How (not) to cross the Benin-Nigeria border





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  1. #1
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    Default How (not) to cross the Benin-Nigeria border

    I wish I could write a "Choose Your Own Adventure book" about this particular border crossing. Some decisions would lead you through peacefully, others would lead to certain death. Here's how it would go:

    "You arrive at the border after crossing the country of Benin in just one day. You arrive during the:"
    -"Day" .... Go to page 7
    -"Night" .... Go to page 19

    You get one guess as to which page I went to.

    This is by far the most terrifying border crossing I have ever done. The one thing we could have potentially been in control of - the time we arrived - was the biggest factor in making this border absolutely horrific. With one hundred percent confidence, this border would be seriously frustrating during the day, but it is like a horror story at night.

    The Nigerian visa is not the most complicated for overlanding - Angola wins - but it does put some major restrictions on how you navigate the northern part of the continent. They prefer if you apply in your country of residence, so we applied in Spain. I have heard it is possible to get the visa in Cotonou, though I can not verify this from personal experience. From the day they stamp your passport, you have three months to enter the country. Fortunately, this is not too unreasonable if you are traveling from Madrid.

    Because of the unpredictability of traveling in a 40 year old car - boy did the Santana love to spring leaks in its wheel cylinders - our time was running out to enter Nigeria by the time we were in Ghana. When we arrived to the border, we were uncertain whether it was the last day of the visa, or the day after. Is it three months? Is it 90 days? We were uncertain, but we knew we needed to get in. In an odd bit of luck, the people at the embassy in Madrid had not put the normal "3 Months" in the validity field of the visa. The officials on the Benin side came back from speaking with the Nigerian officials and gave us the go-ahead.

    I pull the landy up to a chain held across the road. A military official speaks with us briefly, and tells us that we have to pay a first entry fee. "Have you ever entered Nigeria before?," he asks, knowing very well that it is unlikely we ever have. Of course we have not. I think my travel partner decided to play the game and say, "Yes," but I don't think it helped. The man insisted we pay around 10E, but we had never and would never pay a single cent to any corrupt police officer. We asked if there would be any proof we had paid. Would there be a receipt? How would you know if we hadn't entered before? We played the game of, "We don't have any local currency, and we used all our CFA." He eventually caved and took some Real Madrid key-chains in lieu of cash.

    Opening the chain we were allowed to advance an impressive three meters ahead to the next chain. The landy was closed in from behind. One chain at the headlights, another at the taillights. This was a bit nerve racking. What finagling would we have to do to get past this tight spot? How much bargaining would we be necessary to get past this next chain? Luckily, the next stop was solely to have our temperatures read and our Yellow Cards checked. The medical officer clearly didn't ask for anything. Maybe he couldn't because of his position?

    Finally we get to the immigration office. We walk in and they go through the papers. I fill out some entrance cards for the two of us, and we get our passports stamped. The officers were friendly and pushed us through the process quickly. Upon exiting we came to another chain. This one was also simple. A man who just needed us to register. The only issue we encountered at this stop was his insistence that we have an address to put down. Our plan had been to stay with a German man in Lagos, but we did not know his address. The man let us go with putting down a phone number, and as they always do, warned that "next time" we needed a real address.

    Customs came next. The official let us through the chain and had us park on the other side. We spoke with him and he told us we needed to speak with his boss. I was taken in the dark to the customs officer. I don't know why, but these bureaucrats always seem to have an arrangement of friends loitering in their office. They must chat all day. The woman was friendly, and because of her higher position did not ask for anything. She sent me back out with her assistant to check the chassis number on the car. Like they really cared, but they were following procedure. I left her office with kind words, a stamp in the Carnet, and relief.

    Upon reaching the landy, I discovered that the customs officer at the chain was not finished with me. Apparently he needed a first entry fee. Hmmmmmm. That sounds familiar. In this particular case, it was real. There was a ledger to be filled out, and he was adamant about the fee. I continued with the "we have no money game." Eventually I succeeded in getting away by giving out more Real Madrid key-chains and a small toy compass.

    Now, all this might seem fairly standard for a more intensive border. It is. It is what happened next which made the border so terrifying.

    We left in a rush. It was probably 23:00, and we still had a long way to get to Lagos. Immediately we were stopped by some men with a rope across the road. These men were no officials. They were just taking advantage of the location to pry some money from anyone who chose to pass. I don't know how I came up with this idea. Maybe the stress pushed me to play the game this way.

    As I pulled up I looked at the men in distress - I was genuinely under immense pressure and bursting - and with tears in my eyes pleaded with them that my travel partner had a serious eye infection and we desperately needed to get to Lagos as fast as possible. This was a reasonable lie. My travel partner was legally blind with a genetic condition which made it quite obvious his eyes were no good. Anyone who doubted could take one look and believe that he was not well.

    They let us through with an apology, and we made it a whole five meters before the next rope. I continued with my game. It was working. After the ropes, it became more intense. The men now had homemade spike strips. Hundreds of nails fastened to metal bars on rollers. They held the long handles and pushed them out in front of the landy causing me to come to quick stops. I continued with the game.

    There were probably half a dozen of these stops with spike strips. A couple of the men were more heartless and kept me begging and pleading for longer. I never paid any of them though. They would eventually give up.

    After the last spike strip I could feel the freedom of the open road, but I was so stressed that I held the steering wheel with clenched fists. The terror was not finished; it became more intense. Every 10km there were groups of men with guns and clubs who posed as police. There were two times where I was forced to stop. Luckily these men had enough heart to believe my sob story. It must have become more and more believable. I was so freaked out that real tears and authentic distress in my voice made these men feel something they had not expected from their evening of extortion and robbing: sympathy.

    Eventually, we were stopped by real police. Upon speaking with the chief, I was convinced by him to stay the night in the gas station under their protection. These were good people who asked nothing of us and only wanted to ensure our safety.

    From the next day's travels to Lagos, it was good that we stopped when we did. Arriving to Lagos in the early hours of the morning would have been a bad experience. A million thanks to the police.

    So. What do you need to know to make your "Choose Your Own Adventure" at the Nigerian border go well?

    -Arrive in daylight.
    -Bring small toys or trinkets to trade if you don't want to pay money.
    -Stay calm and remain focused.
    -Have an address for where you are going/make one up that's realistic.
    -Come up with an incredibly distressing story. Act the part.
    -Always. Always! Keep up with the game. Don't give in to demands.

    Remember, if I could survive the border in the middle of the night with a blind man, you can too!

    Always ready to answer questions.

    Sincerely,

    Barbie
    Some people say I'm a little nuts. I say, "Just a little?"

  2. #2
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    Default Re: How (not) to cross the Benin-Nigeria border

    Good to hear you made it .Nice reading material also ja what can i say the way of Africa

  3. #3
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    Default

    Thanks Barbie, great read again. I hope you are working on a book?

  4. #4
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    Default Re: How (not) to cross the Benin-Nigeria border

    All these horror stories make me think that maybe, just maybe, we should have a go at the West African route??
    I'll see after we do Angola around mid-year.
    Landcruiser 76SW.

    “Great journeys are memorable not so much for what you saw, but for where you camped”.

    At least "Once a year go someplace you have never been before" Delai Lama.

    Trans East Africa 2015/2016 Trip report http://www.4x4community.co.za/forum/...e16?highlight= from post 315.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: How (not) to cross the Benin-Nigeria border

    Quote Originally Posted by Stan Weakley View Post
    All these horror stories make me think that maybe, just maybe, we should have a go at the West African route??
    I'll see after we do Angola around mid-year.
    For all the distance I traveled across the West African route, there really were very minimal times where anything was remotely dangerous. South Africa was probably the most dangerous country in the trip. I would absolutely suggest the West Africa route. The main problem with this route are the visas. I don't know how the visa restrictions work for citizens of South Africa, but the main issues we had were the DRC, Nigeria, and Angola. Angola was very difficult for us because of the two month limit for entry after receiving the visa. If you are going north on the route though, that shouldn't be a problem.

    Angola is absolutely amazing, by the way. Fantastic country. Check out the seriously isolated route through the Iona desert from Calueque to Namibe. Most gps programs don't show the paths, but it is a really fun drive. I'll be putting up something later about it.
    Some people say I'm a little nuts. I say, "Just a little?"

  6. #6
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    Default Re: How (not) to cross the Benin-Nigeria border

    Quote Originally Posted by PowerBar Barbie View Post
    Angola is absolutely amazing, by the way. Fantastic country. Check out the seriously isolated route through the Iona desert from Calueque to Namibe. Most gps programs don't show the paths, but it is a really fun drive. I'll be putting up something later about it.

    Please put it up soon, I will be going with a group fairly soon and the route does cover Calueque to Namibe and the likes.
    Landcruiser 76SW.

    “Great journeys are memorable not so much for what you saw, but for where you camped”.

    At least "Once a year go someplace you have never been before" Delai Lama.

    Trans East Africa 2015/2016 Trip report http://www.4x4community.co.za/forum/...e16?highlight= from post 315.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: How (not) to cross the Benin-Nigeria border

    Homemade spike strips. Man...

    Thanks for sharing.
    Last edited by worldofinflation; 2018/08/15 at 09:47 AM.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: How (not) to cross the Benin-Nigeria border

    Reading your experience - did give me a flashback to our transafrica at 2012. It was the worst bordercrossing of our journey too.

    But anyway, this stressfull moments arent that, what will be the stuff you will remember - if you think back about your jorney

    Surfy

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