was more of the same. In one town the road out of town started as a double highway, then the two became one. And the one roadbecame two tracks that snaked between holes, ditches and mud baths. Only to transform into a beautiful double highway again for a few kilometers.

We slept at Enugu, and after an early start we made for Ikom, with hopes to see the stone monoliths on the way. Well, we saw one hand-painted sign to a famous carved stone, but by then we were too tired from roadblocks, requests for 'something for us' and dodging potholes for endless kilometers.

In Ikom, thirty minutes from the border, we checked in with the local Catholic Parish, and they had a room for us and camping place for our friends. So we rested before tackling the border crossing and the 60 kilometers to Mamfe, having been assured that there were three or four bad spots, but that with vehicles like ours we should do it in a day!!

The evening was characterised by a typical rainy season downpour, and we could not help thinking that this was also falling on the road to Mamfe!

What are we to think of Nigeria? Anything we would say would be unfair, as we drove through at the fastest speed possible, and so our experience was limited to roads, some very good, some very bad, to numerous road blocks, mostly manned by policemen who asked for handouts, and were embarrassed to do so. Traffic police we had too, gangs of them, aggressive and shouting, but lacking in patience and the ability to listen to the answers to the questions they had asked. We drove through vast savannas and bushveld, sometimes with sugar cane, rice, and maize, but usually just unkempt forest, bush veld, and small patches of cultivation. This is obviously fertile land, but not used. There must be more tourist opportunities than the carved monoliths near Ikom, the brasses of Benin city or the mysterious earthworks near Lagos, but the threatening attitude of the constant police, the bad roads, and, it must be said, the upcoming elections in Cameroon made us decide to get through Nigeria as soon as possible. We did meet some very nice, helpful people, and maybe we can be convinced to come back and spend more time. Maybe.

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